Sep 14 2013

Beethovenfest Finale Pittsburgh Symphony in Bonn

Beethoven was born here

Beethoven was born here

I am hearing, very faintly, a french horn practicing in a nearby room for tonight’s final concert of the Pittsburgh Symphony’s 2013 European Festivals Tour.

Yesterday began with a tour of the Beethovenhaus with Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Music Critic Elizabeth Bloom. Liz is a Harvard grad, a percussionist, and she spent last year in Turkey on a research grant learning about Turkish percussion. The Beethovenhaus has over 100,000 visitors each year. It’s a tourist magnet in Bonn. The house features a concert hall for chamber music in the building next door. Underneath is the archive, containing priceless original manuscripts by Beethoven in a concrete vault with all the appropriate temperature and humidity controls. There’s a silent alarm to the police if anything is disturbed – and if the city of Bonn were leveled by bombs, the manuscripts are stored in a way that they should survive. The public never sees the originals; only scholars and megawatt musicians like Anne-Sophie Mutter. The assistant archivist, Julia Ronge, said she is coming to Pittsburgh on November 6th to give a Beethoven talk at the national meeting of the American Musicologists Society at the Convention Center!

Beethoven's grandfather

Beethoven's grandfather

Our tour guide showed us the portrait of Beethoven’s grandfather, the famous original portrait of Beethoven by Joseph Karl Stieler, Beethoven’s life and death masks, his wireless glasses, his inkstand, organ, the instruments for his quartet, and the viola to which he attached a wax seal in red, lightly inscribed with a cursive letter “B.” There is the Conrad Graf piano he played. Also, his scissors, writing desk, notes for his housekeepers, a lock of his hair, and much more. There is  a technology lab where you can line up a dozen different recordings of the “Waldstein” Sonata or the Fifth Symphony – allowing you to switch among them to compare interpretation. On the computer screen, you can see  the original score of Beethoven’s Ninth while listening to Karajan’s recording. There is a multimedia version of “Fidelio” going every hour. A single ticket is 5 euros.

Beethovenhaus entrance

Beethovenhaus entrance

The gift shop featured lots of DVDs and CDs. I was tempted by “Der Junge Beethoven,” produced by the German broadcaster WDR. You can buy a death mask or a life mask in plaster for 50 euros. Reproductions of Beethoven’s conversation books from the years of his deafness, biographies, busts, scarves, pencils and pens, and postcards are all for sale. It is a great shop. I picked up a few more Beethoven CDs which feature performances with the instruments found in the house. You will hear them soon.

I took the No. 66 tram to Heussallee Museumsmeile – 1.90 euros. You buy your ticket from a machine, an electronic sign tells you how many minutes until the tram arrives, and off you go. I was headed to the massive Deutsche Welle building, where the Beethovenfest has its offices. There, I interviewed Ilona Schmiel, the Intendant or Director these past ten years. She is now the head of the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra. She says she would love to present a series of Pittsburgh Symphony concerts in Zurich, and is talking to Bob Moir, the orchestra’s Senior Vice President of Artistic Planning, about just that.

Courtyard garden at the Beethovenhaus

Courtyard garden at the Beethovenhaus

I had to run back to the hotel to join a group of musicians, organized by Cynthia Koledo DeAlmeida, who were going to play a fundraising concert in Cologne. An intern from the festival, Natalie Chen, drove me back in a BMW – the Official Car of the Beethovenfest. We left from an underground garage reminiscent of the Pentagon’s.

Then it was off to Cologne with Dr. Dirk Spillman. He drove the musicians to the home he shares with his wife, Inga Spillman. The intimate concert was given to benefit Cologne schoolchildren, who do not get much music their classes. Cindy had met the Spillmans in Santa Barbara, where she participates in the summertime Music West festival. Dr. Spillman, nicknamed “Tiger,” is now retired as an EMT specialist. He loves good design. His home, with its garden and Braun stereo system, was stunning. It was built in 1907. In the ravages of WWI, German homes were required to build bomb shelters in the basement. That’s where the doctor keeps his tools and hangs his wash.

Beethoven's viola

Beethoven's viola

We walked a short path through the lush green Cologne Südpark to the home of Marian and Ludo Rautenstrauch. Marian and Ludo are prominent supporters of the arts, and agreed to host the concert. Marian is part of the German publishing company Uhlstein. She knew Herbert von Karajan and other German art and music luminaries.

Cindy, Christopher Wu, David Premo, Rodrigo Ojeda, Lorna McGhee and Meng Wang played Mozart’s Oboe Quartet, the Gypsy rondo finale from Brahms’ Piano Quartet No. 3, Dohnanyi’s Aria for Flute No. 1, and Bach’s Trio Sonata, BWV 1038.

An early work by Beethoven

An early work by Beethoven

At dinner, I sat with Wolfgang Arndt, Marian’s attorney, who had lived in America in the early 60’s as an intern for Youth for Understanding – which still places Germans in American homes. They are based in Washington, D.C. The Rautenstrauch’s nephew Klaus was with us, too. He also had been an American exchange student. These two couldn’t have been nicer dinner companions. They say that Germans are highly self-critical since the events of WWII. We talked about Angela Merkel and her upcoming election. They say she has exactly the right view of Vladimir Putin, since as a former East German she had suffered oppression from the East. When Merkel meets Putin for diplomacy, she speaks with him in fluent Russian. We talked about the German view of the NSA scandal, and Obama’s predicament with Syria. All the conversation had a good-natured warmth that was an absolute delight. This along with German meatballs, creamed Krautsalat, and boiled potatoes with parsley, followed by apple sauce with a crumble topping. Fabelhaft! Back in the van, Dirk drove us all back to Bonn.

Many of the Beethoven Festival souvenirs are emblazoned with the word “Freude,” or Joy, as in the Ode to Joy. What freude it is to hear the Pittsburgh Symphony in Bonn tonight for their final tour concert. The tickets for the festival here are a bit more affordable than the 350 Swiss franc tab (about $350 US) in Lucerne.

Sep 13 2013

Pittsburgh Symphony at Bonn’s Beethoven Festival

Beethoven monument

Beethoven monument

There are 12 museums or memorial sites to Ludwig van Beethoven in five countries. He slept more places than Queen Elizabeth and he moved more often than anyone can imagine – terrorizing his housekeepers at every stop. Polite guests always, the Pittsburgh Symphony returned to Beethoven’s namsake festival in the city where he was born – Bonn, Germany – after a short charter flight from Zurich, Switzerland on Thursday afternoon.

I walked past the Beethovenhaus shortly after we arrived. It’s just a few blocks from the hotel. There is a lively market in a cobblestone square. I made a pilgrimage to the most famous Denkmal, or memorial statue, of Beethoven. Franz Liszt was among those who helped to raise the money to build it. It turns up on many record covers of Beethoven. There is a Bonn walk of fame with famous figures from music, science, painting, math, as well as others memorialized beneath your feet. In a music store, you could look in a mirror and see your face framed with Beethoven’s hair and clothes.

