Back in September of 2000, REBEL was engaged to play a concert at the Festival Oude Muziek (Festival of Early Music) in Utrecht. It was an unusually hot and humid afternoon and we were to perform in a large church directly following another ensemble’s performance, and the church, whose stained-glass windows were the kind that did not open, was literally like a steam bath. We worried about the usual things baroque string players worry about: how our gut strings would fare under such extreme conditions.
Minutes before we were to go onstage, I was in the process of tuning my violin when my A-string peg broke.
When a peg breaks, there is no way to manually tune it again. Jörg had to use Dongsok’s pliers to get the A-string in tune, but we wouldn’t be able to do this kind of operation onstage every time I needed to tune.
I was panicking but the show had to go on. It was to be a full-length concert with intermission, and I had no idea how I was going to manage, what with the heat and humidity, not to mention, a program with a lot of vigorous bowing. As it turned out, for some entirely inexplicable reason (which to this day still confounds me), while everyone else was tuning and tuning in between pieces my A-string remained pristinely in tune throughout.
Are there such things as string angels? There must be, because there could be no other explanation for this.
The first time REBEL was in Ashland, OR, years ago during the month of October, I realized Crater Lake was "only" just over 100 miles away. It was a legendary place in my mind, because my dad, as a young Korean immigrant college student, pre-marriage and family, used to drive across the country during the summer months between school years, driving new cars to new owners on the West Coast from Detroit. He loved to take beautiful photographs, and there were pictures of Crater Lake that stuck in my mind. I had never seen it in person… Anyway, we had a concert that was going to be done by 9:30 or 10 PM, and there was supposed to be a full moon later that night. And we had a very early flight from Oregon, which was only going to give us a couple of hours of sleep, so I thought, "Why not just pull an all-nighter, and drive to Crater Lake, and see it under a beautiful full moon. We will get back to the hotel in Ashland just before we would have to get up and leave, anyway!" I was such a romantic in those days... John readily agreed with this plan, so after the concert, John and I got in the car, and I started driving.
We got to Crater Lake about midnight, and it was indeed snowing.
We drove up the mountain and got to Crater Lake, where we should have had a magnificent view of this natural wonder. Except, it was really snowing hard by then, there was not even a trace of a full moon, and even though I could clearly see Crater Lake on the GPS display, in real life, we could not see a THING. So, sadly, we had to drive back to the hotel and fly home without seeing Crater Lake in person. It was a crazy stupid story enough that John and I didn't tell the rest of the group about it for a few years…
In the late 1990’s REBEL had an engagement at a high-profile summer venue. John had come up with his wife, Risa and their two sons from Washington, D.C. to hear the concert, en route to other summer plans. We had agreed to our usual dress code: black shirt and pants with black jacket and tie for the men.
But when it had come time for us to get dressed, John realized he had forgotten to pack his black shirt and tie, so he had no choice but to perform with his jacket over a white undershirt. In the green room after the concert, the wife of the executive director came up to John and told him she absolutely loved his 'chic look', while John’s sons, both young boys at the time, were hiding behind their dad and giggling.
In 2005 REBEL had a set of two concerts upstate; one in Amsterdam, NY and one the following evening in Glens Falls. It was winter and there were some icy patches of pavement just outside the Amsterdam church; John slipped on the ice and hit his head just hours before the concert.
The real fiasco, though, happened the next day:
We were a group of seven, traveling in two cars. Matthias was driving with Anne, our bassist at the time, and the rest of us were in Dongsok’s van. When we got to Glens Falls, Jörg and Matthias realized they had forgotten their concert clothes in the foyer of the two respective host homes they had been staying at. Luckily, one of the hosts was able to come to the concert and agreed to bring the two garment bags, which arrived just minutes before curtain time.
But yet another a series of mishaps occurred beforehand which no one could have anticipated.
Matthias and Anne were not at the soundcheck at the appointed hour and we were all getting concerned. They finally showed up having missed the soundcheck entirely, but with a tale to tell: Anne had accidentally 'sailed through a red light' in downtown Saratoga on her way to the concert hall, and was stopped by a policeman who also noted that she wasn’t wearing her seatbelt. The policeman then did a background check and found a slew of unpaid parking tickets in the system. Anne was promptly arrested, handcuffed and brought to the police station for detention. Meanwhile the police were getting interested in her cohort, Matthias. They did a check on his name and then thought they had found a match, claiming that Matthias was a 'wanted rapist’. Fortunately, as it turned out, they realized they had spelled his name wrong and instead of ‘Maute’ the felon’s name was “Mante’. Both Matthias and Anne were eventually let go and Matthias drove the car the rest of the way to the hall, arriving just in time for the concert.
