A boy is lying in a hospital room bed in the Swiss Alps, listening to a beautiful orchestral piece on a radio that is sitting next to his unfinished meal that most Moms, including his, would not call a meal for their son. The son in question is 14 years old, and he just underwent a minor, yet for him, frightening, surgery on his big toe. He's now enjoying the ebb and flow of the piece, almost as much as the view out of his hospital room window, through which he is following hang gliders as they gracefully descend from the snow-capped mountain peaks, circling ever so slowly, until they finally land on a grassy field. This nirvana is only occasionally interrupted by cheers coming from a few rooms down the hallway, the common room, where the patients that are able and allowed to move are watching the Los Angeles Olympic Games on a TV set.
That boy is me, many years ago, and the setting is a city hospital belonging to a small town of Samedan, just up the valley from Interlaken (my colleagues reading this will get a kick out of this, since I am one of only a few that didn't go to the well-known American summer camp, Michigan's Interlochen). I was a representative of my native country, then called Yugoslavia, in this camp where the Youth Orchestra of European Countries was rehearsing for a 10-day long Tour of Europe. Great experience for a budding musician except for the fact that, after having gone through a week of rehearsals, I got an ingrown toenail after a strenuous hike (and wearing some ill-fitting shoes) in the Alps just at the end of that week, and landed in the hospital with blood poisoning that could have ended something a lot more important to me and my loved one than that Tour.
The piece that I was listening to from my hospital bed was Schumann's darkly dramatic Manfred Overture, one of three Schumann pieces we are playing in this week's concerts, and one that we had rehearsed so diligently in the week prior, while enjoying the gorgeous vistas through the oversize windows of the orchestra room. That's why this piece always stirs up some strong memories in me, and why I look forward to playing it every time it's on the program. Robert Schumann had a very interesting life, and it shows in his works, so what better way to grasp it but through the BSO Robert Schumann - A Romantic Original concert this week on Thursday and Sunday in Baltimore. And on Friday at Strathmore and Saturday at Baltimore Marin Alsop, in her usual casual, yet informative style, will unravel Schumann's life in front of your eyes (and ears, of course) for the Off the Cuff performance of Schumann's Beautiful Mind. Not to be missed!
And during the Overture, if you look carefully, you might see small figures flying through thin mountain air in my eyes.