Sep 03 2013

Pittsburgh Romanian Rhapsody

Published by at 6:28 pm under PSO 2013 European Tour

Yuja Wang/PSO webcast

Yuja Wang/PSO webcast

The Pittsburgh Symphony made its debut in Bucharest at the Enescu Festival to a full house of more than 4,000 and thousands more watching on live national TV, listening on Romanian radio, or streaming the concert online. The Sala Palatului was built on command of Nikolai Ceaucescu for meetings of his communist party comrades, and he spoke often from the stage. What a treat to have Tchaikovsky with Yuja Wang instead, and Manfred Honeck leading the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony.

Memorial of Rebirth (detail)

Memorial of Rebirth (detail)

The concert hall is just steps away from the plaza where the Romanian Revolution took place in December 1989—Ceausescu and his wife spoke from the balcony to thousands in the square, attempting to quiet growing unrest. For the first time, booing was heard. Mrs. Ceausescu grabbed the microphone to assure the citizens that a wage increase of 200 leis was on the way. It wasn’t enough. The Ceausescus escaped in a helicopter, but were apprehended elsewhere in Romania and executed on Christmas Day, 1989. Now the Memorial of Rebirth – a tall pointed pillar, with a blotch of red suggesting the bloodshed in the square – is a reminder of those events. It is quite a history-filled block, with events of WWII and the 1989 Revolution mixed together.

With organ 'rock star' Cameron Carpenter

With organ 'rock star' Cameron Carpenter

The two main halls of the George Enescu Festival are there, too. On Sunday, I heard Meadville native (actually Townville, population 306) Cameron Carpenter give an organ recital at the Athenaeum, which was broadcast live on national TV. When is the last time you saw an organ recital on network TV? An organist with a Mohawk haircut, sequins on his shoes, a crushed velvet suit, and a chest-exposing, scoop-neck shirt, he also exhibited killer technique in Bach and Dandrieu, topped off with The Stars and Stripes Forever and Chopin as encores. He last played in Pittsburgh for the Organ Artists Series, and I hope he returns soon.

Romanian Athenaeum

Romanian Athenaeum

Enescu Museum

Enescu Museum

The Athenaeum is surely one of the most beautiful concert halls in the world. It’s where George Enescu met the princess who became the love of his life. But she was married, and he had to wait 40 years for her to become available. Now, her palace is the George Enescu Museum. It’s been open again only in recent years and still needs a lot of work. Music critic Norman Lebrecht called attention to the deplorable shape of the museum’s document storage in a January post on his “Slipped Disc” blog.

Vlad the Impaler

Vlad the Impaler

The Pittsburgh Symphony patrons group, including Richard and Ginny Simmons and Tom and Jamee Todd, toured the Enescu Museum and took a look at the palace where Vlad the Impaler once exhibited his enemies as if they were olives on toothpicks. We strolled through Vlad’s basement and wine cellar. Vlad was the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula legend, which is kept alive in old movies here just as in the States.

But first we looked at Nikolai Ceausescu’s parliament and his attempt to build a boulevard more grand than the Champs-Élysées. The entire area around it was leveled and every home moved by an army of 40,000 workers. It wasn’t finished in 1989 when he met his Christmas Day firing squad. Now, the parliament meets in a building second in size only to the Pentagon.

Ceausescu’s Sala Palatului, where the Pittsburgh Symphony played, featured exhibits on the many artists who’ve appeared at the Enescu Festival including André Previn in 1970 and Herbert von Karajan in 1964.

Sala Palatului

Sala Palatului

There was an encore for Yuja Wang—wearing her little red dress. She played Chopin. Later, Manfred Honeck and the PSO offered three encores after the Shostakovich Fifth Symphony including a new tour encore, Fauré’s Pavane. The others were the Galop from the ballet “Masquerade” by Shostakovich’s compatriot Khachaturian – this time with clarinetist Michael Rusinek offering a cadenza quoting George Enescu’s Romanian Rhapsody which brought chuckles of recognition and applause from the audience, which was on its feet for the third encore: Wagner’s Prelude to Act III of “Lohengrin.”

Afterward, I spoke with Principal Cellist Anne Martindale Williams, who had played in Bucharest earlier this summer at the invitation of Kenneth Tucker, Director General of an organization called Oratorium. Ken, his wife, and violinist daughter Anna have been living in Romania for the past twenty years.

Vlad Vizireanu and Mihai Hristu

Vlad Vizireanu and Mihai Hristu

The Pittsburgh Symphony made many friends yesterday at the smaller hall of the Sala Palatului in a Side-by-Side concert with Romanian-born conductor Vlad Vizireanuh and South African pianist Ben Schoeman. The Romanian musicians were from the Camerata Regala – consisting of recent Conservatory graduates, some of who also reported playing in the Radio Orchestra.

Vlad just spent the summer at Chautauqua where he worked with Timothy Muffitt as Conductor. Mihai Hristu, the Reprezentant, helped to organize the event which benefited Children Skills For Life, which has ties to California where Vlad and his family now live (in Thousand Oaks).

Vlad’s Mother told me that she and her husband left careers as engineers in Romania to move to Los Angeles, where they worked menial jobs at Technicolor. Now, their daughter is a doctor at UCLA, and their son is a globe-trotting conductor. Mom remembers trudging in the snow to get milk for her newborns and standing in line for one grocery item at a time during the Communist days. She has no nostalgia for the Communists even though some do.

Cellist Mikhail Istomin and violinist Susanne Park

Cellist Mikhail Istomin and violinist Susanne Park

Violinist Susanne Park stood backstage, waiting with a ticket for an American friend she connected with online in the running community in Bucharest. He had helped her in a morning run through a Bucharest park which can be treacherous, due to packs of wild dogs. There do seem to be a lot of dogs around. This morning’s paper ran a harrowing story about wild dogs killing a child.

I answered a 6:00 pm knock on my door to find a nice lady who asked if I could help her. I could see she did not seem to need much help, and I explained that I was on deadline to complete a work assignment. Several tour party members have had similar mysterious visitors. None seemed interested in hearing Shostakovich.

Tour de Pittsburgh Symphonie

Tour de Pittsburgh Symphonie

Andrew Reamer and Ed Stephan had an extensive ride on their bicycles yesterday. A helpful doorman commented that bicycles are still a rarity and often ignored by speeding trucks in Romania.

Cynthia Koledo DeAlmeida told me that she had connected with Pittsburgh pianist Marina de Pretoro, who was in Bucharest visiting her Romanian family.

Tomorrow, onward to Paris!

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