Upon arriving at the entrance to Schlosses Eggenberg. Everyone eagerly hopped off onto the gravel (even those in heels) and proceeded through the big iron gates which opened onto a long walkway leading to the palace courtyard. As I moved along with the glamorous crowd I had to watch where I was stepping for fear of catching someone's frilly dress bottom underneath my toe.
It was a surprisingly long and gravelly walk for a bunch of girls in stilettos and I'll bet that if it weren't for the sight of the lovely palace slowly emerging from behind the trees there would have been a lot of complaining!
When we reached the courtyard we were greeted by the wild trumpeting of several peacocks, their tails spread wide into shimmering displays of genetic fitness. I never quite managed to catch a good photograph of one in full fan, but captured some shots of this guy standing atop a stone post to preen before his next show. Though temporarily on break from the spotlight he seemed no less pleased to be attracting the attentions of a large flock of almost equally bejeweled foreign admirers and stood atop his perch with a haughtily pleased self consciousness, seemingly reveling in our wondering stares.
Everyone milled around in the courtyard for the next few minutes vying for photos with the peacocks--and each other--and wandering up and around the hilly gardens that flanked the Schloss.
At no particular time people made their meandering way past the giant stone sentries, through the palace's front archway, and into the lovely enclosed courtyard that was to play host to our next few hours of revelry.
We were welcomed by the jubilant sounds of a brass quintet made up of some of the other AIMS orchestra members performing a few standard Renaissance favorites from high up in one of the upper balconies. Die Bankelsangerlieder--that old gig fallback--never sounded so good!
The other two trumpeters, Jordan and Gabriel (great name for a trumpeter, eh?) are former graduates of Northwestern and we all got the opportunity to come here in the same way: when AIMS's regular players bailed out, an email was sent to the NU trumpet studio inquiring as to whether any of us would be interested in coming out for the summer. While most of the orchestra had to audition, the three of us were accepted only based on the strength of our resumes...and the fact that we were associated with NU (which, I may have already said too many times, has a reputation for producing great trumpet players). I guess that's pretty awesome on the one hand, but on the other, it's one reason I was so nervous about the state of my chops: I was worried they'd think I faked a resume or something and kick me out the first time they heard me play.
Ahh...listen to that lovely music...
As with many of the old stone streets in Graz, the courtyard cobbles were aligned with their sharp edges pointing up and filled in with a thick edging of dirt and moss. It was a real chore for anyone in high heels to stumble across such precarious paving. I might as well admit to you at this point that, yes, I was one of those unfortunate souls trying to survive the night in heels...ugh!
After a few more minutes of strutting around (and trying not to catch a heel in the floor) everyone slowly made their way upstairs and into the Planetary Room. According to Wikipedia, the paintings in this incredible hall depict "the four elements, the 12 signs of the western zodiac, and of course the seven "planets" (planetes asteres: wandering stars) known to antiquity". As an astronomy buff I was looking forward to attempting to identify all of these features, but when faced with the enigmatic and allegorical paintings found myself struggling to make sense of all but two or three. Nothing was labeled and to be sure of any of these depictions I'd have to come back for one of the guided tours, but I'm fairly sure I could identify Neptune...
...as well as the God Apollo driving his fiery chariot across the sky was appropriately featured in the large central ceiling panel flanked on all sides by the orbiting planets.
I'm also fairly certain I found Venus and Mercury, but due to the room being lit exclusively by candles and whatever daylight was filtering in through the windows, I was not able to get very many decent photographs. Still, even without specific details easily discernible in these photos, I'm hoping you can get a sense of how arrestingly luscious the room was...a literal feast for the eyes.
The pace of the evening was languid and disinclined toward any semblance of efficiency, but eventually everyone made it into the Planetensaall for a couple gracious and romantic speeches about the cultural, developmental, and professional opportunities AIMS offers so many talented musicians and singers. Present were representatives from the government of Graz and the American embassy, as well as some of the donors who have been responsible for providing financial support to the festival for many years. We were told what a privilege it was for us to have the palace and Planetary Room opened to us tonight--that festivals are rarely held here these days due to the delicate and precious nature of the artwork and antiques within. Schlosses Eggenberg has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site--one of only eight within Austria.
The speeches were preceded by a rousing string performance of a Tango by South American composor Astor Piazolla and followed by goose-bump-inducing choral performances of the Austrian National Anthem and America. Man...there are some really great singers here!
With all the formalities out of the way there was a mad dash back through the doors of the hall to the table where wine, beer, bubbly water (disgusting in my opinion), and an opulent spread of meat-heavy hors d'oeuvres (it would be a real struggle being a vegetarian in Austria) was served with fruity highlights and some sort of sweet olive...sweet olives? anyone heard of such a thing?
I wandered around for a while admiring, chatting, and eating, but soon got a little crowd weary and made my way downstairs to see what more exploring could be done before the light disappeared from the sky and the busses returned to take us back to the Studentheim. Here are a few of the photos I took in an attempt to capture the mood of the evening and the loveliness of the location...
I wandered around outside for a while--underneath gigantic old trees where many of the peacocks had roosted for the night within the very topmost branches. It was hard to picture the birds hefting those massive tails up so high...I wish I'd been around to see such a flight!
At about 9:15 people started making their way out from the party and down the now-illuminated walkway back to our meeting spot with the busses. At this point the crowds were a little rambunctious and tipsy. I'm rather conservative and kept my consumption down to a single glass of white wine, but in general there had been quite a lot of imbibing among the rest of the participants--which is what tends to happen when it's offered without limit and for no cost. On the noisy bus ride home, I continued my shameless people watching and giggled a little upon noticing the occasional clandestine and suggestive brushes of the fingers that take place at the onset of new summer romances. I found myself pining a little for the attentions of my boyfriend and eagerly awaited meeting up with him on skype when I got back to my room. He's been in London this week and I couldn't wait to see him and hear about his own European adventures.
It was certainly a memorable night for all involved.