TOYAMA, Japan -- After three weeks of four-star hotels, shopping sprees, lavish food and an almost relaxed concert schedule, the grind begins for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, with eight concerts in the next nine days.
Most of the concerts will require at least four hours of traveling, as well as the difficulty of packing and unpacking luggage and instruments, and checking into and out of hotels.
"The fun is over," said violinist Craig Richmond. "Now the meat grind begins."
To begin this final phase of the Far East tour, the orchestra and music director David Zinman moved from Tokyo to this little city nestled between the Sea of Japan and the snow-capped peaks of the Hida-Sanymaku Range.
Toyama is a relaxed, almost sleepy town that compares to hustling and bustling Tokyo as Boise, Idaho, does to New York.
Many BSO players will try to get in some sightseeing early today before tonight's concert in Joetsu. Some will rise at 5:30 a.m. for a train to Kanazawa, one of the few Japanese towns to escape unscathed from the bombing raids of World War II, to see centuries-old castles, temples and gardens. Others will rise almost as early to take a train -- for which the passengers must sign a disclaimer for injury and death -- that will take them up the Hida-Sanymaku's dizzying heights and down into the depths of its ravines.
To reward the orchestra in advance of the impending crunch, and to thank them for playing several superb concerts, Mr. Zinman and BSO executive director John Gidwitz yesterday were hosts of a magnificent dinner at Toyama's finest restaurant for the players, staff and family members who are traveling with them.
After dinner, Mr. Gidwitz and Mr. Zinman, each wearing John Belushi-like sumo wrestler masks on the tops of their heads, emceed what Mr. Zinman called "our Academy Awards." These were awards for achievements of dubious distinction for those who, inadvertently, have provided some of the tour's high points. A short list of the awards follows.
The Chopsticks 101 Award, for "those who would have starved if they had to use them," said Mr. Zinman, was a tie between clarinetist Gordon Miller and violinist Leonid Briskin.
Mr. Briskin was unable to join Mr. Miller at the dais to accept his award because, as one of the players shouted out, he was "having a cheeseburger somewhere." Mr. Miller accepted his prize -- he was given the chance to use chopsticks to eat a bowl of noodles. Between the bowl and Mr. Miller's mouth, the noodles ended up on the restaurant rug.
Awards for Most Adventurous Culinary Exploit went to violist Sharon Myer for having eaten octopus testicles (first prize) and clarinetist Edward Palanker for eating something he later described as being "black, egg-shaped and gooky." Ms. Myer received a plate of eel heads, and Mr. Palanker won a pickled minnow.
Mr. Palanker immediately tasted his prize, saying, "Not bad" -- to which Mr. Zinman replied, "Tastes like chicken, eh?"
The McChicken Award, "for preferring sandwiches to sushi and doughnuts to dim sum," went to principal trumpet Don Tison. Mr. Tison's prize was a quick frozen pizza.
The Seiko Timeliness Prize was awarded by acclamation to violinist Andrew Wasylusko for having missed the bus at Meyerhoff Hall that took the players to BWI, and then, after driving to the airport, missing the flight as well.
The Shop Till You Drop Award was won by associate principal horn Peter Landgren for his purchases of nine T-shirts, three kimonos, one ski outfit, two Chinese costumes, three jade necklaces, two jade rings and an eight-place setting of china. After receiving his prize, a Japanese ceremonial rice bowl, Mr. Landgren said, "I forgot to tell you that I bought one of these yesterday."
The "Let's Make a Deal" Award, for the best bargaining with Korean, Taiwanese and Japanese sidewalk merchants, went to cellist Gita Roche. Ms. Roche's exploits, Mr. Gidwitz said, included: getting $100 reductions on a silk raincoat and a silk dress, and a $60 reduction on a jade ring in Seoul; $100 off a walnut wood carving in Taipei; and for persuading a man on the street in Tokyo to give her his Suntory Beer jacket in exchange for a kiss.
The Chef In A Room Award went to cellist Yuri Sher, the man, Mr. Zinman said, "for whom there is no daily debate between sushi and tempura."
The "Cousin, Cousine" prize went to violinist Margaret Soper-Gutierrez for what Mr. Zinman described as a "12 million to one shot": bumping unexpectedly into her cousin from California on an elevator in Tokyo's ANA Hotel.
The Currency Exchange Award for "knowing which way the market was going," Mr. Zinman said, went to violinist Craig Richmond. Mr. Richmond had his dollars changed into Japanese yen in Baltimore several weeks before the start of the tour, at a rate of 100 yen to the dollar. When the BSO arrived in Tokyo the exchange rate had dropped to 94.