This morning comes way too soon. Last night's success is just that. Win or lose, the team moves on to the next city. According to our itinerary, tonight's scheduled event is in Schwetzingen, Germany. I have no clue.
We arrive at the Prague airport, do our group check-in thing, proceed to the gate, and wait. Today's entertainment is provided by Greg. Of Dharma & Greg. Really. Since my kids don't watch that show, I have no idea what his real name is, and I'm not about to ask. Now that the sweeps are over, he's on the road with wife, baby, and cell phone. As soon as I get his handle, he'll join my airport celeb-watch list that includes John Updike, Ronald Reagan, and Dr. Ruth.
Boarding the plane is a "heaven or hell" situation, depending on the specific airline and the crew du jour. Sometimes they let the orchestra pre-board, "to get their valuable instruments properly situated"—the other passengers just love that, and often try to "horn" in. Other times it's "You can't bring that thing on here, it won't fit under your seat. It's gotta go in with the luggage." The protest that many of these instruments are mortgaged for more than a Fifth Avenue co-op usually falls on deaf ears. Fortunately, today they go with the heaven scenario.
From the Frankfurt airport we board another bus to Schwetzingen. Predictably, our driver hasn't a clue either, and when we finally do get close to the town, he can't find the hotel. Why is it that no matter what continent you're on, bus drivers never get directions in advance? After several futile stops to ask the locals, we plunge headlong into "Groundhog Day 2: Travel Nightmare," re-appearing over and over at the same wrong intersection.
An hour later we finally pull up to the hotel, conveniently located in a rather quaint industrial park. Here we are in what's gotta be the capital of "Spargel Fest," and the only restaurant within miles of our hotel is Chinese. Spargel is German for asparagus. A spring ritual. Asparagus with schnitzel, with chicken, with fish. Asparagus pâté. Strudel. Milkshakes. Never mind. I opt for take-out (they say, "Mitnehmen") and a nap.
Tonight we're performing at the Schloss Schwetzingen, a real knockdown, drag-out palace, with gardens, fountains, sculptures, and pink stucco walls. In case you're interested, it served as the summer residence of Prince Karl Theodore of Mannheim. Prince Karl was a cultured soul and built a little theater, Rococo to the nth degree, in the right wing of his lavish home (no bowling alley, however). According to a plaque on the wall, Mozart played here. Twice. In this setting, it's easy to imagine the talented little brat being dragged from Schloss to Schloss entertaining aristocrats like some trained seal.
The stage is tiny, really too small for us. And there's no way to get on and off it gracefully. And the sound is dead as a doorknob. But that's why we have acoustic checks. An Orpheus "AC" is a lot like a dress rehearsal, except you're solving the world's problems in 30 to 40 minutes, rather than a couple of hours. But everyone is exhausted from the trip and we fail to solve anything at all. We settle on a plan and call it quits.
Once the concert starts, the musicians dig deep and the performance goes extremely well, in some ways even better than the night before. In the end, the wildly appreciative audience goes into rhythmic applause mode and forces us to climb back on stage for an encore.