PSO in the Beethovenhalle

PSO in the Beethovenhalle

The first of two concerts at the Beethovenhalle involved only a moment of Beethoven when principal clarinetist Michael Rusinek played a phrase from the Minuet in G during his Galop from Khachaturian’s Masquerade. The Ravel Bolero was the best on the trip. It was followed by the Fauré Pavane as the first of three encores which included Wagner’s Prelude to Act III from Lohengrin.

The Rapsodie Espagnole never gets old for me with its many delicate colors and lively Spanish dance music.

Martin Grubinger heard a large whoop from the Festival audience on the final crash in John Corigliano’s “Conjurer” Percussion Concerto. He is a hero in Bonn, too. Speaking to the audience in German, he again praised the Pittsburgh Symphony, and introduced a virtuoso super-fast hit from the golden age of the xylophone.

Deutschlandfunk

Deutschlandfunk

The concert was recorded by Deutschlandfunk for later broadcast and there was a team from the international broadcasting network Deutsche Welle making a documentary on this American orchestra’s arrival in Germany at the Beethoven Festival.

I like the slogans of the Deutschlandfunk, “Hoeran ist wissin,” listening is learning or listening is knowing and “Kultur ist Überall,” culture is everything.

P1160359beethoven sculpture-001

P1160359beethoven sculpture-001

Once again large pretzels were for sale in the lobby. There was a pre-concert talk. A large modernist sculpture of Beethoven stands on the lawn at the entrance. The BMW 360i Gran Turismo is the official car of the Beethoven Festival.

There are dozens of concerts from September 5 to October 5 featuring the Bamberg Symphony, The Ural Philharmonic (a new one on me), the World Doctors Orchestra, the Academy of Saint Martin in the Fields, the NDR Orchestra, the Beethoven Orchestra of Bonn, pianist Helene Grimaud, the Minguet Quartet, the Ensemble Modern, a recital by soprano Christine Schäfer, the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen, Christian Thielemann and the Staatskapelle Dresden, the London Symphony with Daniel Harding, the Istanbul University State Conservatory Orchestra, and multiple recitals by the Borodin Quartet and pianist Andras Schiff in three concerts of Beethoven Sonatas.

Wang, Grubinger & Carpenter

Wang, Grubinger & Carpenter

Martin Grubinger has already appeared at the Beethoven Festival with his own ensemble. He is much loved. Lots of fans showed up backstage afterward, including Yuja Wang (who asked him for his phone number) and flamboyant organist Cameron Carpenter, who gives a recital on Saturday night at the same hour as the Pittsburgh Symphony. Cameron gave Martin a gift of hand cream with a rosewater fragrance from Crabtree and Evelyn. Martin had applied powder to his hands just before the Corigliano concerto began. There was commotion at the dressing room door with photos and laughter with the three young stars of classical music in a tight space.

Mike McConnell & Laura Motchalov

Mike McConnell & Laura Motchalov

It was fun to speak with Pittsburgh Symphony and WQED board member Dr. Mildred Myers backstage. I strolled along Robert Schumann’s Rhine River watching the coal barges and excursion boats glide by with percussionist and Duquesne grad Mike Culligan, and violinist Laura Motchalov. The concert hall is just a few blocks from the hotel.

The staff of the Beethovenfest were warm and welcoming. I enjoyed a Bionade – the classic soft drink in Germany with a sort of cherry cola flavor. Haribo gummy bears were for sale alongside champagne. The Pittsburgh Symphony’s European public relations firm, PR2, was backstage.

Bionade Holander

Bionade Holander

I enjoyed speaking with Anna Frankenberg and Gabriela Schiller who helped set up a visit to the Beethovenhaus Archiv later this morning. With luck, there will be lots of good reviews to share for the European Festivals tour.

Friday is the final day off for the musicians, and on Saturday the tour comes to an end at the Beethoven Festival with Yuja Wang in Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, followed by Richard Strauss’ Ein Heledenleben and bittersweet encores. The musicians may be as reluctant as the audience to let the evening end.

Sep 11 2013

Pittsburgh Symphony at the Lucerne Festival

Serways salad bar

Serways salad bar

The trip to Lucerne from Frankfurt was sunny and smooth. Even the rest stop operated by Serways was a delight with its terrific salad bar, outdoor and indoor café, shopping for beer steins, a wide selection of Ritter Sport candy bars, magazines and newspapers, beer, and a clean wash zimmer with admittance through turnstiles after depositing 70 euro cents.

The sunshine on arrival turned out to be the most abundant of the last three days. Even with a gray sky and cold wind, Lucerne is a delight. The Pittsburgh Symphony’s first concert at the Lucerne Festival was totally sold out.

With Anne-Sophie Mutter

With Anne-Sophie Mutter

Anne-Sophie Mutter sparkled once more at rehearsal and in her last tour performance of the Dvorak Concerto. She charmed everyone once again at the BNY Mellon reception in the Panorama Foyer with a magnificent view of the lake at night. Did I hear her correctly that she will open the season 2014? She seems to genuinely enjoy working with the orchestra and Manfred Honeck and says it is like making chamber music. She keeps in touch with former husband André Previn and looks forward to hearing the double concerto he is working on.

After Monday’s rehearsal, I stopped by the Musik Hug shop next to the 14th-century Kappelbrucke or Chapel Bridge. New releases on the wall were from Ry Cooder and Sheryl Crow. There is an enormous selection of yodelers.

I checked out the 30-room boutique hotel designed by Jean Nouvel about 10 years ago. He’s the superstar architect who designed Lucerne’s Kultur und Kongresszentrum. Nouvel created a design for a new Carnegie Science Center but the project became too expensive and was scrapped.

Room at "The Hotel"

Room at "The Hotel"

The hotel is called simply “The Hotel.” It’s located on a quiet Platz with the Lukaskirche just a block from the train station. Movie stills from some of the architect’s favorite films were blown up and pasted on the rooms’ ceilings. I was shown two rooms, both with erotic scenes above the bed, with a superimposed line of text from the script. The movies include Fellini’s Casanova and Peter Greenaway’s The Pillow Book. You might want to ask for Bertolucci’s The Sheltering Sky, Bunuel’s That Obscure Object of Desire,  or David Lynch’s Lost Highway. The hotel’s restaurant Bam Bou serves fusion cuisine with an Asian slant, average entrée – 50 euros. The hallways are gray and industrial, like some of the inner spaces at the Kultur and Kongresszentrum where the Festival takes place. A studio room can be had for 370 Swiss francs. The very sweet staff at the front desk told me that architect Nouvel stays at least every other year when he visits Lucerne.

