Sunday, April 20, 2014

Carnegie Hall Debut

On Easter weekend of 2014, I performed my Carnegie Hall solo debut with two of my closest friends, Dr. Julie Yu and Dr. Joshua Oppenheim, as they conducted the National Festival Chorus.  Technically speaking, the concert wasn't particularly challenging for me - soloist in M.L.K. by Chillcott - but it was a fantastic and unbelievable experience.  Check out some of the photos below...

Ahhhhh, one of my favorite places...New York City - looking toward Radio City Music Hall along Avenue of the Americas (aka 6th Ave)

Chorus Rehearsal in a downtown hotel convention center - not an ideal acoustic, but a great experience none the less

Dr. Joshua Oppenheim and Dr. Julie Yu in front of their poster at Carnegie Hall

Near the Empire State Building

At Bryant Park

Carnegie Hall

Rehearsal at Carnegie

In the Maestro Suite, before the performance
Bryan Pinkall's solo Carnegie Hall debut with the National Festival Chorus

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Back to Work - Learning Life

Upon returning to the states, I had an overwhelming media schedule from newspaper reports, to radio interviews, television appearances, speaking engagements, but most of all, I had to catch up on all the lessons that I missed while in Russia.  As I write this (February of 2015), reflecting on the events of 2014, I can't help but also mention all that I missed writing about in 2013.

Partly due to my own insecurities, it was a difficult two years to be a public person.  I dealt with severe depression, divorce, the rather violent death of a friend, coming out of the closet (while afraid to be "out" in Russia - a notoriously horrible location for LGBT folk), and several rounds of discriminatory actions against me that left me quite helpless to address.   All the while, I had a crazy international performance schedule, trips to the Emmy's and Grammy's, being offered a professorship (at the age of 27!), the Olympic experience, and other surprises like being named Distinguished Kansan of the Year last year by the Topeka Capital Journal.  It was a strange time to describe and live, and I was terrified of dealing with some of these issues in the public light.  It was impossible to avoid being a public person.

So, having settled into a "new normal"  I want to take you through some of the moments that have dotted the last few months.

These balloons greeted me upon my arrival back at K-State on my office door - "Welcome Home Dr. Pinkall"
My new boyfriend Patrick and I visit the Varsity Donut food truck in Manhattan, KS (a foodie's dream!)
Patrick and I take little vacations nearly every week.  Here we are at the top of the Liberty Memorial at the National World War I Museum overlooking Kansas City.
A visit to Kansas City's Union Station
My rather successful attempt at making my Volga German family's favorite dessert - Kuchen - pronounced by them as "Kooguh"
An hilarious hate mail letter sent to me from a pro-Russian person obviously angry that I commented on my poor treatment while in Sochi
A day in the park in Kansas City
On a trip to Western Kansas to teach a masterclass, I stopped in Victoria, KS at the Basilica of the Plains
A purple evening sky in Spring overlooking Anderson Hall at K-State

Friday, February 21, 2014

2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Opening Ceremony (entire ceremony)

XXII Olympic Winter Games
Sochi, Russia

Troika pulling the sun, thawing the ice in the Opening Ceremony segment "Rite of Spring"

Olympic Ceremony Records
italics indicate records at the time
  • First entrance of the Parade of Nations from below the stadium floor
  • Most Nations Competing in an Olympic Winter Games - 88 (previous 82 Vancouver)
  • First continuous use of projections
  • First use of prop trains above the stadium floor
  • Most expensive Olympic stadium (est. $750 million - $1 billion)
  • First stadium specifically built for an Olympic ceremony
Opening Ceremony
Fisht Olympic Stadium (40,000)
February 7, 2014

Official Report
No Official Report ... yet

Official Video
(no commentary)
be patient, it may take a few minutes to load

Opening Ceremony Highlights

The Sochi opening ceremony was one of the most elaborate in the history of the Olympic Games.  Notably, the enormous props, guided through the stadium with the help of a train system on the roof provided some of the most elaborate scenes in Olympic ceremony history.  The ceremony was a tribute to the history of Russia as told through its various rich art traditions including ballet, music, and literature. Concerning the size of the ceremony, with a custom built stadium with a custom built roof for moving props held in massive containment buildings adjacent to the stadium, the Sochi opening ceremony was the most expensive ceremony ever produced.  With reported stadium costs and ceremony budgets, the production easily exceeds $1 billion; if true, it would be the first in history to break that mark.