Against all odds it was actually a very fine performance. However, once the concert was done and we left the hall to go home there were three idling police cars parked out in front. Trying not to visibly panic we went about the business of loading our cars, leaving the scene without incident and without daring to look back. To this day we have no idea what they were doing there, or who they were waiting for.
In this case it was better not to know.
Sometimes a story is so funny it can never be told too many times. Once we had a mini-tour in Minnesota which included a live studio performance for the nationally-syndiated radio show, St. Paul Sunday. We were responsible for securing our own lodging but American Public Media agreed to supply the ground transportation from the airport to whichever hotel we had chosen. It turned out that that during this particular weekend there was a huge running marathon as well as a big conference so most of the recommended hotels were fully booked. I had gone down the list of preferred hotels but no place had vacancies. Until the last one: the Travel Motor Inn. There was an annotation that mentioned it was not 'particularly recommended', but as it would have been between this and camping outside in the cold, I booked it.
At the twin cities airport we were picked up by a stretch limo replete with a cooler and a stash of champagne glasses in the back. After about 15 minutes’ drive, just on the outskirts of St. Paul, I looked out the window and saw we were about to pass an exceptionally seedy-looking motel. I made a joke that ‘hey, maybe we’re staying here' but just as I did, the driver switched on his left signal and pulled into the parking lot. It must have been quite a sight to see this fancy limo in the lot of such a dive, what with five musicians with instruments emerging from it.
The check-in office had the charm of a gas station waiting room but with the added accoutrement of a bullet-proof glass partition (with a little talking hole) behind which sat the concierge. We got our keys and checked into our rooms.
Needless to say, it was perhaps the worst accommodations we can remember.
Nearing 7:30 PM I called several restaurants to make dinner reservations. Every one of them was full. Tired and hungry, we decided to order a couple of pizzas for delivery. We called the nearest Domino’s, but when they found out where we were staying they refused to deliver, saying it was ‘too dangerous to go there’. Apparently one of their delivery guys had been held up at gunpoint at this particular location. So we all had to walk a mile each way in frigid wind to pick up the pies ourselves. By the time we got back to the motel we feasted on cold pizza. Later on, two of us reported hearing knocks on the door from 'ladies of the night' in the wee hours of the morning. Thankfully, check-out was the next day.
We’ve done many educational concerts and lecture/demonstrations for schoolchildren and it has always been fun. But there was one time when things had gone south- literally and figuratively.
In 2004, we did a tour with the celebrated countertenor, Derek Lee Ragin, whose claim to fame (among many other things) was that he was the ‘voice’ of the famous 18th-century castrato, Farinelli, in the film of the same name. We entitled our program ‘The Legend of Farinelli’ which featured arias that the famous castrato was known to have sung.
This particular educational concert was at the Paramount Theatre in Peekskill, and a few hundred kids were bussed in from the surrounding schools. After we made brief introductions, Derek took the mic, and in an effort to explain the concept of the program gave a short but graphic explanation of how and why men were turned into castrati. But before we could stop him, he proceeded to tell the large group in detail that talented male singers had a piece of their manhood 'chopped off' to preserve their high-pitched voices. There were squeals of shock and horror echoing throughout the hall, to which Derek said to the audience in a stage whisper, sadly shaking his head:
“ Well…. but that’s what they did…”
I thought this was going to be the end of REBEL's promising relationship with the Peekskill City School System right then and there, imagining the phone would be ringing off the hook at the school administration office the next day from angry parents demanding explanations and retribution. As it turned out, however, there was only one such call.
The funny thing was, that when we talked with Derek about it afterwards, he had been completely unaware that we hadn’t mentioned the program title, concept - or for that matter, Farinelli and his fellow castrati- at all to the teachers in preparation for our performance, so an explanation of castration was not only unnecessary but quite confusing. It made a great story, though, and each time we tell it we find ourselves in stitches all over again.