KKL entrance

KKL entrance

In a previous blog, I attempted to describe the massive Kongresszentrum with it’s cantilevered roof and amazing feature bringing water right into the lobby – complete with what sounds like rushing water. The design includes red hallways with carpet, little dots of red in the low-hanging ceiling on the lower theater entrance level, blue lights glow in the concert hall, you enter the hall through massive double chambers of broad gray doors and rubbery walls.

The World Café attached to the left side of the complex is unlike any cafeteria I’ve ever visited. It combines fast service and elegance. The choices include fruit tarts, amoretti, coffee, a dish from Tunisia, the Philippines. Germany and other far flung places; salads, wraps, quiches and the Swiss beers Braugold and Erdinger.

Upstairs, I visited the modern art museum featuring two young Swiss artists: Ida Ekblad and Christine Streuli with John Chamberlain. The museum is on the fourth floor.

Everyone agreed that concertmaster Noah Bendix-Balgley’s solo in “Ein Heldenleben” was flawless.
The night closed with two encores of Schubert and the waltz from “Der Rosenkavalier.”

Martin Grubinger

Martin Grubinger

Wednesday, there was a full rehearsal with percussion whiz Martin Grubinger – still in his 20’s. He’s fun to watch as he moves between three percussion stations, two at the front of the stage and one at the back. Theatrical, making the percussion instruments sound in the most musical way. He brought to life the John Corigliano Conjurer Concerto – then played an encore on Tuesday night of a happy Gary Burton jazz arrangement. First he moved a microphone from the SRF, saying you never know when you might get a good recording. Grübinger explained in German that he had appeared at the festival in August with a salsa band, playing the music he was about to play, but this time without the salsa band. He also praised the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in their work together which will continue tomorrow night in Bonn.

Ricola!

Ricola!

Huei-Sheng Kao

Huei-Sheng Kao

In the orchestra dressing room, I enjoyed once more the wonderful photographs of musicians who’ve visited across the 75 years of the Lucerne Festival: Sviatoslav Richter, Herbert von Karajan, Rafael Kubelik, and Riccardo Muti, shown gritting his teeth.

There was an enormous pallet of the Ricola cough drops that are available throughout the hall. Also, programs from the past concerts which I couldn’t resist picking up to add to the heaviest suitcases known to man.

After rehearsal, I ran into Huei-Sheng Kao with his lunch from the train station grocery, a plastic box of sushi. He stopped for a photo in front of the hundreds of bicycles and motorcycles parked there.

Rosengart by Picasso

Rosengart by Picasso

This afternoon, I joined the patrons for one last event before they headed home. We visited the Sammlung Rosengart, just a few blocks away from the festival hall. The Rosengart Collection has wonderful gallery of Picassos collected by Angela Rosengart and her father. Picasso painted Miss Rosengart five times. She arrived in person at the end of the tour. There is no special air of privilege about her at all. She never married, making you think Picasso may have been the love of her life – even though their relationship appears to have been a deep friendship. She spoke so cheerfully and warmly. I asked her if Picasso’s reputation as a womanizer was true. She said the film about his life greatly exaggerated it. She had known most of the artists also found in the museum, Miró, Fernand Léger, and Marc Chagall, but she said Picasso was by far her favorite. She has donated the collection, now housed in an a former bank building, to the city .

For their second program at the Lucerne Festival, Manfred Honeck conducted the Pittsburgh Symphony in the  “Conjurer” Concerto, Rapsodie Espagnole, Bolero, and gave as encores the Fauré Pavane and Khachaturian Galop, which tonight included the “amber waves of grain” tune from America the Beautiful in the cadenza played by Michael Rusinek. Leaving the Kultur and Kongresszentrum afterward, I noticed the big semi tractor-trailer rigs were loading out inside the building but visible through glass walls. You can hear tonight’s concert through the Swiss Radio SRF 2 Kultur website. Tune in Thursday, September 12 at 20:00 Uhr. That’s 2:00 pm EDT!

Swiss Radio van

Swiss Radio van

I also have the links for you for some of the French coverage of Yuja Wing’s visit to Paris.

They were TF 1 (Télévision Française – private TV, biggest in France) and France 2 (Public national TV).

There was a great review in the Frankfurter Rundschau of the concert at the Alte Oper, which glosses over a blip from one of the winds in the Bolero. The Berlin reviews were very mixed, taking to task the overpowering sound of the brass and suggesting that Manfred Honeck should have had more imagination in the Janacek. Based on what I’m hearing, I am sure there will be enough quotable quotes from reviews to prove satisfying.

P1160138hall wider+

P1160138hall wider+

There was a small protest with banners in front of the concert hall on Tuesday night. The German government has merged the two orchestras of Baden Baden and Freiburg of the Southwest German Radio Orchestra.The protesters handed out bright green flyers suggesting you should let your legislators know you disagree with their decision. The SWR choir from Stuttgart was wonderful on Monday night, with strong and incisive singing in Stravinsky’s The King of the Stars and Bartok’s Cantata Profana. The Lucerne Festival Academy Orchestra was conducted by Pablo Heras-Casado, a young conductor who now leads the Orchestra of St Luke’s.

The Pittsburgh Symphony is on its way now to Bonn, Germany to perform at the Beethoven Festival in the final two concerts of this European Festivals tour. Auf wiedersehen!

Sep 09 2013

Pittsburgh at Frankfurt’s Alte Oper

Finish line at the Alte Oper

Finish line at the Alte Oper

Alte Oper, Frankfurt

Alte Oper, Frankfurt

At the Alte Oper in Frankfurt, The Pittsburgh Symphony found themselves at the finish line of a footrace benefiting AIDS research with a special effort for children. As in Pittsburgh’s Great Race, citizens of all ages huffed and puffed the last few steps. The finish line featured a banner marked “Ziel” which reminded me that former Pittsburgher Otto Klemperer wrote an opera he titled “Das Ziel,” or “The Goal.”

You could buy a T-shirt for 10 euros and receive an apple, various product samples and newsletters. A drumming ensemble entertained onstage, grilled sausages of many kinds were for sale, and cups of “alkoholfrei” beer were available for free. The Alte Oper, completely destroyed during WWII, was reconstructed in 1968. In the hallways, photographs of the construction and famous musical visitors Placido Domingo and Herbert von Karajan are on display. Karajan consulted on the acoustics. It’s a vast hall with over 3,000 seats.

