A Gaze Into Graz

By Piyush Shanbhag

GSYO performs in Graz.

It was time for our concert. The last concert. For me, it was the final opportunity to showcase the months of strenuous work we’d put in, and the last chance to prove ourselves and justify the ridiculous amount of fun we’d been having on Tour. For our seniors, it really was the last concert. Dr. Tay put it perfectly— some are going to go on to become software engineers, doctors, graphic designers, and politicians, working hard to define their own form of success; so for them, this may be the last time they pick up their instrument, nod to their stand partner, and hone in on the intricacies of the first note.

I’ll come clean. It wasn’t a perfect concert (when is it ever?). We could’ve tuned that note on “Les Toreadors” more accurately, played softer for the English horn in In Memoriam and been more expressive in Tchaikovsky— but man did Mambo hit differently. After the excruciating hour of Tchaikovsky, the orchestra mustered up some energy, and like a firework you thought was unlit, we exploded in the audience’s faces. The “MAMBO!”s were louder than ever, the brass absolutely killed it with their sheer volume and enthusiasm, and the percussion stepped it up with every boom, tong, and crash. You could tell the orchestra wanted to make this last concert count. As we were grinning ear-to-ear underneath our masks, taking in the applause, I spotted someone stand up. It was touching that we made such an impact on someone’s night that they wanted to acknowledge us by standing up. Was that the case with the rest of the audience? Oh yeah! The audience sprang up person by person, like meerkats popping up from their holes, and gave us the European-style of rhythmic applause to say, “WE LOVE YOU!” The light danced on the gilded edges of the elegant Stefaniensaal, smiles were plastered on every face (I’d like to imagine the composers on the walls were smiling too), and a powerful appreciation of music was felt by everyone in attendance. It truly was a night to remember. (Entering the air-conditioned hotel room and flopping on the bed still in concert attire felt that much better after the double standing ovation).

I’d made so many new friends at this point in the tour. It’s crazy to think how genuine friendships can form from a chaperone group placement, or randomly walking together to get snacks from a Mini Markt. The final day in Graz was completely at our leisure, allowing us an entire day to spend with the friends we’d made on the tour. Some of us decided to go on a guided walking tour of Graz. Graz is a true “old town” of sorts, mainly in its original condition, as it survived most of the bombing by Allied Forces during World War 2. Our tour guide also described Graz as a “bridge between the past and the present” from the baroque and gothic architecture of the Graz Cathedral, to the avant-garde, almost alien looking Kunsthaus museum of contemporary art.

Graz Cathedral.

The Graz Cathedral was exceptionally extravagant. Every edge and corner was gilded, intricate biblical figures made out of marble and wood were placed throughout, and gothic arches stretched across the ceiling. The stained glass art stood out to me as being far more detailed and unique in its colors, compared to the other cathedrals I’ve seen throughout Europe. What’s more, out of the many larger cathedrals in Austria, the bishop of the Steiermark diocese chose this specific cathedral to be his seat.

Next, our guide walked us to the Kunsthaus. Now, how do I say this… The Kunsthaus is a brilliant blue building which looks like a cross between an alien spaceship and a human heart. Its exterior is made of blue glass filled with square neon LEDs— to have light shows and showcase contemporary art literally on the museum through the lights.

Our next stop was one of Graz’s most notable landmarks: the Murinsel. Murinsel, which translates to “Island on the Mur,” is a man-made island on the river Mur made out of intricate steel beams. The Murinsel is a fantastic place to grab a coffee or cocktail, and look at Graz in a new light.


Stairs of Reconciliation.

Concluding the tour, we took another walk through the Italian-influenced alleyways as the guide led us to yet another architectural marvel— the Stairs of Reconciliation, the double spiral staircase built in 1499, commissioned by Frederick III (a Habsburg). The Habsburgs were the uber-influential royal family in Austria, and Frederick III chose to have a temporary residence in Graz. Each side of the staircase starts differently, yet meets at every story, hence the name “reconciliation” or “to return.” Walking up the stairs was really disorienting, like being in an optical illusion, and it felt surreal to realize that the stone steps I was walking on were once used by the Habsburgs.

We thanked our guide and tried to find our friends as we looked around Jakominiplatz. At some point, we’d become a group of six students, four of whom I’d never spoken to before. As we walked to the Tribeka cafe to catch up with our other friends, we decided to stop for ice cream. It was the perfect ice cream weather— the sky was clear, the sun was harsh, and the air was muggy. A concoction of marinara, sweet bread, and cigarette smoke filled our noses as we crossed the bridge over the ever-raging Mur.

Mango ice cream from Die Eisperle.

We patiently stood in line at Die Eisperle, a small vegan ice cream shop attached to a sunglasses store and Italian restaurant. We decided to try the mango (though vegan ice cream was met with some skepticism amongst the group). Not expecting much, I took a bite— I could hear the macaws and parrots chirping in my head as if I was teleported to the tropics. My mouth was bursting with MANGO and I could tell my homies thought so too. I’d like to think it cemented our new friendship. We met up with our other friends at the cafe and, after chilling for a bit (jet lag is real), decided to head to the Clock Tower overlooking the charming city.

Stairs to the Clock Tower.

As the Clock Tower came into view, our jaws dropped. We gazed dumbly at the arduous climb to reach the top, as if we were just tasked with hiking Everest. After buying some water at a corner shop, we prepared to climb the stairs in the 90 degree heat. I skipped every other step for the quad workout and focused on the gleaming Clock Tower at the top. Funnily enough, that's the feeling I would get when playing Tchaikovsky’s hour-long 5th Symphony. I would focus on playing really well for the sound of the orchestra, and await the overjoyed audience’s applause.

The huffs and puffs as we trekked reminded me of the months and months of hard work we, as an orchestra, put into being there, at that moment, enjoying the fruits of our labor. We passed Dr. Tay and a couple of other GSYO members, and were informed about a slide that goes all the way down the mountain, which sparked some new energy in our baked bodies. Upon reaching the top, we plopped down on the freshly wet grass, not caring after how much we’d already sweat in the unbearable heat. After resting, we walked over to the face of the Clock Tower and took a picture with the breathtaking view of Graz as the background.

Top of the stairs selfie with Graz in the background.

Finally: the slide. We could actually go in the mountain to take the slide down. We paid for tickets and entered the cavern lit up with RGB lights to give it a cyberpunk aesthetic. We lined up behind each other, some nervous, some excited, as we clutched onto the handle of the seat cover. “GO!” the employee yelled as he shoved me into the steel slide. The sheer speed and the abundance of sharp turns was so exhilarating I had to scream in excitement like a 5-year-old. Listening to each of our reactions to the slide as we waited at the bottom and chuckled is a memory I know I will keep close for years to come. As all of us came down, we got some more mango ice cream from Die Eisperle as we headed back, and ended our super sweet day at Graz.

About The Author

Piyush Shanbhag is a rising junior at Monta Vista High School and has been with GSYO as a violist for two years. This was his first tour with the Senior Symphony. Currently studying with Mr. Craig Bate, Piyush has been playing the viola for 5 years. He enjoys playing in quartets, photography, and listening to hip-hop and classical music alike. Juggling with being the new water polo goalie, vice president of the photography club, attending the Midwest Clinic with Monta Vista’s Chamber Orchestra, and college apps, he has a tough year ahead of him. Most of all, he’s looking forward to making great music with Dr. Tay and the Senior Symphony next year.

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