On Wednesday night, the UC Davis Symphony Orchestra returned from its long-awaited performance tour of Madrid, Granada, Valencia and Barcelona.
The orchestra, made up of over 100 UC Davis students, affiliates and community members, drew as many as 2,000 audience members enthusiastic to see an American group play the works of Debussy, Schumann and Beethoven. Over the span of 10 days, the orchestra played four concerts in some of the largest and most beautiful halls in Spain, providing the group with a rare and extraordinary experience abroad.
Under the direction of Professor Christian Baldini, the group performed, to persistently tumultuous applause, its repertoire of pieces it had been working to perfect since the beginning of Winter Quarter.
“I am very proud to be the orchestra’s director. The students are highly committed, even though many of them are not music majors,” said Baldini, who said that his students’ dedication was one of the reasons he wanted to share their talents abroad. “It is very inspiring to me to work with them. We are a team together — each gives their best and we are excited to share what we do with other people.”
The students were indeed excited to travel abroad to perform in beautiful, high-profile venues such as the Palau de la Música in Valencia.
“When we got to Valencia, there were posters everywhere promoting our tour schedule,” said Meghan Teague, junior neurobiology, physiology and behavior major who has played violin in the orchestra since the fall of her first year. “It was really cool — we were in a café one morning and on the wall there was a poster of us.”
Throughout the 10-day tour, the orchestra sought to represent the character and talent of UC Davis’ music department in a country with a vibrant culture and a great appreciation for art.
“I wanted to bring my students to a different place and expose them to different audiences, which react differently than our audiences at home,” Baldini said.
Performing abroad challenged orchestra members to perform in a different context, adjust to new performance halls and adapt from the routine they had grown used to in the Mondavi Center, Teague said.
“We rehearse twice a week and always perform in Mondavi. We’re just always in Mondavi,” Teague said. “In each venue in Spain, the acoustics were very different, so we had to adjust our playing style in every hall. Some you had to play out and some you weren’t playing at all. It really changes the piece.”
Audiences, too, were a surprise compared to what the orchestra was used to.
“The one big cultural difference I noticed was that in Spain, it is customary for the audience to applaud as the orchestra leaves the stage,” said Abigail Green, junior music performance major and principal flautist. “When this happened at the first concert, I was very surprised and didn’t know what to do.”
Other than applause coming at unexpected times, Teague noticed it was a much more evaluative applause than what she was used to in the States.
“After a piece there was more of an appreciation for how well the piece was performed,” she said. “Here people will clap for anything when it’s over. But there, I could tell there were definite differences in applause across the pieces.”
The group sensed Spanish audiences had more familiarity with their material as well.
“Apparently there was someone humming along to Debussy at one of the shows,” Teague said.
The overall reception of the orchestra was overwhelmingly positive, according to orchestra members. After the last performance, the applause persisted long enough for Baldini to walk offstage and then onstage to encore applause 10 times.
“The best thing that can happen to you as a performer is for the audience to want you to give them more,” Baldini said. “At our last concert, we had a completely packed, full house at the Palau de la Música Catalana in Barcelona. They didn’t want us to go at the end, so they kept clapping. We performed encore after encore.”
Apart from being an exceptionally musically appreciative destination for the orchestra to visit, students likened the whirlwind tour to an entire study abroad experience and are already dying to return.
“I loved experiencing another culture, and especially one so different from the United States,” said Green. “All of the cities we visited were so beautiful. I had a great time practicing my Spanish, and everyone was very accomodating. ”
The cuisine, as well, helped make the experience for some of the orchestra members.
“I can’t live without excellent olive oil, so this was a real treat,” Baldini said. “And the paella in Valencia is heaven. They invented it!”
Another staple the Spanish are known for is their ham, which hangs in the windows of every market on the street. But apart from the Spanish food, the close proximity to other distinct cultures provided a chance for the orchestra to have a truly multicultural experience.
“If I see another leg of meat I’m going to die,” Teague said. “But I had really great Moroccan food in Granada. Couscous, tajine, rice, baba ghanoush, hummus, mint limeade — it was the best food of my life.”
Even with the language barriers, differences in food tastes and surprising concert etiquette, the orchestra was able to share with foreign audiences music that speaks to all cultures.
“I can’t wait to go back,” Teague said.
LANI CHAN can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.