CYSO Tour: Exploring and Performing in Belgrade

The seven students of CYSO’s Tour Social Media Team are sharing photos and blog posts of their experience abroad on our 2017 Tour of Central Europe. Today flautist Jennifer Wang writes about the students’ three days in Serbia and the first performance of tour at Belgrade’s Kolarac Hall.

Last night, the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras had its first performance of our 2017 Tour of Central Europe. The concert was a perfect end to our time spent in Belgrade. After a day of sightseeing– marveling at churches, touring a fortress, visiting museums, and exploring the city center– we were excited to rehearse and finally perform in the city we were becoming familiar with. Personally, I have loved Belgrade immensely, with its prolific street art, amazing street musicians, and of course the food. (In particular, there were ice cream stands called “Ice Box” at literally every street– a custom I definitely would not be mad if we adopted in the U.S.!)
A lot of it is very new for me; smoking here is legal in many places, so there are ashtrays everywhere, for example. As someone who has never been to Europe before, I’ve just been walking around and staring wide-eyed around me (trying my best not to crash into the small cars and old buildings).

The night before our concert, we were treated to a percussion ensemble performance by Elemental Culture Collective at Kolarac Hall, the same one we were to perform in the next night. The concert was exciting, with highlights including a piece played at a desk with paper using only hands. It’s hard to describe but the performance was very cool! It was just one of the many amazing experiences we’ve had in the beautiful city of Belgrade.
Performing is always a unique experience. Even when you’re playing in a venue you’re familiar with, performing offers slightly different experiences every time, whether it’s how you as a performer feel, what you ate that day, how the audience reacts, or even how the weather is. Performing in a different city, a different country, a different continent– now that was something on a whole other level.
The day of the concert, we first had the opportunity to rehearse in Kolarac Hall. As with any new venue, we had to adjust to the acoustics; that meant making slight changes to dynamics, articulation, balance, and other factors. Then we were released to wander the city one last time. Some of us had the opportunity to tour the Nikola Tesla Museum, which was AWESOME. (I am a huge Tesla fan and just had to include that!)

Finally, the time of the concert arrived. We were served a filling Serbian dinner, at which we were serenaded by some of the restaurant’s musicians, another cool experience. There were some noticeable nerves going around, and it was really hot in our all-black wardrobe, but that’s to be expected at any concert. We were ready.
Even before the concert started, some members of the audience came down to the dressing room to see us (including a bassoonist for the Belgrade Symphony, who chatted with our own bassoonist!). We even saw some of the members of the percussion ensemble in the audience, and I heard later that some of the hotel staff even came! (I’m sure the poster of our performance in the lobby helped with that.) There were some interesting cultural differences to note, even before we started playing. For one thing, the management of the concert hall were unfamiliar with our way of turning down the hall lights before the concertmaster came on stage. There was also no formal announcement to turn off electronic devices or otherwise be silent. Fortunately for us, the audience members themselves took an active role in keeping the hall quiet.

Maestro Tinkham leads the orchestra in its Belgrade performance at Kolarac Hall.

Skye Balfour, Sebastian Tous, Duncan Steele, Kayla Cabrera, Alexa Bucio, and Colin Kim pose for a picture after a successful first concert in Belgrade.

We had noticed the night before at the percussion ensemble performance that the Serbian audience was incredibly receptive– I’m talking loud applauding and whooping after pretty much every piece. For us, it was no different. The wild applause and standing ovations after our performance felt amazing. The audience loved not only our official repertoire, but also our three encores. Now, sitting on the bus to Hungary, I still smile thinking about it.
What I took away from this performance was that, though we were an ocean away from home and only a few days past jet lag and travel struggles, much of it was very familiar, almost comforting– as usual, we played our hearts out, and as usual, we all were exhausted by the end of it. In some ways, being on stage felt like home.
The view out the bus window as the orchestra travels to our next stop, Budapest, Hungary.


Jennifer Yu Wang is co-principal flautist for CYSO’s Symphony Orchestra. She has been playing flute for eight years, and with CYSO for five. She studies with Susan Levitin, and her solo achievements include winning the Society of American Musicians and Chicago Flute Club competitions, as well as performing on WFMT Introductions. Jenny is active in chamber music and played in CYSO’s Zephyrus Winds woodwind quintet. This fall, Jenny will be a senior at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools.

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