A malfunctioning Olympic ring blighted an otherwise emphatic reception of the ceremony, which featured world famous musicians, thousands of dancers and volunteers, and a massive recounting of the history of Russia.  Sochi took much of the recent evolution of the Olympic ceremony to massive proportions, and although few true innovations occurred, the Sochi ceremonies perfected the projection techniques first implemented by Vancouver in 2010, the suspension of massive props first implemented by Sydney 2000, and narrative film elements first implemented by London 2012.  With Sochi, the Olympic Ceremonies are now trending toward productions of living cinematic art.

Viewers' Guide
0:00:00 - Pre-Ceremony Entertainment
0:20:39 - Opening Flyover
0:34:40 - Cyrillic Alphabet Countdown Film
0:38:44 - Artistic Segment - Flight through Russia
0:45:00 - Introduction of the Presidents of the Russian Federation and IOC
0:46:00 - Russian National Anthem
0:50:30 - Olympic Torch Relay Film
0:52:30 - Parade of Nations
1:49:00 - Giant animatronic mascots of Sochi 2014
1:51:07 - History of Russia Film
1:54:00 - Artistic Segment - Rite of Spring
2:02:00 - Artistic Segment - Peter the Great
2:06:30 - Artistic Segment - War and Peace
2:13:00 - Artistic Segment - Russian Revolution
2:21:00 - Artistic Segment - 20th Century
2:29:00 - Olympic Torch Relay Film
2:31:00 - Speech by SOCOG President
2:37:30 - Speech by IOC President
2:47:00 - Vladimir Putin Opens the Games
2:48:00 - Artistic Segment - Doves of Peace
2:52:00 - The Olympic Flag and Anthem
3:00:00 - Olympic Oaths
3:03:30 - Artistic Segment - Olympic Gods
3:08:45 - The Olympic Flame
3:14:00 - Firebird, Finale, Fireworks
Sochi Olympic Medals

Sochi Olympic Logo

Sochi Olympic Torch

Sochi Olympic Stadium and Cauldron

Girl flies through the topography of Russia

Malfunctioning Olympic Ring

Opening Ceremony segment remembering those lost in WWII

Opening Ceremony segment commemorating the USSR

Doves of Peace

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Silenced by Paranoia

After several days of recovery, I've decided to continue this story where I left off.  I originally posted my last post in the early afternoon of February 6, shortly before I left to go to the Olympic Park for our final rehearsal before opening night.

I left an important credential in my room, went back to retrieve it, and for the first time since I arrived in Sochi, I was late to work.

Now that I am safely in America, I can be a little more honest about my opinions of my situation in Russia.  It is a difficult place.  Adler reminds me in many ways of a town along the Mexican border.  The infrastructure is quite poor.  Essentially, everything you hear about Sochi is true, however it can be worse than what is leaked in the Western media.  Many of these "horrific" pictures online are of new places, while most of the workforce and volunteer staff stay at old accommodations containing any egregious number of safety concerns. Yes, the water can be colored or heavily bleached. The worst treatment concerns the meals for the workforce and volunteer staff who for days on end receive two or sometimes three meals per day merely of one scoop of noodles or grain and a hot dog.  Tea and mayonnaise are available as well.  Although I cannot empirically prove it, the meals do not exceed more than a couple hundred calories each.  Because of the poor nutrition, a large number of staff and workers were sick for weeks, and are still sick today.  Staff wait for 1.5 to 2 hours and until 1 or 2 am for their dinner.  The culture of standing in line doesn't exist in Adler as hoards of people crash into the cafeteria lines desperate for food.  Some skip the meager dinner out of frustration or exhaustion of waiting and competing for their food.  With that said, the most difficult part of my experience was not the infrastructure, but the general work ethic.  With a nearly impossible public transit system, long commute, a poor diet, poor work organization, and few smiles, it is easy to understand why the general work ethic would not be like it is in other parts of the world.

My now infamous meal of onions, pickled beets, and herring

Spooky amusement park (still operating)

Puppies playing

The new part of town

The walk to work, through an operating construction zone.

Mad rush for food, turns into an hour-long standstill

A good dinner - no processed meat and a rare vegetable (20 peas)
A stroll in the park
Given all of these frustrations, I cannot express how embarrassed I was to be late to work for that first time.

I am lucky in that I had a private driver to take me all the way to my work site.  While others take hours to get work, it only took me 20 minutes.  I ran into the management office, and was asked to sit for 30 minutes while my supervisor finished speaking to another person.  My supervisor, a Russian speaker, needed the help of two translators to give me the following message.  She was incredibly sorry and repeated that several times but her supervisors, all of whom I will not make public, were informed that I was put on "a list".

