Continuing into 2011 and 2012 with our Organ Quest performances.
April 28 2100 found us in Toronto, Canada for another performance. We drove up from Fairfax and reconfirmed that the Canadian border guards are the rudest people in the entire world. Protecting your borders is one thing…insulting your visitors is another. It isn’t that hard to be professional and guard the borders but still be nice to visitors since their first impression of Canada is the border guards. It took us almost 3 hours to get across the border; apparently the fact that we would drive from DC to Toronto for a concert was beyond their feeble minds. The guy (and girl) were even ruder than the one we ran into back at the border crossing into Alberta months earlier on the way to Calgary.
Anyway; we can’t remember much about the concert so it must have been at least decent. We ate dinner and had bison steaks at a place in the Market around the corner from the venue and then had to figure out the trolley system (Connie’s feet hurt from the heels; it turned out she had a bunion she needed removed…one she recovered from the surgery her ability to walk around in heels improved tremendously.
US border guards on then other hand…are much more welcoming and friendly. They do their job but still go out of their way to give a good first impression to visitors. After the concert we had a hike at a nature park in Toronto then drove through Niagra Falls on the way home. Neither of us could really see the attraction…we’ve seen much better waterfalls out west and the entire town on both sides of the border is one giant Tourist Trap.
Our next foray was to Ocean Grove, NJ on August 4, 2011…coincidentally this was the weekend after we retired from full time employment. Ocean Grove is a really strange town…it was founded in 1890 or so by a religious organization and the entire city still revolves around the church. Nothing wrong with that of course…it just seemed different to us. The venue for the concert is actually the main church in town and is this huge barn like structure with open sides…it seems much more like an open air concert venue than a church. However, the organ is really impressive and is easily the best we’ve heard since Gray Chapel in Ohio back in 2005. The program also included the Handel Concerto for Organ and Orchestra which is rarely heard…as well as the Beethoven Piano Concerto #5 known as the Emperor Concerto. Quite a nice evening overall; we had a nice fish dinner on the waterfront before the concert. While we were in the area we drove through Summerville, NJ which is where Connie grew up. Her house is still there; still the same colors, and still has the apple trees in the yard.
Our trip to Youngstown, OH for a concert on September 18, 2011 turned out to be quite an adventure. First…the concert was actually pretty good; it was at the Stambaugh Auditorium which was built in 1026 with a wonderful E.M. Skinner organ which had fallen into disrepair over the years. It just recently completed a restoration and is now a 67 sot 3905 pipe instrument…this was the rededication concert for the instrument. The program included two other solo organ pieces in addition to the symphony…as well as the Poulenc Concerto for Organ, Timpani and Strings. David Higgs was the soloist…this was one of those rare performances when the conductor didn’t hold the organist back and the organ volume was perfectly matched to the orchestra playing.
The bad news was after the concert. Having endured the Pennsylvania Turnpike on the way over to Youngstown and knowing how bad it is in the dark we decided to drive back on a state highway (PA-228) instead of taking the Turnpike again. After a quick stop at the Golden Arches for dinner we headed home and were nearing Johnstown when a deer ran out in front of us. It completely broke the front end of our Mazda…fortunately the hood peeled up and tossed him over the car instead of into the windshield.
We never saw him until he landed right in front of the right headlight about 3 feet in front of us at 55 mph. Crunch!!
Fortunately neither of us was hurt so we peeled the hood back down and limped another mile or so to the first gas station we saw. We called our insurance company (USAA, great company to do business with) and within about 3 hours despite it being Sunday evening we had a tow truck to Johnstown, a hotel reservation, and a rental car reservation to get home with. Three weeks and $6200 later the car was almost back to normal…we thought it was completely fixed but found out in August 2012 that they repair place had left some sealing rings out of the firewall which resulted in another repair (covered by the original repair place) to fix the main computer and windshield again. We had to make another trip back to Johnstown to pick up the repaired Mazda but that wasn’t too bad. We keep a real careful eye out for the deer’s brethren whenever it’s deer o’clock now.
In January 2012 we took a trip to Junction City, Kansas to order our New Horizons RV (we’ve since retired to the full time RV lifestyle and sold our home in Fairfax). We were actually on the way to Los Angeles again but stopped by Kansas to do the factory tour and decide what we wanted to buy. After the stop we continued on to Los Angeles where we heard the Los Angeles Philharmonic at Walt Disney Auditorium on January 7, 2012.
