Tour of the Baltics 2019: Välkommen till Stockholm (Welcome to Stockholm)

CYSO’s 2019 Tour of the Baltics is well underway, and we’re featuring dispatches from the road written by members of the Social Media Team. Up first, violinist Nicole (Weirui) Tong shares her impressions of Stockholm, Sweden—from experiencing the Midsommar holiday celebrations to learning to play in a distinctly different concert hall, Nicole reflects on how Tour has already expanded her comfort zone and brought the orchestra closer together.

If one was to compare the city of Stockholm to Chicago, there would be an endless list of differences. For the most part, we as an orchestra were in awe of a city that had begun as a faraway concept not too long ago. When I thought of Sweden before tour, I thought of IKEA, meatballs, the Nobel Prizes, and of course, Swedish fish (the herring not the candy, although I may have been surprised when I discovered the red sweets have nothing to do with Sweden).

After consulting the internet, I filled this narrative in a bit more, discovering the ambitious effort of Swedes throughout history to preserve equality and peace. Yet, this impression was nothing compared to reality: the pure innovation coupled with the authenticity of Sweden’s distinct culture enchanted me. From the rare environmentalism of the urban setting to an obsession with flower crowns, Stockholm felt as if I had stepped into the paradise American cities strive to achieve.

By far one of the most intriguing experiences for many of us was the first tour concert at the Musikaliska, one of Stockholm’s famous music halls. The hall itself was ornate, yet the acoustics were so dry I was able to hear my stand partner’s every note, but had difficulty individually listening to much else.

As Maestro Tinkham has taught us, one of the important aspects of tour is having the opportunity to play in halls widely different from ones we’re used to. As an orchestra, we were challenged and naturally improved our sound.

Located in the center of the city, the Musikaliska is situated among a populated tourist area near the pier. The concert was held on Midsommar, a Swedish holiday second in importance only to Christmas, so we did not expect a large turnout. To our surprise, we actually ran out of programs for all the audience members!

We also encountered one of the crown jewels of classical music concerts in Stockholm: the European audience. We got to experience booming hurrahs, emotional connections, and laughter. There was, as always, that awkward moment when many musicians simultaneously stop practicing on stage. Silence fills the hall before the people who have found their seats and orchestra comically make eye contact when they realize the concert has not yet begun. Still, from the fiery attitude of the violinists during the Firebird’s Infernal Dance to the powerful solos from the winds and brass, our performance felt personally connected.

With a program featuring George Walker, Samuel Barber, and Aaron Copland, CYSO has brought a slice of American music to another part of the world. Perhaps the thrill of completing our first concert (or the relief of finishing a 77-minute program) excited us, because for the final encore we flung ourselves out of the gates, performing Copland’s Hoe-Down like giddy racehorses.

The overall sentiment I had for Stockholm was appreciation. The audience’s passion for music surprised me, especially among those who may not have even recognized American composers such as Walker and Barber. Even the city itself is fascinating. Everything from a fine for not separating paper and plastic when recycling, to a penalty for the driver if we did not wear seatbelts, to the incredible number of scooters and bicycles—it all made me realize the value in being the best, as a musician and a person.

One of the most valuable experiences of tour is the opportunity to better understand distinct cultures and widen our perspective on the world, along with pushing ourselves out of our comfort zones. For lunch, some of my friends and I found a restaurant in the main square of Stockholm’s Old Town where we shared Swedish meatballs with lingonberry sauce, the Midsummer’s plate of fresh herring and shrimp, and a juicy beef rydberg—all traditional Swedish foods.

When our waiter also asked what we thought of Stockholm thus far, we exclaimed with genuine zest about the beauty, history, and culture of the city. He laughed and shook his head: “No, the city is so boring. Just water and tunnels.”

I immediately thought of my reaction when people ask me about Chicago. Perhaps we all believe in the mundane atmosphere of our hometowns. We get used to the ingrained culture of deep dish pizza, Chicago-style hot dogs, Lake Michigan, and the “overrated” Cloud Gate. Yet, these unique traditions, especially Stockholm’s hearty dances around the Maypole and an abundance of daisy flower crowns, are what make the magic of a new city so enticing.

As much as it sounds cliché, Stockholm brought us out of our comfort zones in a number of ways. The Musikaliska was the key that unlocked opportunities for our orchestra to truly listen to ourselves and other instruments. At the same time, the unfamiliarity of the city tested our common sense and challenged us. Why isn’t this trip like any other vacation, you might ask? The experience we share with our companions and fellow musicians, the bonds we form from late-night card games and getting lost on the streets of Old Town together, are the most powerful. The hours we spent in Stockholm, we spent together—searching, discovering, reflecting.

As an orchestra, we shared our music and in turn, Stockholm shared her architecture, food, language, and lifestyle. In the end, we are grateful that, for two days, Stockholm opened her arms and welcomed us, too.



Nicole (Weirui) Tong is currently concertmaster of CYSO’s Symphony Orchestra and has been a member of the organization for the past six years. She is a rising senior at Naperville North High School. In her spare time, Nicole enjoys traveling, writing, memorizing tongue-twisting raps, and binge watching Planet Earth.


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