Anne-Sophie Mutter in blue

Anne-Sophie Mutter in blue

BNY Mellon sponsored the concerts and hosted receptions before and after on the Terasse behind the Oper restaurant. It’s said to be the most beautiful terrace in Frankfurt, with statuary and elegant outdoor tables with umbrellas, but the pouring rain kept everyone indoors. The mood was high as Anne-Sophie Mutter and Manfred Honeck greeted everyone and received a special welcome from Thomas Brand, the Chief of BNY Mellon in Germany. Herr Brand had been with the orchestra in Berlin and he’s helped host events for the orchestra on previous tours. He seems to genuinely love the orchestra. If I had a pension plan or a few million dollars to invest, I’d give him my business. Noah Bendix-Balgley and his stand partner Mark Huggins were there with Andrew Wickesberg, Tatjana Mead Chamis and other members of the orchestra. Elegant pastry was served with a unique piece of silverware that provided a spoon on one end and a fork on the other.

Kevin Milas

Kevin Milas

The Consul General of the US Consulate in Frankfurt, Kevin Milas, was gracious. He gave the group the unhappy news that the Steelers had lost their season opener, but that the city of Pittsburgh could be proud of the reaction in Frankfurt to its orchestra’s concert of Janacek, Ravel’s Bolero and Rapsodie Espagnol with Anne-Sophie playing Dvorak’s Violin Concerto and a Bach Sarabande encore. Faure’s Pavane and Wagner’s Lohengrin Prelude to Act III encores closed out the night.

The giant Frankfurt Motor Show meant that hotel rooms were at a premium, so we stayed at the airport Steigenberger Hotel where there was a new-model Mercedes in the lobby. Frankfurt hosts the world’s largest car show, where the buzz is on new technology and electric cars rather than on muscle cars with more horsepower.

Manfred Honeck & Thomas Ille

Manfred Honeck & Thomas Ille

After the concert, Manfred Honeck introduced me to Thomas Ille – his collaborator in arranging the Suite from the opera Jenufa by Leos Janacek. Ille said they had made a few small cuts in the score during the brief 30-minute acoustic rehearsal to tighten it up a bit before its world premiere in Frankfurt.

Manfred Honeck’s manager, Lothar Shacke, was backstage. He said his firm has recently taken on Jukka-Pekka Saraste and enjoys working with Herbert Blomstedt. Manfred Honeck and Lothar seem to have a terrific working relationship. Maestro Honeck introduces him as, “My best friend.” Composer and arranger Thomas Ille clearly enjoys the work he is doing with the Pittsburgh Symphony. He apologized for his English but spoke very well. His home is in Prague, where Janacek’s folk influences and dance music are felt clearly. Manfred Honeck has Czech grandparents. We spoke at the Oper Restaurant, which featured a large painting of John F. and Robert Kennedy above the wine bottles.

On stage at the Alte Oper

On stage at the Alte Oper

I spoke with Anna Maria Honeck after the concert. I hope you have a chance to meet any of the Honeck children. They have a charm that I’ve written of several times, but each time I experience it I’m impressed further. Theirs is a natural warmth and deep thoughtfulness plus good cheer. It’s every parent’s dream to have children like this. The Honeck kids never show any signs of fatigue, and have the conversational skills of Miss Manners. Speaking to Manfred Honeck’s daughter, the composer Thomas, his driver, manager and personal assistant there is a clear common denominator. Manfred Honeck surrounds himself with people who have smarts, musical depth, humor, kindness and warmth. Can you hear this in his music making? I think so.

"Tastes so refreshing"

"Tastes so refreshing"

Waking up to rain on Monday, we saw the sky soon brighten for the four-hour bus trip to Lucerne. There was a cheerful atmosphere on Bus 3 with lots of laughter. The Seeway rest stop was amazing for the depth of choices in Ritter Sport chocolate bars, coffee bar, wine and beer, energy drinks, extensive newspapers and magazines, outdoor and indoor dining area, beer steins, pay-by-weight salad bar, bratwurst and other German Klassiks, and much more. The washroom was 70 euro cents, with turnstiles to admit you once you’ve paid the correct amount.

Our route went south past Karlsruhe and Mannheim then into Switzerland by way of Basel to Lucerne.

Sep 08 2013

Pittsburgh’s Rhine Journey

The Pittsburgh Symphony swooped into Düsseldorf from Paris on Saturday afternoon. This is where the pioneering electronica art-rock band Kraftwerk lives

Tonhalle

Tonhalle

. Robert Schumann is memorialized in the lobby of the Intercontinental Hotel and the lobby of the Tonhalle. The call to return to your seats at the end of intermission is a phrase from the Schumann Rhenish Symphony. The hotel looks out on the Königsallee known as the Koe. Filmmaker Wim Wenders is from Düsseldorf, The poet Heinrich Heine was born here, as were artist Gerhard Richter – whose canvases command astronomical sums, photographer Andreas Gorsky, the tortured artist Otto Dix, as well as less-disturbed artists Thomas Strüth, Candida Hoefer, Joseph Beuys, and Thomas Ruff.

Thomas Thompson

Thomas Thompson

It is one of the wealthiest cities in Europe and it was hopping for the city’s 725 birthday party. Friday night was a big fashion night. The hotel was packed, and a new cleaning crew had things running behind schedule for some of the Pittsburgh group who waited for over an hour. I went out to the Maredo restaurant with clarinetist Thomas Thompson. Tommy remembered traveling with William Steinberg, who smoked his pipe on the bus with fellow smokers and slept wearing a sleep mask over his eyes. Steinberg had cautioned Mr. Thompson about whistling in the opera house, claiming it brings bad luck. Tommy Thompson enjoyed the trip to Vienna with André Previn when Itzhak Perlman played the Tchaikovsky Concerto. The Pittsburgh had just recorded Gustav Mahler’s Fourth Symphony with Elly Ameling, and the news of Steinberg’s death had come on the final day of recording. The gemütlich waiter at our outdoor café encouraged me to try the Dusseldorf altbier brewed by Diebels. A specialty of the region it is a slightly dark, but great!

Rote Grütze

Rote Grütze

The sidewalks were packed with elegant shoppers on Königsallee which boasts one of the greatest concentrations of luxury retailers in Europe. A duo of male and female blue-shirted police clopped by on horseback in the bumper-to-bumper traffic.

After the salad bar, mushrooms in cream sauce and Gulaschsuppe, I stopped at Leysieffer’s “chocolaterie seit 1909″ for the Sylter Rote Grütze. We call it forest berries, I think. A combination of raspberries, strawberries and blueberries in vanilla sauce. 5.90 Euros.

Celebrating 725 years

Celebrating 725 years

Leysieffer does exotic chocolates and runs several German coffee shop locations. They are offering a special Schokoladen Radschläger as “dieses jahr feiert die Stadt ihr Jubilaeum 725 Jahre.” Your 725th birthday only comes along once a millennium so you’d better make it a good one!

As I type at the airport hotel, the NTV network is running a documentary on Hitler and Eva Braun’s relationship with all the color films from the Eagle’s Nest, Hitler’s country place in the mountains of Bavaria.

