Berlin Video Dresden Museum Theresienstadt 48 hours

Published by on May 24, 2016

Two more wildly successful days have flown by in Deutschland for the Pittsburgh Symphony. The tour party is still talking about the fantastic evening in Berlin with the webcast. Everyone I met could not have been nicer or more helpful in pulling together the backstage camera position. I had a wonderful makeup artist Jeanne Groellmann. She needed to dab me a lot with the warmth in the hall and the hike from the hotel needing speed. Magdalena Zieba-Schwind gave me the 5-4-3-2-1 countdown and kept things moving with good cheer and warmth. The Head of the Video Department Katherina Bruner met us in the lobby to guide us up to the control room for a production meeting. George Nducha served as video supervisor. Hannah Dorn guided us through the early stages of figuring out what to do. Almost everyone had perfect English. Erik Koschnik helped run the prompter. Thomas Kutschker, Martin Baer and Boris Fromageot followed the maestro and special events in the hall like the encores including It’s A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood from Michael Rusinek and Berliner Luft with Noah Bendix Balgley.. Alexander Lueck, Christopher Rowe were also wonderful. Creative Producer Christoph Franke was backstage at the end of the evening he seemed delighted with how the concert had gone.

There was such a super charged feeling of sharing something special and working together to bring the best possible experience to music lovers. Because the Digital Concert Hall at the Berlin Philharmonie is one of a kind they could have employed a take it or leave it attidtude but they worked way beyond expectations to make it the best and laughed about it too. I’m sure they may have had some trepidation about a stranger showing up at the last minute with a lengthy script but they handled in stride. Highest rating! It was fun to watch the backstage activity. I spent a few minutes with Principal Harp Gretchen van Hoesen who rushed out onstage for the Tchaikovsky Sleeping Beauty encore. Our director must have been surprised by the Terrible Towel wich even won a mention in the rave review from the Taggesspiegel critic.

I had a one hour visit with my fellow Thiel College alum Ken Nein. We looked at what was playing in the next door Sony Center on Monday morning with a stop at the Film Museum gift shop. The sound tracks tempted me. The Starbucks at the Film Haus is just one of many open air options for sitting around absorbing the atmosphere.

The concert in the Albertinum State Museum of Dresden was a hit with the Liszt Concerto No 1 from Danil Trifonov. No one knew exactly what his Tchaikovsky encore was, a gentle dance transcription. I will ask him for the specifics. I loved the haydn 93rd Symphony with it’s fun bassooon raspberry and Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony really roared to a close.

While I write NDR Kultur is playing Debussy’s La Mer and Criminal Minds is on tv dubbed in German. When you’re not watching the screen you become more aware of the amount of screaming in the crime show even with the volume down low.

Today was an unforgettable day with the trip to Theresienstadt in the Czech Republic. Our group went for a tour at 1pm. The town is much bigger than I imagined but impossible to think of more than 60,000 crammed in at one time. 15,000 children 33,000 died of starvation, typhoid, over malnutrition. Over 150 died each day at the height of the madness and over 188,000 were transported to Auschwitz with almost all going right to the gas chambers. Listening to the birds sing on a warm sunny day you can’t help but think of how impossible it must have been for the children in their barracks to hear the birds. Tll leafy trees create a beautiful corridor for walking in a place with such a history of horror.

The concert by the Clarion Quartet with Violist Tatjana Mead Chamis, violinists Jennifer Orchard and Marta Krechkovsky and cellist Browyn Banerdt was given in the same small upstairs room where the Hans Krasa childrens opera Brundibar was given many times. Brundibar the bad guy as seen by the residents as a stnad in for Hitler. Our Quartet gave an amazing account of music by Erwin Schulhoff and Victor Ullmann both of whom died at Terezin. Manfred Honeck walked the entire tour and recalled his Czech family ties of several generations back when the family name was spelled Honek.

