Jan 25 2008

Where The Kings Are Buried

Published by at 7:47 pm under PSO 2008 European Tour

We woke up with a gigantic Spanish ferry boat in the harbor next to the hotel in Barcelona. I never had a minute to walk around the back of the hotel for a close look at the water but it was a stunning setting. Right next door, a red cable car like those you see in the Swiss alps on a long wire sails across the mountains. Out the front door is a 100 foot crane tower left over from the spot where cargo was loaded on boats in Barcelona.

Prado's new building

Prado's new building

Then it was on the bus for Group Two, arriving in Madrid about 2:00 pm. It was a smooth one-hour flight, but Iberia airlines has cut out any sort of food service unless you pay extra for it. A 10 oz. bottle of water was 1.5 euros, and the ham and cheese sandwich another 4.

The Madrid hotel is about three miles from the museums, including the famous Prado where many will head tomorrow if they aren’t taking a side trip to Toledo or Seville. The Wall Street Journal recently praised the Prado’s new building, which provides more space for the vast permanent collection.

Rob gives a remote lesson

Rob gives a remote lesson

At 4:00 pm, I watched horn Robert Lauver working with horn students at CMU using the internet telephony software, Skype. Rob’s students kept their appointed lessons in their usual practice room at CMU, but with a computer and webcam. Oliver Baker was working on the John Williams Horn Concerto for an upcoming recital. Rob Lauver attached his mute so he could demonstrate passages without disturbing a neighbor’s Siesta. After a few moments of microphone level adjustment, the lesson began. The quality was surprisingly good. The video is a little blurry, but student and teacher can see one another and hear without much of a delay. They conversed back and forth on the fine points of bringing off such a delicate piece. It made my want to catch the Williams Concerto, with its few reminiscences of music from Star Wars.

Rob Lauver in his Steelers jersey

Rob Lauver in his Steelers jersey

Rob is wearing a Steelers jersey with number 78, Max Starks, to honor one of the newest Pittsburgh Symphony Board members. Max is a music hound, and is often at concerts. Rob has also decorated his French horn case with the Steelers logo and colors black and gold. Max is the offensive left tackle who helps to protect Ben Roethlisberger.

Concertmaster Andres Cardenes was doing his email in the hotel lobby. He has family coming from the Canary Islands to visit here in Madrid, and he hopes to take in some flamenco tomorrow night.

Another hour by bus to the Monastery town of El Escorial, where the Kings of Spain have their burial ground. It’s another thousand or so feet above sea level so it’s a little colder here. From the bus it was a short five-minute walk down a hill to the stage entrance. In the dark we couldn’t see a thing of the beautiful monastery buildings, but the concert hall is very nice if slightly less elaborate than the brand new ultramodern halls of the last three days. It’s a darker walnut wood with very unusual six by five foot blue panels—five of them in a row, fifteen in all behind the stage and then continuing up into the ceiling. A full house and a standing ovation at the end. I sat with Pittsburgh Symphony Board Chair Richard Simmons and his wife, Virginia.

In the cafeteria just before the concert began, Dan Onorato and Mike Langley continued to work the invited guests – singing the praises of the orchestra’s concert last night in Barcelona and the quality of life in Pittsburgh. Dan told me he enjoyed visiting the headquarters of the company that’s in the process of buying Kennywood, a deal that might close by March. The company is about forty minutes from the center of Madrid and somewhat different from many American amusement parks because it’s in a more heavily tree-covered area.

At this afternoon’s lunch, the room was crowded with Spanish business people interested in Pittsburgh. The economy here has been on the rise with construction projects in the wake of Spain’s entry into the European Union and adoption of the Euro. The American Embassy in Spain was represented at the lunch and the reception by John Wilson. He’s charged with helping to develop American commerce. John’s wife told us that Valdarama is the olive oil of choice if you want to impress your guests. It’s a grand cru and served for White House dinners. Shoppers at the Madrid supermarkets have an amazing number of choices when it comes to olive oil. More olives are grown in Spain than anywhere else in the world.

On the return bus trip, I noticed a thermometer said 6 degrees Celsius. I tried to call QED’s Ted Sohier, but for some reason the phone simply wouldn’t connect with Vodaphone and I had to switch carriers. The network called Orange works so I think I’m back in business. MTV Spain is featuring Alicia Keys tonight. Also, that movie with Helen Hunt chasing tornadoes is on, dubbed in Spanish. I’m going to bed early tonight –2am.