CYSO Tour: Jihlava, Prague, and Saying Goodbye

In her final post from our 2017 Tour of Central Europe, flute player Jennifer Wang writes about our final stop in Europe and the bittersweet end of tour.

Endings are always the worst.
I mean (of course) that endings are always the hardest; in both life and music, they mark the cut-off of incredible experiences. Even for happy occasions, endings are always bittersweet. From a musical perspective, the ending is always the part the audience and performers are most likely to remember. I could possibly be waxing poetical because I’m running on 3.5 hours of sleep– but anyway, the metaphor of an “ending” is extremely apt for describing that of our tour of Central Europe.
After leaving Budapest, we traveled to Prague for the last leg of the tour. Much of our time in the Czech Republic was spent connecting with fellow youth musicians; as soon as we arrived (and after having dinner) we rushed off to Smetana Hall to cheer on the El Camino Youth Orchestra on the first concert of their tour of Europe. They played a wonderful program, closing off with a choreographed encore of Bernstein’s “Mambo” that was possibly the most exciting performance I’ve ever seen (hopefully sometime in the future CYSO gets on that choreography trend!).

A standing ovation for El Camino Youth Symphony at Prague’s Smetana Hall

The next day we traveled to the Music High Schools of Prague to learn about and from our colleagues in the Czech Republic; we spent the morning watching solo and chamber performances, speaking to the musicians, and having lunch with them. That meeting was the start of a beautiful relationship with the Schools, and they even served us pastries traditionally served at Czech weddings, so symbolically we “married” the Music High Schools of Prague. Later, their orchestra opened for our final concert of the tour.
We actually had two concerts in the Czech Republic. The first was in the Church of the Holy Cross in Jihvala, as the closing act of the Mahler Festival. I can honestly say that this was the most difficult concert we played on the tour. The problem was that the chapel echoed; every note we played would hang in the air for much longer than we were used to, making every sound much louder and longer. The sound could last a good ten seconds after the ends of our pieces, and fast notes were all just a blur. In fact, the chaperones had to go out and buy earplugs for students, since the sound could get so deafening.
Maestro Tinkham conducts the orchestra at Jihlava’s Church of the Holy Cross

Fortunately we were all able to laugh at the difficulties, and the resonance of the hall even created some wonderful moments for our performance, as the audience didn’t start applauding until the sound had fully dissipated– meaning after some of our pieces, there were long moments of stillness as the last noted faded. The concert, even with its difficulties, was a beautiful blur. In addition, this was the last time we played Elgar’s “In the South,” and this last performance was absolutely magical– it began to storm while we played, so we got to say goodbye to the piece over the surprisingly fitting and soothing backdrop of thunder and raindrops.
Rainbow over the Church of the Holy Cross

I, and I know for a fact many other students did as well, wish we’d had more time in Prague. We went on a walking tour of some of the royal buildings, on which I had the experience of becoming very emotional about a piece of architecture (the St Vitus chapel) and then got a chance to explore the Old Town Square. It wasn’t nearly enough time to appreciate all the beauty the Czech Republic has to offer, but by then it was time for our last concert. (I guess that just means I have to return to Prague in the future!)
Going into the last concert, there were lots of emotions. Not only was it our last concert, but we were going to perform Dvořák’s Carnival Overture in the exact place it had been debuted with Dvořák  himself conducting. So there were lots of factors weighing on our minds as we rehearsed and then performed– this was our last chance to get it right.
Sold out crowd at Dvořák Hall

Opening for us was the Symphony Orchestra of the Music Schools of Prague, which included many of the talented student musicians we’d met two days prior. Their performance was wonderful, as the entire group seemed really responsive to each other and to the conductor, moving together and playing passionately. Our appreciative symphony started a unison clap for them (although that may or may not have actually been a custom in the Czech Republic. Whoops!). Then, it was our turn to play.
The emotion of knowing it was our last day in Europe, the joy of playing in such a beautiful hall, all the experience we’d gained after three concerts, the exhaustion of so many days spent traveling– whatever it was, that performance was absolutely the highest point of our trip, possibly the best in my entire life. We all played our hearts out, and the audience exploded into applause after the Dvořák. By the end of the Tchaikovsky, there were more than a few tears from the orchestra as we finished the tragic last movement. Since we’d added the pieces of the Prague youth symphony to our program, those were the only two pieces on our regular program (no more Elgar), and we only played one encore, the Marquez, to end our tour of Central Europe. The Czech audience gave us the best send-off we could have asked for, applauding long enough for Maestro Tinkham to have to make no less than 4 curtain calls. The performance was and always will be unforgettable.
Our last night in Europe was spent having dinner on a boat cruise of the Danube River, a night filled with enjoying ourselves with our orchestra for the last time and saying goodbye, to both Europe and to the graduating seniors. We even had one last inspirational speech from Maestro Tinkham himself (and then the chance to take photos and chat with him for the last time). The next morning, we woke up to board flights back to Chicago.
Maestro Tinkham addressing the group on their last night of tour.

The tour of Central Europe is one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had. I and the rest of the Symphony Orchestra got to travel across an ocean to play in some of the best halls and explore some of the most beautiful countries in the world, from Belgrade to Budapest to Prague and many more, an experience so unique that I know for sure I’ll never have anything like it ever again. Even more than that, though, is the fact that I was able to share the experience with the other incredible musicians of our group. I can honestly say I have made some of the best friends I will ever have on this trip. By the end of it, all of us– students, chaperones, and everyone else– felt like a family. I will forever be grateful to the chaperones and coordinators of the trip for making it all possible.
Jenny (second from left) performs with the orchestra in Jihlava

Next year will be my last in CYSO, after seven years of playing and participating in its symphonies. Even after I graduate, though, I will keep the memories of this tour and the rest of my time in CYSO close. The ending of it all– leaving this orchestra, my friends, this organization– will be hard for me. Then again, endings are meant to be bittersweet. In any case, I will always remember and treasure my time in the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras.


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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