I spent part of the day with violist Paul Silver and his daughter WQED-FM Musical Kid Sarah now with the San Antonio Symphony. Cellist Michael Lipman lost some family memebrs in WWII and at least one had been at Terezin. WQED-FM FM Angels Tom and Donna Hotopp shared with me a book bt Pavel Weiner a family friend who they’d met through their daughter. I enjoyed walking alongside one half of our tour report sponsorship team Jon and Carol Walton.

Seeing the tracks which were built into Terezin for the sole purpose of moving Jews to their death, looking at the mass gravesite and the crematorium can’t help but spur reflection on why the European Immigration crisis is such a mess and the on going wars in Syria, Afghanistan, the fight against terrorism keeping it all churning.

The bags are already gone for tomorrow. It’s on to Frankfurt.

Here are the links to the reviews from Berlin if you missed the Facebook posts:

Berlin Dresden Terezin

Published by on May 24, 2016

Watch this space. We’re on our way to Terezin or Theresienstadt in just a few minutes. Last night in Dresden at the Albertinum was swarm but beautiful. Much more to come.

Forbidden Bremen

Published by on May 22, 2016

Thunderous applause greeted the Pittsburgh Symphony after their concert at Die Glocke in Bremen, Germany. I sat next to a fan who stomped his feet along with everyone else in the 1,400 seat hall. The wood floor surface amplified the stomping along with the cheers. Pianist Daniil Trifonov charmed with his Rachmaninoff Second Concerto, benefiting from an especially sonorous new Steinway. His hair flew in the air and he stabbed at the keyboard with his characteristic intensity. Trifonov could make a piano in an old wild west bar thrill. He played the last of a set of Nikolai Medtner’s Forgotten Melodies with exquisite tone.

It was hot on stage in the tight space. Every seat was filled. The sound was big and bright. The third movement of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 always feels like an ending, and there was some applause. Manfred Honeck included two encores. First came the Panorama from Act 2 of Tchaikovsky’s “Sleeping Beauty” and then the Khachaturian Galop from the “Masquerade Suite,” in which Principal Clarinet Michael Rusinek quoted a tune from the first movement of the Tchaikovsky sixth as part of his florid cadenza. That Tchaikovsky theme had been played earlier by Mrs. Rusinek, PSO Principal Bassoonist Nancy Goeres.

I loved looking at busts of important Bremen cultural figures in the lobby outside the chamber music hall where the orchestra members enjoyed a buffet meal. Violinist Geog Kulenkampff was among them. Kilenkampff was an extraordinanry musician who got caught up in the suspicion regarding those who concertized during the Naz years.
Die Glocke has green lighting around the stage and a light green paint scheme mixed with dark wood. There is a beautiful indoor and outdoor Café Intermezzo with an especially lush green space where you can sit outside at tables. The infrastructure of the hall is a warren of confusing narrow space on at least four levels.

Downstairs, I noticed a poster for a visit of Lionel Hampton and Keith Jarrett, and the Dixieland jazz clarinet legend Sidney Bechet, who had visited Bremen as had Yehudi Menuhin, Heinrich Schlusnus, and Hermann Prey.

In the hour before the concert, I joined orchestra physician Dr Fotias Koumpouras to gaze at the statue of Roland – a key 15th-century figure in European history, who is credited for securing freedom for the city of Bremen.

The incredible Bötcherstrasse is just a few steps away. This beautiful short street was created at the instigation of Leo Roselius, who is remembered now with a treasure-packed museum which displays the old master portrait of Martin Luther by Lucas Cranach. High above the street, the Glockenspiel Haus at No. 4 rings a beautiful sequence of tunes with Meissen porcelain bells. Violist Andrew Wickesberg brought it to our attention.