This is far and away the best performance we have ever been to. The orchestra missed not a single note, the organ was powerful, and the orchestra and organ were perfectly balanced. The concert included the Dvorák Hussite Overture and the Liszt Piano Concerto #2 in A Major with Jean-Yves Thibaudet as the soloist.
However; after this performance we decided to stop trying to rank the various performances unless they are really spectacular or really bad…there have just been too many to reasonably remember. Even with no formal ranking system though; this is very likely the best overall performance we have heard.
As part of this trip (and while in Kansas) we ate at a BBQ place in Kansas City named Oklahoma Joe’s. This is on Anthony Bourdain’s list of 13 places to eat before you die…and it was definitely outstanding. I’m not ready to call it the best BBQ ever…but it’s right up there. We also drove over to Desert Hot Springs, CA (near Palm Springs) while we were in southern California and checked out some potential parking spots for our new RV lifestyle. We ate at a couple of place recommended from Guy Fierei’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives…Auntie Em’s in downtown LA was average at best (the sandwiches were…Californian let me call it) and also at Shulzles Bread Pudding in Venice Beach, CA. The bred pudding was really, really good…although it was more pudding like than the bread like consistency that Southeners are used to cooking. Despite the different texture though…our cups emptied rapidly.
On March 11, 2012 we headed up for a quick overnight trip to Hartford, CT for a performance of the University of Hartford Symphony Orchestra of the Hartt School in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph. The organ was a pretty decent instrument but the soloist hit several clearly incorrect notes at the beginning of the finale…and the orchestra was average (it was a college ensemble instead of professional) so the performance was average. The cathedral suffered from the same over live characteristic that the Washington National Cathedral suffers from and hence there were organ/orchestra synchronization issues.
On March 18, 2012 we attended what is clearly our worst performance to date. The Ambler Symphony Orchestra was on tap and it turns out this is an amateur community orchestra. Nothing wrong with that…it’s just that they should have stuck to pieces they were capable of playing instead of over-reaching. On the other hand; we did have a nice drive on some country roads and a great lunch at (you guessed it) and Irish Pub in Dublin, PA.
April 22, 2012. Undeterred by our previous (2x) bad impressions of Canadian border guards we headed off again to Halifax, Nova Scotia for the Halifax Symphony performance of the symphony. The border Gestapo were their typical unfriendly selves…they noticed our South Dakota tags on the car (we changed residency for our new RV lifestyle), heard we had driven up from the DC area, heard we were there for a concert…and the rubber hose routine was on. Four hours later we made it into their country after getting the car practically disassembled first.
On the way up we wandered through Maine and had some lobsta’, followed by a genuine Dark and Stormy at the restaurant in Halifax. The concert itself was pretty good…the Halifax Symphony was way better than we expected it to be and they really deserved a better organ than the electronic one that was installed in the hall. We would have actually probably skipped this one since we were trying to finish up getting our home in Fairfax ready to put on the market except we had already bought the tickets and didn’t want to just through 200 bucks away.
In June 2012 we headed off to Junction City, Kansas to pick up our new New Horizons RV. We combined this with a previously scheduled concert in Kansas City on Jun 16. Once again; a really decent concert but nothing really overly memorable. As with the previous one in Halifax; we would have likely cancelled except we already had the tickets and had to be in Junction City anyway.
After picking up our RV in June 2012 we headed back to Fairfax, finished up our home sale closing and hit the road rule time in our RV on July 1, 2012. Our first destination was to the Hudson River Valley in central New York state for a concert at Bard College in Tivoli, NY on August 11; unfortunately we forgot to take pictures in the auditorium…we have a lousy picture of the part of the orchestra but not of the organ and it’s too crummy to post. We took a month and a week to wander from Fairfax through PA and NJ to NY then spent two weeks parked in Elizaville, NY near Tivoli. Did some kayaking and hiking in addition to attending the concert and also went to the Culinary Institute of America for lunch one day. We are still figuring out how to combine the Organ Quest with our RV lifestyle; at this point our somewhat fluid plans are to work concert stops into our overall travel plans and to only fly to those that might be in cold areas or the other side of the country from where we are parked.