It was two wunderschönes days in Bregenz and Lindau – and for Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra Music Director Manfred Honeck, a return to the western Austrian region of Vorarlberg where he grew up. It is a magical part of the world. I had been told to expect a rural part of the country, but while it’s farmland, and green, it’s also very cosmopolitan. The borders of Austria, Switzerland, and Bavaria are just a few miles apart along the shore of the expansive Lake Constance. The region also borders tiny Liechtenstein. It is gorgeous.
The orchestra’s hotels could have been part of the set for Wes Anderson’s “Grand Budapest Hotel,” or “Die Zauberberg” by Thomas Mann. The Seegarten and the Bayrisches Hof are right next to each other, and have winding, connecting hallways that had everyone lost at some point. You can sit in the restaurant or out on the front porch facing the water. I walked a block to the main drag, the Maximilienstrasse, to buy a few SD cards. I’ve already filled the cards I brought. The Lutheran Church was beautiful, as was the Liebfraukirche.
Percussionist Chris Allen invited me to join him for a coffee. I ordered the gross and it was enough coffee for three. A glockenspiel tinkled at 6:00 pm as a few last-minute shoppers, strollers, and holiday visitors enjoyed the cool evening on the cobblestones. I bumped into Rick Lebeau, who told me his famous father Dick, of Pittsburgh Steelers fame, is doing well with the Tennessee Titans in Nashville. Rick studied German in Bregenz and had lived in the area. Dr. Michael White, who practices at Shadyside Hospital, loved the beautiful city and the concert at the Festspielhaus.
The centerpiece of the day was an invitation from Manfred Honeck to see the location of his Wolfegg Castle concerts, about 30 minutes away. It was fabulous. Archivist Bernd Meyer and his wife Irene gave us the royal treatment, including a grand tour of one of the largest print collections in the world. Their holdings include documents from the Pope to the Prince (in the 14th century), and an instrument collection which Principal Horn William Caballero demonstrated with a bit of his solo from Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony. The Prince had sold a map from the archives bearing the first-known printed reference to America to the Library of Congress. The purchase price was over $10 million.
Manfred Honeck joked that when he conducts his summer concerts he can’t have the orchestra play too loud, because the decorative figures which adorn the Knights Hall might fall down. In the winter, when the concerts are off season, the family has used the Knights Hall as a tennis court. During the hall’s recent renovation, a tennis ball was found lodged behind one of the knights, high up near the ceiling. Now, the massive complex with its former convent, car museum, church, grounds, vineyard, and much more, are occupied by only two people. They are very fond of Manfred Honeck, and couldn’t possibly be more charming and gracious. They served coffee and kuchen for the tour group, and gave an interview which I’ll post on Facebook as soon as possible.
The Festspielhaus in Bregenz last night was a sharp change acoustically from the Musikvein. Much more dry, but clear. It was a night of great pride for all, as Manfred Honeck was officially presented the title of Professor by the Austrian government in a document signed by President Heinz Fischer. The city’s Kulturstadtrat, Michael Rauth, and Vice Governor Karlheinz Rüdisser joined Maestro Honeck at the podium. The mood was extremely cheerful at the reception afterward. Manfred’s star soccer-playing son Manuel joined in the fun. Maestro Honeck sat down at the piano to lead a group in singing “Happy Birthday” to PSO benefactor Jamee Todd.
I met Pitt University Professor Ivo Fischer, now in his 90s, who had practiced obstetrics at Magee Hospital in the 1950s during the early years of William Steinberg’s tenure as PSO music director. Dr. Fischer contributed $50 each month at Steinberg’s request when the orchestra was at a financial low point. He said he also helped to start the Austrian Nationality room at Pitt, and loved living in Pittsburgh.
The PSO’s final encore of the night was the “Galop” by Khachaturian, this time with the anthem of Vorarlberg mixed in. In Vienna, quotes of “Edelweiss” and the “Blue Danube” waltz made a special appearance in the cadenza.
Pianist Daniil Tifonov played yet another subtle encore that no one could identify. I’ll check into it. This after Rachmaninoff’s Second Concerto. The audience seemed very quiet during the piano stage change.
The hall is relatively new. At the intermission, a stylish crowd enjoyed champagne in the very bright white lobby with a green band of colored light at the ceiling level. I stepped outside to look at the adjoining opera house which will present “Turandot” this summer. It was used as a spectacular set for the most recent James Bond film, “Quantum of Solace.” The bad guys escaped at the Bregenz airport – a Hollywood fiction since Bregenz has no airport.
The next five concerts will be a lightning-strike final leg of the tour starting at Basel, Switzerland on Tuesday.