Keith Buncke, a bassoon student from Oregon reflects on the entire trip to Dresden.

The Curtis Symphony Orchestra has just finished its week-long tour to Dresden, Germany, and all of the students in the orchestra and the gracious staff and chaperones are currently riding on the plane from Frankfurt to Philadelphia. Looking back on this past week, it has been extremely rewarding, fun, and eye opening, not to forget exhausting from the jetlag! This is not only my first experience on an international orchestra tour, but also my first time travelling to Europe.

Even though it was a school-sponsored trip and we had several rehearsals and concerts, it was almost as if the whole orchestra took a group vacation. There was a lot of time built into our schedules to sightsee or just get some rest. One of my favorite sight-seeing excursions on this trip was walking up to the top of the Frauenkirche, or the Church of Our Lady, the most well-known and prominent landmark in Dresden. The church is one of highest buildings in the city if not the highest if I remember correctly, and standing at the top provided a panoramic view spanning from the Elbe River to the city’s numerous historic buildings to the rolling hills across the landscape. We also got to tour the Semperoper (the opera house in Dresden), the Volkswagon factory, and the local markets and stores. 

One of the most memorable experiences on the trip for me was the orchestra’s opening concert at the Frauenkirche. Our hotel was conveniently located just across the cobblestone square from the church. It was pretty remarkable to see and play in the church since it was reconstructed in 2005 after bombings during WWII. The acoustics were typically church-like, very live and boomy, but also quite clear. In the concert, whenever there was a pause after long chords, I could hear the reverberation for several seconds after the chord was played. This is an experience one does not get in a typical concert hall! 

I only played in the first half of the all-Brahms concert, so I had the opportunity to go up into the audience seating and listen to the orchestra perform Brahms’s Second Symphony. I thought the church’s acoustics suited especially well the first and second movements of the symphony. Listening to those first two movements was like floating in a warm bath. The church’s resonant acoustics didn’t suit the third movement as well, which is the lightest and most staccato of the four movements, but it was still beautifully played. They finished off with the exhilarating finale, and the audience was extremely receptive, and rightly so. The orchestra played its absolute best in this concert. What an exciting night for us all.

The second and last concert the orchestra performed was just last night at the Messe Dresden. This venue was definitely not as visually spectacular as the Frauenkirche, but any lack of visual grandeur was compensated by a stunning performance of Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra with dance choreography. I did not play on this piece either, so I got to sit in the audience and take part in an experience I’m sure I will never have again! 

The dance choreography brought a completely new aesthetic dimension to the Concerto for Orchestra, a piece I have heard many times. At the same time though, the choreography masterfully complemented the push and pull of tension throughout the music and the numerous colors Bartok weaved into his score. The Concerto for Orchestra, being an abstract piece of music, does not have any kind of literal story associated with it. However, the dancing portrayed some kind of character sketch that made it seem as if Bartok’s work was meant to have a story. What that story is is vague and open-ended, and I think that is what the choreographer intended. I remember one moment in the fourth movement, a part that sounds like boisterous carnival music, where the dozens of young dancers ran around with briefcases. The dancing and music seemed to depict busy American city life. This concert was a novel and stimulating experience for me, and I always look forward to these kinds of interdisciplinary collaborations. Both the dancers and the orchestra brought their best foot forward, and it was a real treat for the audience and the artists.

- Keith Buncke