Jan 25 2008

Rambling on La Rambla

Published by at 4:22 am under PSO 2008 European Tour

Three hours on the bus from Castellon to Barcelona with a 15 minute stop at the Autogrill, where I noticed the wine fruit treat Sangria in a bottle shaped like a guitar – or you could purchase a bottle in the shape of a bull. There were familiar faces in the lobby of the Eurostars Grand Marina Hotel: Mike Langley, Head of the Allegheny Conference for Community Development, and Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato. They had just lunched with Spanish business interests who might bring their operations to Pittsburgh, and a representative from PPG’s large European presence. They met at an equestrian club in the city resembling Pittsburgh’s Duquesne Club. Before the concert at the new Auditori, I spoke with Dan Onorato who seemed delighted to be with the Symphony as a part of a five-year effort to bring more business to western Pennsylvania. I met Todd Robinson, the US Consul General for Spain. Todd is from New Jersey and loving his job, happy to help Pittsburgh. Mike Langley is wearing a Celebrate Pittsburgh 250! pin. Jaime Malet is from the American Chamber of Commerce in Barcelona. He says how pleased he is that everyone could come to the concert. A poster has been signed by Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos with an impressionist painting of the US Steel Building visible in the backround.

Auditori

Auditori

The Auditori is amazing. Blond seems to be the color of choice for wood in new concert halls. It’s in a redeveloped neighborhood in Barcelona with new buildings all around, including one in a conical shape like the Gherkin, a famous building in London designed by Norman Foster and resembling a pickle or a rocket ship. The National Theater of Catalonia is next door – another modernist glass temple along classical lines with a production of Shakespeare’s Rey Lear, Dido and Aenaes, Les 4 Saisons with Ballet Preljocaj and much more.

Our old friend, former PSO Resident Conductor Arthur Post, came to the concert. He married a mezzo-soprano from a town not far away. He currently runs the San Juan Symphony in Durango, Colorado. Arthur says he really misses the powerful Pittsburgh sound.

Scott Bell and Chad Winkler

Scott Bell and Chad Winkler

Chad Winkler is along on this trip to play the trumpet. I haven’t heard him play solo but I’m told he is wonderful and a Duquesne grad. Chad, Scott Bell, Harold Smoliar and I walked to Café Magnifico to have a coffee, as suggested by Harold’s counterpart in the Israel Philharmonic who says it is the best coffee in the world. Big bags of beans and photos of the owner sampling coffee in South America coffee growing land, chocolate treats and a wall of elegant coffee cups make you want to linger. Starbucks is just a few doors away, of course.

You’re cautioned to keep your hands in your pockets on La Rambla, the broad mile-long street for pedestrians. There are fierce and aggressive pickpockets here. We managed to hold onto everything. I love the huge outdoor newsstands, flower stalls, impersonators who stand stock still until you put a euro in the hat and then they do a Thriller moonwalk routine dressed up like Michael Jackson, or appear as Abe Lincoln, break from stock still as a totally bright blue twosome, create a cowboy and clown routine, and look ominous as Satan with horns in bright red paint.

In the middle of the block is Barcelona’s famous opera house the Liceu. Eva Marton is currently singing Elektra, but the sign outside with the season rundown touts Pittsburgh Composer and CMU prof Leonardo Balada’s opera Hangman, Hangman or the Town of Greed from this past November. The gift shop has the action figures of Wagner, Beethoven and Mozart that I’ve seen at Watermelon Blues on Craig Street, opera DVDs of Mozart’s Don Giovanni in the controversial Calixto Beito staging that insults women and opera afficianados, a DVD of a Hans Werner Henze opera, and Barcelona T-shirts.

Parakeets for Sale

Parakeets for Sale

A few steps up La Rambla are bird sellers in the great outdoors who are hawking parakeets, roosters, rabbits and lots of pets I can’t identify. The birds are singing and chirping loudly as thousands of strollers pass by.

We have lunch at Los Baracolos, the snails. Amazing place with winding dining rooms, colorful ceramic tile. The waiter leads us through the kitchen with steaming pans of paella to an upper room where we can look down on the scene. Dark wood ceilings, a wall-size mural of the owner dining. Hams with their hooves still attached hanging from the ceiling. Lots of seafood with eyes looking at you and all the whiskers and parts of the snail still attached. Heinz ketchup on the sideboard of course!

Heinz Ketchup, of course!

Heinz Ketchup, of course!


Sagrada Familia

Sagrada Familia


Horn Steve Kostyniak; one of the newest members of the orchestra, Erina Laraby-Goldwasser; Isaias and Joan Zelkowicz, Bob Moir and many others all headed to the jaw-dropping La Familia Sagrada, the Holy Family Cathedral from Barcelona’s beloved architect Antonio Gaudi. It began with fits and starts in 1882, but it was at least a century ahead of its time. Now the cranes and construction crews are at it full time. Big openings to the sky still frame either end of the nave but there is a little stained glass visible behind the scaffolding. At 8 euros each to look around and another 2 euros to go up in the elevator, the financing is proceeding. Worth every penny. Many orchestra members took a look on the last tour with Lorin Maazel a decade ago. It was wide open then, so fantastic progress has been made. You can see where the old and the new colors of stone come together, indicating the decades of construction. It’s hoped it will be as finished as it will ever be in about ten years. Dozens of photographers continually line up in front of the façade to take pictures.

The 9:00 pm Pittsburgh Symphonyconcert in Barcelona was totally full. Possibly the best sounding theater so far. The audience was swaying with the beat of the Gimenez encore. The second standing ovation on the trip so far. There’s a percussion festival here. Pinchas Zukerman with chamber music, the Petersen Quartet whom we had last season from the Pittsburgh Chamber Music Society, the Barcelona Orchestra doing Gurrelieder, The Toscanini Orchestra with Lorin Maazel conducting, an all Beethoven program, Jordi Savall and Le Concert des Nations, pianist Maria Joao Pires, Ingrid Fliter who was at Chautauqua two seasons ago after winning the Gilmore prize, and much more. This is a happening place. The suitcases have already been collected at midnight Thursday, so I hope I have everything I need. I forgot to leave socks out last night in Castellon, so today was a little strange until I caught up with my suitcase in Barcelona.