Sep 08 2013

The Pittsburgh Symphony in Paris

Pleyel piano

Pleyel piano

Composer Ignaz Pleyel is immortalized in Paris by the theater that bears his name. His piano company still exists with a showroom next to the Salle Pleyel, where the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra has performed three years in a row. A white art deco instrument was in the window. The Pittsburgh Symphony arrived Friday night, and their fans were not disappointed. This time, they brought along pianist Yuja Wang, who has appeared often at the Salle Pleyel in her grande vitesse career. She is just 26 years old. A French TV crew followed her during rehearsal and interviewed PSO Music Director Manfred Honeck.

Yuja Wang's little black dress

Yuja Wang's little black dress

In every interview, she is asked about “the dress.” For Paris, it was a short black dress with a short, shiny top section that appeared to be a sort of vinyl or plastic material and a small off-center skin-revealing circle that ups the erotic wow a bit. Mon Dieu! You will find Yuja in Paris Vogue, in Cosmopolitan – and in Gramophone next to the article about Furtwängler.

It was very wow from her Tchaikovsky which was as fast and furious as you could imagine. She heard the European rhythmic applause — that prompted an encore of Gluck’s Dance of the Blessed Spirits from Orpheus and Euridice in Yuja’s own arrangement.

Noah Bendix-Balgley has six chances to wow on this trip with his solos in Richard Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben. He has been a rock star of the European Festivals tour. I wondered if the Paris public loves Strauss as much as the Germanic world. They asked for two encores and got Schubert and the Rosenkavalier Waltz at the end of the night.

Salle Playel rehearsal

Salle Playel rehearsal

The patrons were backstage to say hello to Maestro Honeck — Reid and Abby Ruttenberg, whom I had met at Pittsburgh Magazine Best Restaurants party a few years ago, Bob Egan, Barbara Forrester, Tom and Jamee Todd, Three Rivers Arts Festival and Carnegie Museum Board member Alice Snyder, and Frank and Angela Grebowski. This group could not be more congenial or pleased to hear the Pittsburgh Symphony cheered in far-flung places. They also have been kind to me when confronting them for a comment on the concert.

It was fun to see Pittsburgh Chamber Music board member Frances Debroff and daughter Jill, who praised Noah. Emmanuel Hondre, the Production Director of La Cite de la Musique and the Salle Pleyel, told me he loved the concert. Mr. Hondre laughed with Principal Trumpet George Vosburgh about the glory of the brass in the Strauss, which played the offstage music from a stairwell. He is excited about a new Paris concert hall designed by architect Jean Nouvel, set to open in 2015 or 2016. He expects the Pittsburgh Symphony to appear there regularly.

Le Boeuf sur le Toit

Le Boeuf sur le Toit

I walked back to the hotel with Honeck family members Simeon, Teresa and Anna Maria. Teresa made me laugh, coaching me to say the German expression, “Lass dein Haar herunter,” literally, “let your hair down.”  It seemed that’s exactly what the Pittsburgh Symphony did in Paris.

Before the concert, I wandered along the Champs Elysee a bit more. I peeked at the menu of Le Boeuf sur Le Toit, named after Darius Milhaud’s surrealist-ballet music with the same name, recorded by Leonard Bernstein and others. It’s translated variously as the “bull on the roof” or the “nothing-doing bar.” These days, it seemed pretty elegant and sedate inside.

Monet house at Giverny

Monet house at Giverny

I connected with Pittsburgh-born missionary Alfonso Feria and his scooter riding son for a journey to Claude Monet’s home at Giverny. The artist’s studio is in Normandy, less than an hour from the beaches where the Allies landed to turn the tide of WWII. Al Feria has worked for two decades to establish the United Church of the Marais. It’s more than 400 years old. There were just a handful of members when Al arrived. Now it’s thriving with a special outreach to artists in the Marais near the Bastille Opera.

Al Feria’s dad went to Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and his mom worked for Fred Rogers. He helped me seamlessly negotiate the two subway lines: the train from Gare Lazares to Vernon, and the bus to Giverny. The French ask you to validate your ticket “compostage” by inserting it into an automated date stamper.

The real Water Lilies

The real Water Lilies

Giverny has only been a tourist magnet since 1980. An army of Impressionism fans arrives daily now to pay respects at his last residence. A plaque honors Philadelphia philanthropist Walter Annenberg for funding construction of a walkway tunnel under a road.

The gardens look exactly like Monet’s Water Lilies paintings at the Carnegie. The flowers were fantastic everywhere. I must look into who Monet’s gardener was. He looked out his window at a riot of color. The house has paintings arranged on the walls, in the bedroom, living room and kitchen. There is still a flock of chickens and a rooster, and a sign asking that they not be disturbed. The gift shop is enormous – the largest I’d ever seen – with an 800 euro scale model of his kitchen. I bought a calendar and a tea towel.

Crêpe at Giverny

Crêpe at Giverny

We toured the modern addition of a museum with an exhibit by Hamamatsu, the Japanese artist influenced by Monet. The museum has its own spectacular gardens.

I made a note to look for three French films: “Hôtel Du Nord”, “C’était un Rendezvous” by Claude Lelouch, and “Le Grand Blond avec une chaussure noire,” starring Pierre Richard.

In the airport security line, cellist Aron Zelkowicz was wearing a curious T-shirt that was inspired by an internet viral video, “Honeybadger Don’t Care.” Aron told me I must see the Piatigorsky video where the filmmaker spends the entire documentary trying to secure an interview with the great cellist. He also recommended the classical music film “Small Miracles,” starring Meryl Streep, “Playing From the Heart,” and the “million dollar trio” video with Jascha Heifetz, Artur Rubenstein and Gregor Piatigorsky.

Principal contrabassonist James Rodgers knits

Principal contrabassonist James Rodgers knits

The Charles De Gaulle airport bookstore Relay included the French film magazine SoFilm, and the “50 Shades of Grey” novel – still a bestseller in French. On the charter flight, the Lufthansa magazine had an interview “Rock ‘n’ Roller der Lüfte” with Bruce Dickinson, the lead singer of the heavy-metal band Iron Maiden. Bruce is a licensed pilot of the Boeing 737 and 757, founded his own company Cardiff Aviation, and served as marketing chief for Astraeus Air. Iron Maiden has sold over 90 million records. So far I don’t own one.

Sep 05 2013

Les Arts Décoratifs & Lunch at the L’Ilot Vache

Bride by the Seine

Bride by the Seine

The Île Saint-Louis is the island in the middle of Paris where you find Notre Dame Cathedral, and just across the Seine is the Saint-Chappelle with its wonderful windows. It provides the general look of Heinz Chapel in Pittsburgh. The sky was clear and blue for a wedding. A photographer helped the bride and groom find just the right spot at noon today.

