Sep 04 2011
Pittsburgh Symphony Music Director Manfred Honeck sat down for a few minutes just before the concert in Lucerne, Switzerland to say how happy he is with the orchestra’s tour so far. He loved having family and friends around in Grafenegg, Austria. The reviews have been good, although one critic took aim at Anne-Sophie Mutter for playing the Mendelssohn Concerto too fast. Manfred agreed it is fast, but he thinks it works. In Lucerne, the Musik Hug CD store has a large sales operation in the lobby.
Deutsche Grammophon has released a 14-CD set of recordings by Anne-Sophie Mutter, celebrating her 35 years on the label. An introductory essay by André Previn begins a lavish hard-bound book that comes with the set. André’s article, “The Complete Musician,” is very funny. He points out how those who write about music like to show off their knowledge and make grand statements with obscure references to the Pfitzner sonatas, or the early part writing of Gesualdo, but none of that is needed with Anne-Sophie who simply has it all. She doesn’t stomp her foot or grimace when she plays. She just stands with an occasional facial expression and knocks it out of the ballpark. The CD set costs 347 Swiss francs and includes some new recordings such as the Double Concerto for Violin and Double Bass that André wrote for her.
The concert hall in Lucerne, designed by Jean Nouvel, is a wonder. The French architect had prepared drawings for the Carnegie Science Center’s expansion, but the economy took its nosedive and that was the end of that.
The Kultur und Kongressszentrum Luzern (KKL) is brilliant in the way it brings the water of Lake Lucerne into the building. It’s cool and angular, with red carpet, gleaming steel, charcoal, dark wood, twinkly lights, and inside it sounds great. The musicians say they can hear each other like nowhere else. The huge cantilevered roof shelters the outdoor plaza from rain, and there are cafés such as the World Café and Seebar all around. Tourists and street musicians are always around and people are lining up for the excursion boats that depart out front for the Vier Waldstattersee Rundfahrten.
The World Café is the best, serving stir-fry dishes from a half-dozen nations, wraps and salads, coffee, amoretti cookies, and tortes in a buffet line. You order right away and take a tray to your chosen table where you’ll find glasses, plates, and napkins. It’s Swiss efficiency at its best, right next door to the concert hall. Nothing like it in Pittsburgh. It should be copied exactly and brought home.
I noticed an unusual beverage there from the Swiss Eichhof brewery called Eichhof Lemon. It’s a tangy blend of beer, lemonade, and peppermint. Eichhof Braugold is the Iron City of Lucerne. There were also nice oblong Käse und Schinken (cheese and ham) sandwiches at the lobby bar. Come on, Common Plea, lets bring back the sandwiches to Heinz Hall!
There’s a gelato stand in front of the concert hall. A cone of mango and himbeere or raspberry gelato is 5 Swiss francs.
I’ve been watching the SF 1 Swiss Television network’s Berlin Philharmonic broadcast from the Lucerne Festival. Simon Rattle is the conductor. Earlier, he was on Charlie Rose with conductors Antonio Pappano and Valery Gergiev. The Swiss TV network crams all the commercials into a big block between programs. I just saw a Lindt chocolates ad (established 1845), right next to a spot for Schuppen-Killer dandruff shampoo, and Purina dog chow.
When we arrived, I spent a sunny hour looking at the most famous landmark in Lucerne, the water tower or Wasserturm, and Kappelbrücke (Chapel Bridge), which burned down after a tourist tossed a cigarette in 1993, but has been restored. We have a long way to go to catch up with the outdoor cafés of Switzerland. They surround the bridge too.
Right next door to the concert hall is the train station, which also burned down in the early 70’s. It’s been replaced with a phenomenal Santiago Calatrava design (the Spanish architect who designed the new Milwaukee Museum of Art and New York’s new World Trade Center transit station).
On the far right end of the Kultur- und Kongresszentrum Luzern is the Lucerne Museum of Art. I roared through an exhibit of modern Chinese landscape art. The only name I recognized was Ai Weiwei. There was also an exhibit called Der Moderne Bund to celebrate the modern art scene in Switzerland. Paul Klee is the most famous modern Swiss artist. Klee is in the show with Arp, Luethy, Gimmi and Huber. There’s an installation by violinist Charlotte Hug with wondrously weird sounds, glowing lights and a broken violin bow floating in a pool of water. It’s called Insomnia.