The Robinson Crusoe House, fine restaurants and wine bars, places to sip an Aperol Spritz or a Campari tonic, lots of tourists, and a market square with hip-hop music mixed with the ringing of cathedral bells all create quite a scene. The Nazis didn’t care for the look, they declared it “Entartete,” or forbidden, during WW II – not to their artistic taste or in keeping with German tradition.
Bötcherstrasse was easy to find, because as soon as I left Die Glocke, the concert hall where the Orchestra was checking the acoustics, I was guided by an extremely freundlich woman who identified herself as bassoonist David Sogg’s mother. His mother-in-law of a sort, as she had hosted David when he was an exchange student fresh from high school near San Francisco. Etta and Egon Pühn, now in their 90’s, attended the concert to reunite with the musician who practiced in their home for hours on end, and now is heard to great effect on the Pittsburgh Symphony’s 2016 European tour.

Earlier in the morning, I walked around the block to the Galerie Koch to admire a show of Damien Hirst’s paintings. The Galerie could sell you a Fenster Blick, or window view oil of Otto Dix, for 55,000 euros. It was from early on in Dix’s output (1909) and already very dark. Works by Sam Francis, Lionel Fieninger, and other familiar names are also on sale. The Galerie celebrates its 60th year in 2016.

It was quite a day: a two hour ride from Hannover to Bremen, an acoustic rehearsal, and a two-hour ride back under a full moon. On the way, we passed a factory for VitaKraft pet food (for Unsere TierFreunde) and its a company store.

Hitler’s plans for Hanover were recalled on Page One of the Hannover Allgemeine Zeitung on Saturday. He envisioned a town with substantial recreation, a lake and a park. Today, Hanover’s city center includes a large urban park, much like our Frick Park, with winding trails for joggers and walkers. Statues of literary and historical figures abound. I asked the taxi driver, who listened to NDR 2 playing and other dance hits, if he knew who Fritz Beindorfstrasse had been named for. He explained that the Germans name their streets for writers and artists and politicians. But Beindorff wasn’t someone the driver knew – he was from Iraq. A central trolley line runs back and forth in a straight line. Even at midnight, when the PSO bus returned from Bremen, there were full street cars shuttling to and fro.

I noticed a poster for the Nacht der Theater, an evening of free performances by multiple theater companies in several theaters with free shuttle service between the venues. There’s also a tradition of long nights at museums and churches offering free all-night blowouts, with transportation encouraging you to jump from place to place. Let’s do this in Pittsburgh! It’s like a Gallery Crawl, but all over the city.

I’m just minutes away now from the train to Berlin and the live broadcast and webcast from the Philharmonie. Don’t miss it! The link can be found on the PSO webpage and you’ll hear it live on 89.3. We’re also planning a live broadcast from Vienna’s Musikverein next week.

The Musik Begins

Published by on May 21, 2016

And they’re off – with the cheers for Last night’s concert in Hanover now history. The Kuppelsaal, named for its round cupola shape – like a mini Royal Albert Hall, although not so mini with 3,700 seats. It’s been remodeled since the Pittsburgh Symphony’s last visit. Formerly brown and beige, it’s now white and blue. In the center of the ceiling is a large black circle with jagged edges like you might expect for an alien landing station. Above the top balcony, in white and gold, are all the signs of the zodiac: Aquarius, Aries, Sagittarius, etc. Large white columns in a circle rise from the third balcony. Chandeliers, white acoustical “clouds,” and thin silver cylindrical light fixtures hang from the ceiling. There is one row of audience behind the orchestra. Conductor and soloists emerge from a door behind the orchestra and walk around to the front. Dark woodwork surrounds the stage. It was a full house with only a few empty seats at the very back of the top balcony.
There was a relaxed atmosphere as a very well-dressed crowd stood in long lines to purchase flutes of Prosecco at intermission. The flutes were also lined up on a table to speed up service. Why doesn’t every concert hall do it this way?

There was some applause after each movement of tTchaikovsky’s Symphony No 4. Manfred Honeck smiled during the pauses. The acoustics are dry, but clear. The Tchaikovsky was powerful with the PSO’s terrific winds and brass. The strings were especially silky at the beginning of the second movement. The oboe’s solo was gently phrased, and the beautiful theme repeated ever more gently. Tympanist Ed Stephan provided some thrills on the first and second half.