In this initial conversation, I was told that due to my speaking to the media and due to my blog, I was releasing information that was dangerous or perhaps illegal.  I was completely unaware of this.  Of my two interpreters, one was very helpful and the other was exceedingly condemning of me.  So, when I was escorted to the police headquarters, I took along the nicer interpreter.

I arrived to a small room, no bigger than a bedroom, filled with computers and five agents.  I was not introduced to them.  I didn't know who they were or who they were with or what they do.  Immediately they told my supervisor and interpreter to leave, but I laughed and told my interpreter that if she left then it will be a pretty short interview.  No one thought it was funny.  My interpreter stayed with me and there commenced a very long interrogation.  I was scared to death, shaking even.

The conversation immediately began with talk of my deportation - the day before the ceremony.  Why?  Well, I had the same question.  He told me that I am not allowed to talk to anyone: about Russia, about what I'm doing in Russia, about what I feel like, and I am not allowed to even say that I am not allowed to say anything.  He didn't quote anything specifically, but he just wanted to know if I understood as if I should know better.  The week before I heard rumors that others were signing documents of a sort, but those never reached me.  I felt as if I was being tricked into confessing something.  So, I told him that although I understood the question, I did not understand why I couldn't speak to anyone.

The interrogation continued.

They were very interested in how I gained some of my information including the price tag for the Games, of which I mentioned a Moscow newspaper.  They spoke for awhile about the picture of the warship that I posted (seen below).  They wanted to know every question I was asked in interviews alluding to the western media's fixation on the gay rights issue, security presence, preparation of the venues, eradication of stray dogs, and my response to it.  I of course did not comment on such topics to the media as I valued my safety.  They were trying to read from a screen that had translated my blog and the media articles into Russian, so many of the comments were not translated correctly, especially jokes.  I pretended not to understand their cursing and their "stupid American" comments.  I played it as innocently as possible.

They were upset that I posted this picture

By the end of the interrogation, I was instructed to cancel my last interviews - one of which that evening would be aired live on national TV in Russia - and to delete my blog posts about Russia.  Now, I had no problem deleting my blog as I know that Google cache's every web page, so I could easily retrieve everything again.  I logged on to my account on their police computer knowing that they had complete access to all of my account, deleted my posts, and they told me that I could not talk to anyone again.  Not knowing what would happen in the future, and frankly, concerned for my own well-being, I texted three people a very brief synopsis of what happened.

From then on, my goal was to do my job and then get the heck out of Dodge.

When I returned to my room that night, I immediately packed everything in case I needed to leave in a hurry.  The Opening Ceremony went spectacularly (and I'll have that post soon), and the day following, I went to the airport six hours in advance of my flight to Moscow.  After reaching Moscow, at passport control, a woman was having a nervous breakdown behind me and I was ushered past quickly so the control officer could deal with her.  I was on my way to the USA.

When I landed at JFK airport in New York, wearing my Sochi Olympic gear, the American passport agent asked me why I would be returning if the Olympics just began.  As quickly as I could, I said that I was part of the opening ceremony, coming back to teach but a few days ago I was interrogated by some security forces (still unknown to me), they kept me from communicating with anyone about anything, and I AM SO HAPPY to see you!  He laughed in amazement, said the ceremonies were incredible and gave me a fist bump, and he gave me a very welcome "welcome home".

I love the Olympics, but I missed America!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

1 Day to Go: The Olympic Flame Arrives!

The Opening Ceremony is Tomorrow (local time)
The Opening Ceremony is Friday evening on NBC in America

The Olympic Flame arrives in Sochi
This morning we called a surprised final dressed rehearsal.   One dramatic, last second, change to the program will be implemented.  Don't worry though, we are adding to the show, not taking anything away.  I am writing this on the bus to Sochi, which follows along the black sea coast.  Many warships, at least 10, stand guard while I travel to the city center to get a first and final glimpse of the torch relay as it enters the Olympic city for the first time.  The ride is both beautiful and eerie as many abandoned docks and an occasional lone soldier standing guard next to their wooden chair line an otherwise beautiful gray stone coastline.

The excitement is building in Sochi.  Another first, among my many various interviews, I have a live interview on Russian National TV during their national nightly news tonight!  Although I will speak in English, I am very proud as I have received many compliments on my Russian this last week.  As a musician, I am really particular about not having an American accent, so I think it is more a reflection of that than my actual Russian vocabulary.  I will certainly keep learning Russian after I leave the Olympics.

And as for news in general, it is difficult for us to receive it from overseas because of the poor internet coverage here in Sochi.  At the resort, one of the ceremonies staff downloaded a television news segment and about twenty of us sat around chairs and tables to watch it on an iPhone.  As one person said, "I've learned more in these three minutes about what is going on in Sochi than I have in the three weeks living in the middle of it all."