I met the charming Barbara Higgs, PR director for the Lucerne Festival, which is working with a distinguished Japanese architect and the artist Anish Kapoor to build an inflatable concert hall to be moved about Japan starting in the areas hardest hit by the earthquake and tsunami. It looks like a gigantic red heart. The Lucerne Festival is the biggest in the world, with Austria’s Salzburg Festival as its only rival. I tried to get both Barbara and festival director Michael Haefliger and to tell me why Hélène Grimaud, our pianist on the tour playing Beethoven, had canceled her July concert in Lucerne due to artistic differences. No one is talking. They had “artistic differences.”
Haefliger did say he enjoyed the Pittsburgh Symphony’s Tchaikovsky Fifth very much, and that Manfred Honeck is keeping the quality at the high level of Mariss Jansons.
Joel Fried was backstage. He was Pittsburgh Opera’s Chorus Master under Tito Capobianco, and then went to Amsterdam where he is Artistic Administrator for the Concertgebouw Orchestra. Joel said Mariss is doing well even after several surgeries in the past year, including treatment at the Cleveland Clinic. Mariss has cut back in Munich and Amsterdam but still working hard. Andris Nelsons conducted the Concertgebouw tonight on a tour. The concert of Wagner’s Rienzi overture, Dance of the Seven Veils from Salome by Richard Strauss, and the Shostakovich Eighth Symphony was recorded by Unitel for a DVD. There was a standing ovation for the concert.
I spoke with Andris at the CD signing. He said to say, “Hello,” to everyone in Pittsburgh and that he had enjoyed himself very much there. I asked him when he’s coming back. Andris said it’s just a matter of his schedule and he’d like to find two weeks because he hates flying. Talk about charisma. Tall, he hops up and down on the podium, smiles with genuine pleasure, and seems possessed. He conducts again tomorrow with Yefim Bronfman in Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto.
I spoke with Yefim Bronfman this morning. He was seated near me at Maurizio Pollini’s recital. The Milan-born pianist also hates to fly, and as a result we never get him Pittsburgh. He played a recital with two Klavierstücke by Karlheinz Stockhausen. Stockhausen was one of the people on the Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper album cover. A wild man from the 60’s. His music is still wild. Bronfman told me he “loved the colors” in it. Bronfman says he’ll be back at Heinz Hall the season after next, and looks forward to it. His Bartok is one of the highlights in the upcoming broadcast season from Heinz Hall. He played a different encore in each of the three concerts for Pitsburgh.
Pollini smiled warmly while taking his bows and had no eccentricities at the keyboard. The Steinway says Fabbrini on it. Does he travel with his own instrument? He’s been compared to an Italian banker in the way he appears on stage, but his playing is dynamic and exquisite. He wore a dark suit with a gold tie and a blue shirt. The modernist Stockhausen with its dissonance, twinkly upper-register figures, and thunder with occasional lightning bolts made the songful and dramatic Beethoven seem even more of a treasure. No encores. He’s playing a series of recitals, Pollini Perspectives, featuring Beethoven paired with a 20th-century composer..
At the Pittsburgh concert intermission, I spoke with Chris Porter of tour sponsor BNY Mellon. Chris is from a small town in central PA, but he’s now in the Frankfurt office as Managing Director of Global Client Management. He spoke of how pleased BNY Mellon is with the tour so far, and how good the Pittsburgh Symphony is for European business development. He told me the financial environment will continue to be challenging for a while given the fiscal problems in America and Europe with the euro in particular creating quite a mess. Among the guests joining the group were Jamee and Tom Todd from Pittsburgh. Tom is the very loyal and true Board Chair Emeritus.
In the lobby of the Radisson hotel, I ran into Co-Principal Bassoonist David Sogg and his wife Lisa.
David kindly provided the photo of the Frank Zappa statue in my earlier blog post from Vilnius. I met their former exchange student Bojana Durovic who lives nearby in Lucerne. She was in Pittsburgh in 1998 and 1999, attending Schenley High School, and staying with the Soggs. David found Bojana through Youth for Understanding. David has just returned from a sabbatical during which he visited Europe looking into rare editions of bassoon pieces by Graun, Valentini, Sammartini, and others. He just presented some of this music at the International Double Reed Conference. David told me some musicians self deprecatingly call it the “International Double Nerd” conference.
Off to London in just a few hours for the Royal Albert Hall and the BBC Promenade concerts. Cheerio!