After intermission, percussionist Martin Grubinger joined his Austrian compatriot Manfred Honeck in a concerto by Bruno Hartl. Martin walked all the way through the orchestra to pick up a microphone. Manfred Honeck reassured the audience that he wasn’t leaving, but that they wanted to say a few things about the music. In German, they said how delighted they were to begin the tour in Hanover and the audience applauded warmly. Manfred explained that he and Martin have known each other since they were eight years old and played Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony in a children’s orchestra. They were friends with the composer who wrote the Percussion Concerto they were about to play. Manfred spoke so warmly and with such gemütlichkeit, as did Grubinger with an infectious smile and laughter that you couldn’t help but relax about the first movement of the Hartl – despite it’s Viennese Berg and Schoenberg influences. With a whack of a gong from a row of what look like hanging hubcaps, the Hartl concerto begins. It thunders and roars to a shattering finale. Candace Gu, the percussionist who teaches at CMU with PSO colleagues, contributes a snapping slapping sound, shakers and grooving all unfold. Grubinger wields four mallets – with red, blue,purple and orange tips – and wails away like a modernist Lionel Hampton. The Hanover fans loved it. At the end, Martin Grubinger invited the audience to stay for some encores as the Pittsburgh Symphony left the stage.

An African drummer, in colorful yellow garb with an instrument made of gourds, joined four others players of Grubinger’s Percussive Planet Ensemble. They began with African drumming, followed by Asian Taiko drumming, Ragtime from Karl Engel, and the encore he played at Heinz Hall on a single snare drum in the style of Drum Corps International showpieces. Here, Grubinger plays with one stick behind his back, twirling the sticks, tossing them in the air as he plays, twirls the sticks some more, plays one stick while bouncing it in the middle of his arm and another bouncing it on his shoulder, all the while making music. I mean, really. How does he do it?

With rain falling after the concert, I shared a taxi with Dr. Fotias Koumpouras, who recently left his post at the University of Pittsburgh to head a new program that includes lupus research at Yale. He packed up his portable patient visiting office with a bag of Hall’s cough drops, and we stepped through the Grubinger Ensemble decompressing backstage. The group includes a petite young woman, Sabine, and four other male colleagues all dressed in black to match Martin’s black T-shirt. All were smiling at the result of the music’s reception.

Yesterday morning, waiting in the lobby of Manfred Honeck’s hotel for an interview, I noticed in the Hannoverische Allgemeine that “Bayer will Monsanto schlucken” – Bayer has swallowed Monsanto. As a long time resident of the Bayer Broadcast Center for the Arts at WQED-FM, I am always interested in the fortune of the company which has done much for classical radio in Pittsburgh. The Pittsburgh Symphony concert was in the local listings, along with an Afrobeat Festival concert that has been in place for 20 years. There was coverage of Steven Spielberg at the Cannes film festival, the Tagestipp, or Tip of the Day, was a concert by Max Raabe, known for his tragic and comic recreations of music from the Weimar era. I was involved in an evening of WQED13 pledge drive with “Max und seine Palast Orkester.” I don’t think we raised any money, but it was fun. Max Raabe also provided entertainment for an important Pittsburgh Cultural Trust fundraiser.

Maestro Honeck invited me to ride with him in his taxi to the Kuppelsaal for rehearsal. He had just finished an interview for Berlin’s RBB radio and was asked about the American and Pittsburgh Symphony custom of producing videos to introduce the programs. I told him that I like them, but that they can go on too long. It makes me sad that you can’t just play the music as has been done for centuries, but my purpose is to do exactly what the video is intended to do, be “sneakily educational” as Peter Schickele once said. Spoken as one who goes on too long himself on rare occasions.