I was there with the patrons group that supports the Pittsburgh Symphony generously, led by Richard and Ginny Simmons. I joined Jayne Adair and Basil Cox, there with Alice Snyder at our table, plus a group who raved about the concerts they’ve heard so far.

Mixed grill de poissons

Mixed grill de poissons

The restaurant was L’Ilot Vache – named for the cows who once roamed this island – whose windowsills are crammed with a wide assortment of cow figurines. The boeuf on the table was the best – and I’m a vegetarian, as I’ve mentioned before. A flexitarian tries things, though. The oeufs en meurette was a soup-like beef stock with egg and bits of bacon. The poissons were beautifully presented, and for desert, a bread pudding – pain perdu à l’ancienne et sauce caramel.

On our way to the museum we passed the famous bookstore Shakespeare and Co.

Behind the Seams: An Indiscreet Look at the Mechanics of Fashion

Behind the Seams: An Indiscreet Look at the Mechanics of Fashion

Fortified, it was off to the Museum of Decorative Arts, just next to the Louvre, which featured those Louis XIV chairs and Limoges enamels; armoires, tapestries, pianos and much more. A special exhibit detailed the way men and women have used underwear to shape an impression. The codpiece for men; and for the ladies, the bustle, crinoline, whalebone stays, the push up, etc. There was a segment of “Gone With the Wind” dubbed in French in which Scarlett O’Hara is tied into her underwear by her nurse. Some of it was funny and some cruel. Museum visitors could try on hoop petticoats, but I avoided the temptation.

Teresa and Simeon Honeck with violinist Christopher Wu

Teresa and Simeon Honeck with violinist Christopher Wu

I ran into the part of the Honeck family in the lobby as Teresa and Simeon were on their way out the door. Teresa was off to visit Monet’s garden at Giverny with orchestra members. Someone mentioned Simeon looks just like Justin Bieber, and even his Dad has noticed the similarity with his son’s hairstyle and Justin.

The cyclists had a field day today in the sunshine, and tomorrow it is back to work: a full afternoon rehearsal and evening concert at the Salle Pleyel in Paris.

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Sep 05 2013

Pittsburgh in Paris

Champs-Élysées in Paris

Champs-Élysées in Paris

The Pittsburgh Symphony flew via Austrian Air to Paris in a clear blue sky with the good feeling of having made a great debut in Bucharest. Tubist Craig Knox wrote in a Facebook post of a meeting of low brass players who shared stories of the pre-Romanian-Revolution times while also sharing several Romanian liqueurs distilled from fruits and herbs. The minibar featured a small sample of BRAN, which the hotel front desk clerk said was a favorite of her grandparents who lived to 92 because they enjoyed a regular sip.

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Traditional Romanian spirits

Traditional Romanian spirits

I met Kenneth Wetzel, the Press and Information officer for the US Embassy in Bucharest, at the Pittsburgh Side-by-Side concert. Ken told me he was thrilled to hear the Americans making new friends in Romania. We shared memories of our favorite places in Erie, like Presque Isle. Although the post of Ambassador is currently vacant, a new Ambassador is expected this fall, so the chargé d’affaires is keeping order for the Embasssy.

On the way to the new Bucharest airport we passed an amazing mix of old and new in Romania. You see Soviet-style architecture; one building resembles a small version of Moscow University. At the airport the duty-free shop sparkled with an abundance of attractively displayed cheese, prunes, cookies, wine, liqueurs, and a CD of Ensecu conduced by Georgescu. A few folks were doing some banking at the Banca Transilvania counter.

I sat next to clarinetist Ron Samuels who is putting together a concert for late October at Duquesne University with Stravinsky’s “The Soldier’s Tale” and music by Debussy and Auric. Ron was reading “The Foreign Legion” by an author who was new to me, Clarice Lispector.

Ladurée

Ladurée

In Paris, I walked the Champs-Élysées to the tea room Ladurée, which has several branches including one in New York. It has long been a famous source of the colorful cookies known as macarons. A long line waited patiently to make selections that are packed in elegant boxes and lime-green bags. A few blocks further along the boulevard is the Gaumont Cinema, where the movies included some French films, the latest Percy Jackson movie, the bio-pic on Steve Jobs, Red 2, and more. I walked past the sad and empty decaying storefront of the Virgin Megastore – the erstwhile CD mecca in Paris, as well as in New York and Los Angeles. In the lobby of the Bucharest concert hall, it was nice to see three separate extremely-popular CD retailers selling hundreds of discs. More than I have ever seen anywhere. One of the CD sellers was the Romanian radio.

Le cinéma

Le cinéma

Speaking of radio, I enjoyed listening to Romanian Radio’s classical service and some of the pop stations in Bucharest. In morning drive, the classical station ran a Pittsburgh Symphony “Cinema Serenade” favorite with John Williams conducting Itzhak Perlman in the music by Carlos Gardel that served as a theme for “Scent of a Woman.” They played a lot of pop classical music hits in drive time, and for some reason even included a Frank Sinatra classic. One pop station was running a Michael Jackson weekend. In Paris, Radio France runs the classical music service France Musique, which just finished a suite of dances by Rameau from “Zaïs” played by the Musicians of the Louvre, followed by a Bach Cantata at 10:00 am on a Thursday. I’ve been enjoying the jazz station which has played two Frank Sinatra favorites already today, and Diana Krall who made a CD in Paris and Nat King Cole. Django Reinhardt and Stephan Grapelli were just on playing La Mer a great hit of Frenchman Charles Trenet later turned into a hit for Bobby Darin. Django and Grapelli are Paris legends. It’s great that they are still on the radio. Jazz was an importnat part of the history of the Salle Pleyel where the Pittsburgh plays tomorrow night.

Artcurial

Artcurial

Horn player Ron Schneider told me his colleagues Penny Brill and Paul Silver went to a synagogue last night for the Rosh Hashanah Eve service in three languages, although he felt the English was a little rough. The horn players on this trip have a room downstairs in the hotel, where they practiced yesterday enjoying great cameraderie with the extra players along for this tour including Alberto Suarez, the principal in the Kansas City Symphony, and Todd Bowermaster from the Saint Louis Symphony.

Also on the Champs-Élysées yesterday, I looked into the ornate art auction house and bookstore, Artcurial. There was an an amazing array of art magazines and journals for sale. You must tell me who reads these things. The classical music world has Grammophone and American Record Guide, BBC Music, Opera News, Strings, Fanfare, and a few others, but the art world swamps music for its exotic print journals. Jane Birkin was on the cover of one. She was the muse of singer Serge Gainsbourg who is featured in promotionaly-priced CD subscription deal for the newspaper “Le Monde.”

