Virtually the entire world plays with a conductor. Not Orpheus. Twenty-seven years of rehearsals, concerts, and recordings (more than 50), all without anyone flailing away in the middle. All right. Truth is, we have lots of "conductors." Just no central authority figure. How do we do it? Perfect unanimity of spirit and unwavering dedication. Almost.
After one hell of a schlep, we find ourselves in Prague. The city itself is like one big museum. Apparently they've done away with the Marxist street names, but I can't read the new ones any better. That's why we have our own rented bus take us to Dvorák Hall for the dress rehearsal.
An Orpheus dress rehearsal on tour is a real fun affair. Wake up 25 of your co-workers at 3 a.m. Over the next three hours, try valiantly to reach a consensus on a broad range of life or death issues for your company. Plan to submit your report seven hours later, in public, before 2,500 people. Then you'll have some understanding what it's like.
This rehearsal went the full 15 rounds (it's part of my job to referee), and I need to get away. I'm thinking a great meal would really help my perspective, but my experiences here in this area have not been all that encouraging. Most Bohemian food seems to be a variation on the German beer hall theme. Endlessly baked or stewed meat served with lots of sauerkraut, accompanied by 20 pound dumplings all washed down with gallons of good brewski. Not right now, thank you.
I've got a little guidebook that swears up and down that the best restaurant in Prague is hidden on a little back street in the Old Town. As my slightly bruised colleagues are all sullenly filing back into the bus to the hotel, I invite one, Richard Bock, to join me. Why him? Twenty-nine years ago, while vacationing in Italy, using a borrowed cello, he went and played (pretty much on a dare) for the great maestro Ricardo Muti. Richie was offered a principal position in the orchestra on the spot and ended up staying in Florence for eight years. We became fast friends after he returned to New York, and when Orpheus did its first tour of Italy in '81, I called on him for restaurant recommendations. He turned me on to some extraordinary places, and I owe him big-time.
Shockingly, he says no. Now I'm really depressed and take my seat on the bus, too. As we're heading over the bridge to leave town, thank goodness, Richard has a sudden change of heart. We yell at the bus driver to stop. He lets us jump ship at the last possible spot.
Now here we go again with the street signs. After several major wrong turns, we're looking at the map and focusing on shapes now. This seems to be working. Sure enough, doing a major nestle on a small street just dripping with "quaint" is "David." We enter the restaurant and are greeted by what turns out to be the owner, Lubomir Adamec. In the old days, no one got through this door without a little red card. In today's new world order, only a little green, gold, or platinum card will do. One look at the menu and Richard says emphatically, "We're here."
We feast on smoked halibut, foie gras with apples and brandy, venison with mushrooms, lamb with rosemary, puff pastry filled with potatoes and leeks, and a beautiful '95 Pomerol. But by far the most eye-popping part of our meal is a '97 Czech chardonnay. As a card-carrying wine snob, I scoff at the thought of this local plonk. A rival to the finest Puligny-Montrachet, it just blows us away. Mr. Adamec, who also doubles as the sommelier, treats us royally. He is impressed by the fact that we are "famous musicians" and shows us an empty bottle of '88 Taittinger brut he had served recently to Liam Neeson. For dessert, he prepares crêpes suzette with fresh fruit and chocolate shavings at our table and plies us with very old slivovitz in basketball-size snifters. After settling the rather reasonable tariff and some warm goodbyes, we float outside in search of a cab back to the hotel.
Now fortified with a good meal and a nap, I'm ready to face opening night. Dvorák Hall, (which, by the way is an absolute jewel, with its neo-Renaissance look and fabulous acoustics) is filled to capacity, and as usual when the chips are down, the group plays splendidly. Except for one musician who had to go to the hospital for heart palpitations (too much espresso, not enough sleep), the evening is an unqualified success.