A lively scene met our group when we got back to the hotel lobby. Remember I’m in the auxiliary hotel. Here there is a conference of the Woeller Innovation Forum. This is a company that offers tools for home and industry, mainly in the somewhat arcane area of gas detection. Do you have a need for a pyrometer? You’ve come to the right place. Measuring air quality, detecting gases, flue analysis, dust collection, soot, ventilation. It’s all here! The conference goers were huddled around two large tables of games of chance. It was American-style roulette with a large wheel made by a German roulette table manufacturer. During the day, the attendees are in conference rooms soaking in the latest on Rauchgasanalyse and Druckmesstechnik with lively breaks for snacks and conversation in the lobby of the hotel – just like any gathering of folks at American business conferences.

In a matter of minutes, I’m on the bus to Bremen with a two hour ride for concert Zwei.

Freitag Sonnenschein

Published by on May 20, 2016

Hannover Center for Bechstein pianos

I’m headed over to Manfred Honeck’s hotel for a short interview marking the start of the tour. It’s a mild sunny Friday with sun. A business conference is taking place in the hotel. I am in the “overflow” hotel with Maestro Andres Franco and the PSO staff. The conference is all businesses who sell to the companies doing home infrastructure–radon detection, heating and Internet of Things stuff. I think it would be obscure to me if it was in English.

Last night I took a few minutes to walk around the area. Just down Hinuberstrasse where I’m in the hotel is the Hannover Center for Bechstein pianos. I thought of pianist Henry Spinelli who is a big Bechstein fan. He owns one, and Chatham University has one,  but you don’t see them all that often. They also had some digital pianos made by Casio and Roland.

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Published by on May 18, 2016


Hanover is the old stomping ground of King George I, the King of Great Britain and America until the American Revolution changed everything. Did you know that King George was a Hanoverian? Famous Hanover connections include Waterloo (there’s a Waterloo Platz in Hanover) and Wellington, Continental Tires, and Deutsche Grammophon records. Dating back to the middle ages, the Hanseatic League cities including Hanover were essential to trade, shipping and finance. A Hansa was a convoy. Hanover, Germany’s 13th largest city, is in lower Saxony, south of Bremen and Hamburg. In America, we spell the city’s name with one “n”: in Germany it has two, “Hannover.” The River Leine runs through town, and was used by ancient convoys to convey their raw materials and treasure.

The Pittsburgh Symphony will trade in musical treasure, Tchaikovsky and percussion instruments, on Friday when they open their tour with Martin Gruebinger playing the Percussion Concerto by Bruno Hartl.

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On the Road Wieder

Published by on May 16, 2016

Against all the odds, defying financial logic, with jaw dropping virtuosity, great good humor, Steel City grit, resolve, fearless avoidance of men in black hats, and lots and lots of schlagobers – the Pittsburgh Symphony is off on a 14-concert, four-city tour to four European nations: Germany, Austria, Belgium, and Switzerland.

PSO travel tote bag from 1973

Manfred Honeck and the PSO depart Tuesday, May 17 for Hanover, Germany where President Obama joined German Chancellor Angela Merkel to open one of the world’s largest trade shows – the Hannover Messe on April 24.. From Hanover, it’s on to the northern cities of Bremen and Berlin. In the home of the Berlin Philharmonic – the Philharmonie – the Pittsburghers will send a worldwide webcast through the Berlin Philharmonic Digital Concert Hall. It will be relayed live via satellite to the big screen at Heinz Hall for the (free!) enjoyment of fans in Western Pennsylvania.

Usually, there isn’t a host for Berlin Philharmonic webcasts. But this time, your devoted correspondent will provide play-by-play with Manfred Honeck, CEO Melia Tourangeau , and orchestra members Alison Fujito, violin; James Nova, trombone; and James Rodgers, contrabassoon. They’ll join me for interviews during the stage changes and intermission. I’m hoping you can sneak a few M&M’s past the ushers, because you won’t want to miss a minute of it.

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Beethovenfest Finale Pittsburgh Symphony in Bonn

Published by on September 14, 2013

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.

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Pittsburgh Symphony at Bonn’s Beethoven Festival

Published by on September 13, 2013

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.

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Pittsburgh Symphony at the Lucerne Festival

Published by on September 11, 2013

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.

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