Delmontel patisserie

Delmontel patisserie

From the art library I took a taxi to the Rue St. Martyrs, said to be the Brooklyn of Paris and an evolving hip, lively part of town. I picked up a baguette at Arnaud Delmontel, which won the grand prix in a 2007 Parisian baking contest for the best baguette in the city. It was terrific, but I can’t say for certain it was better than la Gourmandine in Lawrenceville. My baguette was still warm from the oven. The area is known as “SoPi” for south of Pigalle. Fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier, who has created Madonna’s look more than once, is a regular in this part of town and often dines at the Casa Olympe. I didn’t see him, and in fact I didn’t see a taxi at the taxi stand for twenty minutes, so I asked a nice priest at the nearest church who told me to just stand across the street and flag one. When that didn’t prove successful, I moved on to a livelier corner. I could see lots of taxis with red lights indicating that they were occupied. I asked for advice of a sharply dressed guy who laughed and said “This isn’t New York. Just be patient.” Sure enough, along came a green light cab which took me back to the Arc de Triomphe. Maybe it was because I didn’t find a used record shop, but I’d say I’ll let SoPi evolve a bit more before returning — even with the delightful Arnaud Delmontel.

Delmontel macarons

Delmontel macarons

Dining in Paris is the thing. The Obamas had dinner at La Fontaine de Mars. I don’t think I’ll make it to the restaurant Jules Verne on the 32nd floor of the Eiffel Tower. The showplace of chef Alain Ducasse is 450 euros prix fixe, with reservations made months in advance.

I asked Dr. Fotios Koumpouras, the tour doctor, for the secret to a long life. He told me he was interested in an article this past year in the New England Journal of Medicine about groups of people in several parts of the world who reached their late 90s. The common denominator seemed to be eating a diet of wild herbs and naturally-grown vegetables.

Radio France Musique just played Debussy and now they’re playing Colin Davis’s recording of Berlioz’ Harold in Italy. Bonjour!

Sep 03 2013

Pittsburgh Romanian Rhapsody

Yuja Wang/PSO webcast

Yuja Wang/PSO webcast

The Pittsburgh Symphony made its debut in Bucharest at the Enescu Festival to a full house of more than 4,000 and thousands more watching on live national TV, listening on Romanian radio, or streaming the concert online. The Sala Palatului was built on command of Nikolai Ceaucescu for meetings of his communist party comrades, and he spoke often from the stage. What a treat to have Tchaikovsky with Yuja Wang instead, and Manfred Honeck leading the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony.

Memorial of Rebirth (detail)

Memorial of Rebirth (detail)

The concert hall is just steps away from the plaza where the Romanian Revolution took place in December 1989—Ceausescu and his wife spoke from the balcony to thousands in the square, attempting to quiet growing unrest. For the first time, booing was heard. Mrs. Ceausescu grabbed the microphone to assure the citizens that a wage increase of 200 leis was on the way. It wasn’t enough. The Ceausescus escaped in a helicopter, but were apprehended elsewhere in Romania and executed on Christmas Day, 1989. Now the Memorial of Rebirth – a tall pointed pillar, with a blotch of red suggesting the bloodshed in the square – is a reminder of those events. It is quite a history-filled block, with events of WWII and the 1989 Revolution mixed together.

With organ 'rock star' Cameron Carpenter

With organ 'rock star' Cameron Carpenter

The two main halls of the George Enescu Festival are there, too. On Sunday, I heard Meadville native (actually Townville, population 306) Cameron Carpenter give an organ recital at the Athenaeum, which was broadcast live on national TV. When is the last time you saw an organ recital on network TV? An organist with a Mohawk haircut, sequins on his shoes, a crushed velvet suit, and a chest-exposing, scoop-neck shirt, he also exhibited killer technique in Bach and Dandrieu, topped off with The Stars and Stripes Forever and Chopin as encores. He last played in Pittsburgh for the Organ Artists Series, and I hope he returns soon.

Romanian Athenaeum

Romanian Athenaeum

Enescu Museum

Enescu Museum

The Athenaeum is surely one of the most beautiful concert halls in the world. It’s where George Enescu met the princess who became the love of his life. But she was married, and he had to wait 40 years for her to become available. Now, her palace is the George Enescu Museum. It’s been open again only in recent years and still needs a lot of work. Music critic Norman Lebrecht called attention to the deplorable shape of the museum’s document storage in a January post on his “Slipped Disc” blog.

Vlad the Impaler

Vlad the Impaler

The Pittsburgh Symphony patrons group, including Richard and Ginny Simmons and Tom and Jamee Todd, toured the Enescu Museum and took a look at the palace where Vlad the Impaler once exhibited his enemies as if they were olives on toothpicks. We strolled through Vlad’s basement and wine cellar. Vlad was the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula legend, which is kept alive in old movies here just as in the States.

But first we looked at Nikolai Ceausescu’s parliament and his attempt to build a boulevard more grand than the Champs-Élysées. The entire area around it was leveled and every home moved by an army of 40,000 workers. It wasn’t finished in 1989 when he met his Christmas Day firing squad. Now, the parliament meets in a building second in size only to the Pentagon.

Ceausescu’s Sala Palatului, where the Pittsburgh Symphony played, featured exhibits on the many artists who’ve appeared at the Enescu Festival including André Previn in 1970 and Herbert von Karajan in 1964.

Sala Palatului

Sala Palatului

There was an encore for Yuja Wang—wearing her little red dress. She played Chopin. Later, Manfred Honeck and the PSO offered three encores after the Shostakovich Fifth Symphony including a new tour encore, Fauré’s Pavane. The others were the Galop from the ballet “Masquerade” by Shostakovich’s compatriot Khachaturian – this time with clarinetist Michael Rusinek offering a cadenza quoting George Enescu’s Romanian Rhapsody which brought chuckles of recognition and applause from the audience, which was on its feet for the third encore: Wagner’s Prelude to Act III of “Lohengrin.”

Afterward, I spoke with Principal Cellist Anne Martindale Williams, who had played in Bucharest earlier this summer at the invitation of Kenneth Tucker, Director General of an organization called Oratorium. Ken, his wife, and violinist daughter Anna have been living in Romania for the past twenty years.

Vlad Vizireanu and Mihai Hristu

Vlad Vizireanu and Mihai Hristu

The Pittsburgh Symphony made many friends yesterday at the smaller hall of the Sala Palatului in a Side-by-Side concert with Romanian-born conductor Vlad Vizireanuh and South African pianist Ben Schoeman. The Romanian musicians were from the Camerata Regala – consisting of recent Conservatory graduates, some of who also reported playing in the Radio Orchestra.

Vlad just spent the summer at Chautauqua where he worked with Timothy Muffitt as Conductor. Mihai Hristu, the Reprezentant, helped to organize the event which benefited Children Skills For Life, which has ties to California where Vlad and his family now live (in Thousand Oaks).

