Sep 10 2011
The city where Beethoven was born has been putting together a festival in his honor since 1876, when Franz Liszt organized the first one. Liszt also organized the fundraising for the Beethoven memorial statue or Denkmal in the Münsterplatz in the heart of the city. Thousands gathered in the square throughout Saturday to watch a Beethoven documentary and a live transmission of Hélène Grimaud and the Pittsburgh Symphony performing Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto. Onlookers sat around the flowers at the base of the statue enjoying the sun and the energy from Ludwig van Beethoven’s gaze. The regional beer, Kõlsch, was for sale with pretzels. Cafés surround the square. I browsed at the lively Saturday market in front of the old courthouse, and made a pilgrimage to the house where Beethoven was born. The last stop on the tour is the room where he was born. It’s empty, except for a bust on a pedestal indicating Beethoven’s short stature. There’s a special exhibit devoted to his string quartets. I looked at his ear trumpets and instruments. I bought more CDs of instruments from Beethoven’s collection including one disc of Pablo Casals playing his cello. You’ll be hearing them all soon on the QED Morning Show.
Then, I walked next door to the restaurant Dreesen Gasthaus im Stiefel. This is German cooking at its best. Sauerbraten, the marinated beef—the full menu item reads “Rheinischen Sauerbraten vom Rind mit Rosinensauce, Rotkohl, Kartoffelknödel und Apfelkompot.” Potato dumplings, red cabbage, applesauce, and for desert apple strudel with cream sauce, naturlich! I sat outside and enjoyed the street traffic. A tall cold alcohol-frei Erdinger made it complete. In Beethoven’s house you can see the glasses he wore, with wire-rim frames like Schubert’s. Across the street is a discount eyeglasses shop, “30-50% off!”
Walking back to the hotel, Pittsburgh Symphony bassist Aaron White was sampling a street vendor’s crepe with a banana and Nutella for just one and a half euros. On the way to the Beethovenhaus, trumpeter Neal Berntsen was having one. I couldn’t resist any longer. I saved it for blog writing.
Next to the Crêpes Kõnig cart was a newspaper stand. One headline on a tabloid read “New York Terror Angst.” Listening to the radio, I heard a documentary produced for the WDR 3, NDR and SWR networks on the 10th anniversary of 9/11.
Hélène Grimaud was a smash with the audience in Bonn, as Anne Sophie Mutter had been last night. Last night was opening night of the Beethoven Festival with some of Germany’s most prominent politicians in the first row, speeches, and TV cameras. Guests included Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, SPD party leader Peer Steinbrück, and one of the members of the Sayn-Wittgenstein family—the same family that brought Liszt the great love of his life, Carolyne zu Sayn-Wittgenstein.
Ilona Schmiel has run the festival for the past eight years. She was delightful, as was the staff who provided newspapers and fruit backstage. I must admit the weekend edition of Die Welt left with me at the end of the evening. I have an entire suitcase full of printed matter and newspapers. In spite of budget crises, the European orchestras spend a fortune to produce massive season-long prospectus books in shiny full color. Something to behold and lug around with me. The door on my garage broke, and inside it is floor-to-ceiling with boxes of old newspapers that must be moved before the door can be repaired. I’m not complaining.
Hélène Grimaud and Anne-Sophie Mutter, in addition to their fascinating playing, have thousand-watt smiles. Hélène Grimaud signed for everyone in the lobby tonight. Also in the lobby is a terrific art piece with five cuckoo clocks that sequentially open their doors and play tunes. The artist is Erwin Stach. His piece is called Kuckucksuhrenorchester Politische und Andere Lieder. You press a button to start it up. Concertgoers arriving early were sitting in a small row of chairs laughing and enjoying it. There was a pre-concert talk with Pittsburgh Symphony CEO Larry Tamburri and Manfred Honeck’s manager Lothar Schaacke.
It was the tour’s final performance of the Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 5, and the encores by Bizet and Khachaturian.
Backstage, I met the conductor of the Beethoven Orchestra of Bonn, Stefan Blunier, and the CEO of the Czech Philharmonic David Mareček, who told me Manfred will conduct Franz Schmidt’s Book with Seven Seals next season in Prague. David must be one of the most youthful orchestra managers in the music world. I’d guess his age at 35. Maybe we will get the Schmidt in Pittsburgh. Eric Shiner, the new Curator of the Andy Warhol, was at the reception for tour sponsor Lanxess. He told me Andy would have loved the concert. We talked about the Warhol Beethoven poster in the gift shop of the Beethoven Haus. He told me about his New Castle family and how pleased he is to be at the Warhol, which has some great shows coming up this fall. He’s in Cologne this week making some arrangements for Warhol shows in Europe.
When I got to the room at the Hilton, the Last Night of the Proms was on the BBC. The speech given by Edward Gardner was interrupted twice by malfunctioning microphones. Terrific fun, all the way to the audience linking arms to sing Auld Lang Syne at the very end. Does BBC America show it? It should be on PBS, and I hope you caught it on Classical QED 89.3.
Berlin on the tenth anniversary of 9/11 to close the tour in just a few hours.