In many ways, we prefer not to know.  Our responsibilities are enough to worry about.  We feel very safe though as there are security forces everywhere.  Still, I am more confident than ever that the ceremonies will go exceedingly well.  I hope you enjoy it all!

Last night, all the international ceremonies staff threw me a gigantic going away party!  I love them all and will miss them all so very much!  I now have new friends from all over the world, London, Hong Kong, Brisbane, Kiev, Toronto, Michigan, Ottawa, Vancouver, Halifax, Lithuania, Leipzig, Copenhagen, and many various places in Russia.  I must find a way to see them all again soon.

And just in case you want to know more about any of the Opening Ceremonies from 1896-2012, CLICK HERE.  You can watch the 2014 Opening Ceremony live to 4 billion around the world on Friday night!

Sochi city center

The line to get tickets for events can be 4 hours long...this one goes all the way up the stairs in the distance before a room with another 1.5 hour wait

A Russian coffee shop

the crowd in Sochi waiting for the Torch

a runner finishes his part of the relay

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

All Access Pass: Final Preparations

2 Days to go!

Last night, our final complete run of the Opening Ceremonies took place, and it went immeasurably better than our initial full dress rehearsal last Saturday.   All of the major technical issues have been resolved and now we are ready to begin the XXIInd Olympic Winter Games in grand fashion.

We still have some small details to work out, some costumes are still being constructed, and some of the visual effects will need to be ironed out as well.  In previous posts, I mentioned some of our tricks to putting on a show of this magnitude.  Every performer has ear buds and are listening to radio channels throughout the ceremony.  They immediately hear commands and reprimands during the performance.  It's actually quite funny to listen to without watching the show, as you hear three languages of people panicking about strange things.  In the picture below, I zoomed up on a group of people frantically soldering hundreds of costumes in the hours before our live dress rehearsal.  Everything is magnified: the number of actors, the size of props, and the size of problems. 

These ceremonies are primarily intended to be enjoyed by a television audience.  Camera angles and lighting are incredibly important and have required many hours of testing and re-testing.  Pyrotechnic devices are used extensively throughout most Olympic ceremonies of late, and it is difficult to test or practice these and their cooperation with a musical score without actually going through the actual show at full scale.  Our practice fireworks displays are larger than some of the largest fireworks shows I have ever seen.  Of course, after the production, I will be able to talk about all the little details - some you will recognize, and some are hidden secrets.

Because the ceremony is intended for the camera, the lighting and visual effects are primarily intended for those on one side of the stadium.  This is yet another reason that it will be easier to view this colossal event on TV than in the stadium.  Sometimes, if you are sitting on the wrong side of the stadium, you may only see the backside of props or special effect.  Thankfully, this is only the second time an Opening Ceremony will be performed in a dome which allows for some incredible feats of ingenuity.  Not only is it a dome, but it is specially made just for this production.  What's our secret?  You will find out in the very first segment!  My one wish for you is that unlike the American telecast of the London 2012 ceremonies, which was filled with ridiculous banter, I hope NBC will save most of its commentating only for when it is necessary.

You still have time left to check out some previous Olympic ceremonies or go through my list of the top 4 in history.  I may have to add one more to the list in 2 days!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

3 Days to Go: Secret Preparations

3 Days to go!

Secret preparations were underway last night to practice the cauldron lighting for the Opening Ceremony.  Of all secrets, this is the most secretive.  The rehearsals went well and now we can only wait and hope.  I am incredibly excited for tonight as we welcome a full audience once again (and final) time before the opening night.  Everything must go well.

There is a lot of risk involved with this ceremony, and I am unbearably excited to hear the world's reaction.  Even with all the preparation, if something isn't successful in the ceremony, then we will have to cut something.  There is also a risk of going over our allotted production time, yet another means to cut segments.  When it comes down to it, everything must be as perfect as possible, so the viewing audience of 4 billion can enjoy what is essentially a piece of live cinema in the world's most expensive and elaborate studio.

For those in the United States, the NBC commentators will get their first glimpse of the show tonight.  And I have made several interviews in the last few days.  If you are in KS, you may even see me on your local NBC affiliate before or after the ceremonies air.

I also wanted to mention, that whatever numbers are thrown around on the price-tag of this event, they are likely arbitrary.  Keep in mind, the stadium, which is used only for the ceremonies, and all its technical attributes costs (according to the Moscow Times) in excess of $1 billion and the budget to maintain the mechanical elements, technical elements, costuming, and production of the ceremony and the budget to pay for professional performers and their accommodations together is several hundreds of millions of dollars.  All-in-all, it may be impossible to put a number on the actual cost of these ceremonies, but what has already been spent in the production easily exceeds what Beijing (2008) spent several times over.