During REBEL’s early incarnation as ‘Ensemble Rebel’ in the early 90’s we played a concert way up in the north of Holland, in the city of Groningen. At the time, Jörg and I lived in Amsterdam, our harpsichordist, Pieter, lived in Utrecht and our viola da gamba player, Gail, lived in Alphen, not far from Utrecht.
We had all traveled there by train and were set to travel back that same night.
Our concert was the usual full-length format, and we were concerned that if we played an encore we would miss the last train out. Despite the thunderous applause, standing ovation, bouquets of flowers and calls for an encore, we quickly acknowledged the accolades and made a mad dash for the green room en route to the train station. I don’t know who tipped off the critic, but the review in the paper two days later had the headline (in Dutch): “The Triviality of the Train Schedule Ends the Concert."
Once, at an afternoon concert at Rockefeller University in New York City, REBEL played a program that featured Matthias in a flute concerto. During the performance, Matthias was aware of many people smiling in a way that was unusual. He played brilliantly and the concerto was met with great applause. Once backstage he realized that his fly had been open during the whole time.
The historic Troy Savings Bank Music Hall in Troy, NY remains one of our favorite places to perform and record. We were fortunate to have recorded two CDs there during the years we were with the Dorian record label. One evening during a four-day session recording our ‘Corellisante’ CD, the sound engineer said there was a very subtle but persistent noise that was coming through from somewhere and that we’d have to find it before we could continue.
Hunting for the source of the noise was like trying to find a needle in a haystack.
The Music Hall was a very large place with lots of nooks and crannies. We worried that not only would be be losing valuable recording time, but we might not be able to find the culprit at all, which would nix the rest of the recording. Finally, after an hour of searching, someone discovered a cellphone on the floor next to one of the seats in the balcony that was on ‘vibrate’. Most likely the owner of the phone was calling themselves in an attempt to locate their lost equipment. It did the job.
On tour in Holland, we had just taken the train from Amsterdam to The Hague. We hailed a taxi at the train station and just as Jörg was leaning over to help John put his cello into the trunk of the car, the strap of his violin case snapped and the case hit the ground with a thud. Upon opening up the case at the concert hall our worst fears were confirmed:
Jörg’s beautiful Stainer now had a ten-inch crack down the back.
Our first concert was that evening and we were in a bind. The program had one piece for scordatura tuning (tuning other that the conventional tuning of a violin) and the violin, in its newly-compromised condition, would not be able to handle the tension that the higher tuning would initiate. In a panic we decided to call our mentor, Marie Leonhardt, who herself owned a Stainer violin, to see if there was any way we could borrow her violin, at least, for the scordatura piece. Her husband, Gustav Leonhardt, answered the phone, only to say that Marie was out of the country. But, he said, there was a chance she may not have taken her Stainer with her. We waited a few minutes for him to check; when he got back on the phone he said we were in luck. Furthermore, he told us he had planned to come to our concert anyway (which was itself a nice surprise) and would be bringing the violin with him.
Meanwhile, Jörg decided to see how the violin sounded, crack and all. To everyone’s surprise, it sounded amazingly good. At the concert he played his violin for all the pieces except for the one with special tuning, during which Marie’s violin was put to good use.
After the concert Mr. Leonhardt asked us all a curious question: ‘Did we have some good wine at the place we were staying?’ We must have answered in a tentative way, because he immediately invited us to his royal residence on the Herengracht in the heart of Amsterdam (this house was actually on indefinite loan to the Leonhardts from the queen herself) and he treated us to berry wine and biscuits. The real surprise happened toward the end of our unexpected visit: he asked us if we would like to ‘see the rest of the house’, to which we replied in the enthusiastic affirmative. 'But wait’ he said; ‘Let me light the candle sconces first’. We waited until he told us to walk up the stairs. We had only ever seen the basement (kitchen/ family hang-out) and the first floor parlor, but never the upper regions of the house. So, pleasantly buzzed from berry wine we were treated to a candlelight tour of the private quarters of the Leonhardt residence. We all felt we were dreaming.
When we returned to New York we gave Jörg’s Stainer to William Monical, the preeminent luthier, then located in Staten Island. He of course, had to open up the violin entirely to repair it. When he did, he discovered that the new crack was along a previous one that had been repaired long ago, but that there was a hardened glue bubble over a part of it which rendered the area vulnerable. Once this glue bubble was done away with and the crack was repaired completely, the Stainer sounded better than ever. Sometimes, blessings come in the most unexpected disguises.