Through talented serendipity- that of American Pianists Association winner Sean Chen being selected for the opening round of the 2013 Cliburn Competition, and thus being unable to travel to Europe- I was fortunate enough to receive an opportunity to perform five recitals in the Czech Republic. I had heard amazing things about Prague, but now I was able to see it for myself.
From the moment I arrived, the people I met there who were involved with the tour were among the warmest I have ever encountered. The managing director in particular, Irina Rybacek, was an incredibly wonderful and helpful person. Unlike other tours where you stay in hotels by yourself, I stayed with a host family and we had a great time getting to know each other. The apartment was in central Prague, quite close to the famous Charles Bridge. I was also able to practice at the home of a legendary pianist, Raduslav Kvapil, and he was also an exceptionally warm and generous man.
There were 5 concerts scheduled during my stay, and only two of them were in Prague. The others were in distant cities, so a group of us traveled the countryside by car for a number of days. This was a beautiful way for me to see much more of the Czech Republic, and the cities (Javornik, Unicov) were quite lovely. One of the concerts, in a town called Pisek, was canceled due to central European flooding that occurred during my stay, but fortunately the other four concerts still took place. When I was in Romania a few years earlier, that Icelandic volcano no one can pronounce erupted and I was stuck there for an extra week. I seem to attract epic natural disasters when traveling abroad.
There is so much to do in Prague, but even with limited time I was able to see a lot of memorable sites. The St. Vitus Cathedral, high on a hill overlooking the city, was absolutely stunning. Having a crisp Pilsner Urquell in a Prague bar with locals was a delight, and I also learned that Budweiser originated in the Czech Republic- and they stubbornly insisted that their version is superior. I had to agree with them.
Above all, the people I got to know and got to perform for were the best part of traveling. Many of them will remain my friends for life. I was so grateful to have been given this unique opportunity, and a return trip is definitely on my Czech-list.
p.s. The American Pianists Association is sending Sean Chen to the Czech Republic later this month (May 28 – June 4) – stay tuned for a blog post from Sean…