Sochi will easily surpass this, but by how much?  The actual cost for this ceremony is somewhere between $1.1 billion and $1.25 billion if you include the specially made venue.  Second place, Beijing 2008 - $559 million.  Third place, London 2012 - $546 million.

To put that into perspective, the most expensive film ever made was Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End which had a budget of $300 million and was filmed over 18 months.  The production of this ceremony likely exceeds the Disney movie's budget 4 times over and must be filmed in 4 hours.

The stress is intense.  The show is spectacular.  Wish us luck for our last dress rehearsal!

Monday, February 3, 2014

4 Days to Go: Anxious Expectations

4 Days to go!

Today and tomorrow will be especially important days for us in preparing for the Opening Ceremony.  Tonight we begin our complete dress rehearsals simulating opening night.  We cannot afford to make any stops in the production, and final cuts to any segments will be made as well.   Some costuming is still not complete as many costumes have technical elements to them.  Tomorrow we have another full audience with which to practice, and hopefully we can make a flawless run for them.

As an historian of the ceremonies, I am having an enormously difficult time trying to keep a level perspective of how these ceremonies will be received.  My great frustration yesterday is somewhat dulled as I peruse some of the online communities of ceremonies historians and aficionadi.  These are very difficult people to please, as they can be greatly opinionated artists.  Leading up to these ceremonies, I've received comments such as:

"Looks a bit tack-o."

"The stadium though, the whole roof, hangers and stickers on the hangers looks very.... amateurish to me. Very sub-Olympic standard design and planning if you ask me."

"I believe someone said it already and maybe the last few Olympics have ruined us but this does feel very amateurish."

Several days ago, their general excitement toward these ceremonies was depressed at best.  Obviously, they had not seen any bit of the ceremony at that point.  After our first dress rehearsal with audience, our ceremony received excited cursing and comments from these same people saying:

"This ceremony is going to be insane"

"It's crazier than I can imagine."

"They're really putting everything into this ceremony"

"This will be astounding."

It is very rare for this community to be so excited.  These ceremonies are extremely risky because of new technologies and intricacies involved;  I believe that by any measure it is the most technically challenging and in many ways the riskiest ceremony production ever attempted, but that should make it all the more exciting for the world...if everything works out that is.

Still, I had a pretty stressful day yesterday, so I ventured out of Adler where the Olympic Park is located and headed toward Sochi.  Sochi is a very modern city, and I needed some modern amenities to bring my spirits up.  In Sochi, I performed my American duty and watched the Super Bowl at 3:30am.  I cannot help but mention how happy I was when the remarkable Renee Fleming beautifully sang the National Anthem.  This was a great change from the normal ridiculous Super Bowl national anthem wail.  For what it's worth, I never have understood the fascination with the screaming, melismatic National Anthem pop arrangement.  "O Canada" became the first anthem in Olympic history to be performed in a pop arrangement in the 2010 Opening Ceremony in Vancouver.  Thankfully for my colleagues in music academia and for all that is good and decent in the world, I have made sure that you will NOT be disappointed in the quality of the music here in Sochi.

And on that note, I must give a final and profound thank you to Dr. Jan Kraybill, celebrated superstar organist, world's nicest motorcycle-riding musician, principal organist at the Community of Christ International Headquarters, and curator of the organ at the world-renowned Helzberg Hall at the Kauffman Center in Kansas City.  She dedicated her 15th annual Super Bowl Organ Concert yesterday to the Olympic Games and made a special acknowledgement of my involvement in the production and direction of the ceremonies.  I am so very humbled for this, and I am so very sad to have missed her concert.  Thank you Jan, I miss you!!

How Bryan becomes unstressed...

Go to a very cheap Russian bakery with bakery-loving Russians

Find the longest line and buy whatever it is
Eat large amounts of "pancakes"...crepes with bananas, strawberries, and raspberries in the middle
Go to some place that reminds you of home (and use the internet for once!)

Fall in love with every stray dog

Fall asleep on public transit as the sun sets on the Black Sea
And watch the Super Bowl with some Americans (and Germans) a very nice corporate event center at 3:30am

Featured Post

OLYMPIC CEREMONY DATABASE: Every Summer and Winter Olympic Opening Ceremony

The opening ceremony of the Olympic Games may be the largest art form in the modern world and certainly one of the rarest.  I provided all ...