Vlad’s Mother told me that she and her husband left careers as engineers in Romania to move to Los Angeles, where they worked menial jobs at Technicolor. Now, their daughter is a doctor at UCLA, and their son is a globe-trotting conductor. Mom remembers trudging in the snow to get milk for her newborns and standing in line for one grocery item at a time during the Communist days. She has no nostalgia for the Communists even though some do.

Cellist Mikhail Istomin and violinist Susanne Park

Cellist Mikhail Istomin and violinist Susanne Park

Violinist Susanne Park stood backstage, waiting with a ticket for an American friend she connected with online in the running community in Bucharest. He had helped her in a morning run through a Bucharest park which can be treacherous, due to packs of wild dogs. There do seem to be a lot of dogs around. This morning’s paper ran a harrowing story about wild dogs killing a child.

I answered a 6:00 pm knock on my door to find a nice lady who asked if I could help her. I could see she did not seem to need much help, and I explained that I was on deadline to complete a work assignment. Several tour party members have had similar mysterious visitors. None seemed interested in hearing Shostakovich.

Tour de Pittsburgh Symphonie

Tour de Pittsburgh Symphonie

Andrew Reamer and Ed Stephan had an extensive ride on their bicycles yesterday. A helpful doorman commented that bicycles are still a rarity and often ignored by speeding trucks in Romania.

Cynthia Koledo DeAlmeida told me that she had connected with Pittsburgh pianist Marina de Pretoro, who was in Bucharest visiting her Romanian family.

Tomorrow, onward to Paris!

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Sep 02 2013

Pittsburgh at the Berlin Philharmonie

Anne-Sophie Mutter live in HD

Anne-Sophie Mutter live in HD

The Pittsburgh arrived in Berlin blitzschnell and departed less than 24 hours later for Bucharest after opening the Berlin Festival with Anne-Sophie Mutter playing Lutoslawski’s “Chain 2″ preceded by Janacek’s “Suite for Strings”, and on the second half, “Ein Heldenleben” by Richard Strauss. I loved having a chance to interview Manfred Honeck for the Berlin Philharmonic Digital Concert Hall webcast. We recorded it in the green room with two producers and two cameramen with full regalia. The crew was extremely cheerful and warm. I poked around the backstage area of the Philharmonie while the audio crew set up microphones. The history of the Berlin Philharmonic is displayed on the wall. There are photos of the Old Philharmonie, destroyed during WWII, and Wilhelm Furtwängler conducting in the old building.

Joyce DeFrancesco and Jeremy Black

Joyce DeFrancesco and Jeremy Black

In the hour before concert time, I explored the area near the hotel with PSO violinist Jeremy Black and Media Relations Director Joyce DeFrancesco, my former colleague at Pittsburgh magazine as well as PR Director at Thiel College. We passed a small chunk of the Berlin Wall and proceeded past the British Embassy and the Bundestag to the Brandenburg Gate, where there was a large free-standing exhibit, on display for more than a year, “Diversity Destroyed”chronicles the rise of the Nazi party. There are photos of the book burnings in which smiling students throw works by famous German authors into the flames. Other images show Jews being deported, the camps, and much more. The exhibit is just across from the Adlon Hotel which figures in many movies and pre-WWII books.

Berlin protest

Berlin protest

Just beyond the Brandenburg gate was a protest against NSA spying. The banner read “Stop Watching Us.” A truck held a banner that said “Free Bradley Manning.” A loudspeaker proclaimed the message, while the Polizei watched over everyone. I had seen one of the signs of President Obama wearing headphones, captioned “Stasi 2.0″, last winter. I wonder how long this protest has been going on and if it turns up every weekend. The Germans are expressing their unhappiness with the US, but there is underlying concern that the German government is involved in the spying.

We moved on the Reichstag, where a long line waited to clear security to visit the dome. Then we hurried back through the tall trees of the Tiergarten.

The TV director briefs Jim and Maestro Honeck

The TV director briefs Jim and Maestro Honeck

Back a the Berlin Philharmonie, I interviewed Robert Zimmerman and Christoph Franke who together dreamed up the plan of putting all the concerts from the Philharmonie on the Internet – on demand and live. It costs millions of Euros with no government support, and has yet to become profitable. The look and sound are spectacular. They invited me to watch the concert with them in the control room, where a staff of seven smoothly and happily rolls through the concert. They were especially impressed with Concertmaster Noah Bendix-Balgley, giving me the thumbs up sign when he soloed. The director jumped up at the last note of the Waltz from “Der Rosenkavalier” and said he had to catch a train, leaving the others to finish the webcast. They cheered for each staff member as their credits rolled on the screen. The transmission included some drama, since there had been internet distribution problems which had to be resolved at the last moment .

The remote for the control room’s Sony TV can bring up the Digital Concert Hall, YouTube, NPR, and many other internet streams.

Audio control room

Audio control room

Christoph showed me the separate audio control room where all the Berlin Philharmonic CDs are produced. The same enormous B&W 801 speakers sit in the WQED-FM control room. I enjoyed seeing the spot high above the stage where the announcer sits for live broadcasts. In the lobby, the festival director praised the orchestra and Manfred Honeck came to the microphone to say how happy he was to be in Berlin with the Pittsburgh Symphony. Pretzels, canapés, beer, and wine were distributed to attendees.

One of the first reviews appeared in Berlin’s Tagesspiegel which was a very mixed bag, praising and finding fault at the same time. The European critics praise the power of the American brass but at the same time take issue with it.

Ken Nein at Potsdamer Platz

Ken Nein at Potsdamer Platz

My friend Ken Nein has been living in Berlin for nearly forty years. He came to visit me on Sunday morning for breakfast. We walked next door to the Alexanderplatz, the former “no man’s land” of the Berlin Wall, which has been completely redeveloped and is now a film museum, theater, and restaurant shopping complex known as the Sony Center.

There are still several classical radio stations in Berlin. Kulturradio RBB had a freestanding exhibit in the lobby with heavy elaborate printed program guides and the tag line “Kultur ist Uberall!”, or “Culture is Foremost!”  I also listened a bit to Klassikradio which is a bit more pop-hit driven. After I listened to Emanuel Ax play Chopin, Kulturradio featured a program of Sunday morning spiritual music by Schutz, Schein, and Max Reger .

It’s a national election in just a few days, so Angela Merkel is featured heavily on posters that suggest “Deutschland ist stark so muss es bleiben.” Germany is strong, it must stay that way.

From Berlin, with love

From Berlin, with love

The Berlin Air charter got underway after a determined customs agent methodically checked everyone in a long slow line. The flight attendants wore hot pink shirts and blue jeans. Everyone received a heart-shaped chocolate on arrival in Bucharest.

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