Sep 09 2013

Pittsburgh at Frankfurt’s Alte Oper

Published by at 1:16 pm under PSO 2013 European Tour

Finish line at the Alte Oper

Finish line at the Alte Oper

Alte Oper, Frankfurt

Alte Oper, Frankfurt

At the Alte Oper in Frankfurt, The Pittsburgh Symphony found themselves at the finish line of a footrace benefiting AIDS research with a special effort for children. As in Pittsburgh’s Great Race, citizens of all ages huffed and puffed the last few steps. The finish line featured a banner marked “Ziel” which reminded me that former Pittsburgher Otto Klemperer wrote an opera he titled “Das Ziel,” or “The Goal.”

You could buy a T-shirt for 10 euros and receive an apple, various product samples and newsletters. A drumming ensemble entertained onstage, grilled sausages of many kinds were for sale, and cups of “alkoholfrei” beer were available for free. The Alte Oper, completely destroyed during WWII, was reconstructed in 1968. In the hallways, photographs of the construction and famous musical visitors Placido Domingo and Herbert von Karajan are on display. Karajan consulted on the acoustics. It’s a vast hall with over 3,000 seats.

Anne-Sophie Mutter in blue

Anne-Sophie Mutter in blue

BNY Mellon sponsored the concerts and hosted receptions before and after on the Terasse behind the Oper restaurant. It’s said to be the most beautiful terrace in Frankfurt, with statuary and elegant outdoor tables with umbrellas, but the pouring rain kept everyone indoors. The mood was high as Anne-Sophie Mutter and Manfred Honeck greeted everyone and received a special welcome from Thomas Brand, the Chief of BNY Mellon in Germany. Herr Brand had been with the orchestra in Berlin and he’s helped host events for the orchestra on previous tours. He seems to genuinely love the orchestra. If I had a pension plan or a few million dollars to invest, I’d give him my business. Noah Bendix-Balgley and his stand partner Mark Huggins were there with Andrew Wickesberg, Tatjana Mead Chamis and other members of the orchestra. Elegant pastry was served with a unique piece of silverware that provided a spoon on one end and a fork on the other.

Kevin Milas

Kevin Milas

The Consul General of the US Consulate in Frankfurt, Kevin Milas, was gracious. He gave the group the unhappy news that the Steelers had lost their season opener, but that the city of Pittsburgh could be proud of the reaction in Frankfurt to its orchestra’s concert of Janacek, Ravel’s Bolero and Rapsodie Espagnol with Anne-Sophie playing Dvorak’s Violin Concerto and a Bach Sarabande encore. Faure’s Pavane and Wagner’s Lohengrin Prelude to Act III encores closed out the night.

The giant Frankfurt Motor Show meant that hotel rooms were at a premium, so we stayed at the airport Steigenberger Hotel where there was a new-model Mercedes in the lobby. Frankfurt hosts the world’s largest car show, where the buzz is on new technology and electric cars rather than on muscle cars with more horsepower.

Manfred Honeck & Thomas Ille

Manfred Honeck & Thomas Ille

After the concert, Manfred Honeck introduced me to Thomas Ille – his collaborator in arranging the Suite from the opera Jenufa by Leos Janacek. Ille said they had made a few small cuts in the score during the brief 30-minute acoustic rehearsal to tighten it up a bit before its world premiere in Frankfurt.

Manfred Honeck’s manager, Lothar Shacke, was backstage. He said his firm has recently taken on Jukka-Pekka Saraste and enjoys working with Herbert Blomstedt. Manfred Honeck and Lothar seem to have a terrific working relationship. Maestro Honeck introduces him as, “My best friend.” Composer and arranger Thomas Ille clearly enjoys the work he is doing with the Pittsburgh Symphony. He apologized for his English but spoke very well. His home is in Prague, where Janacek’s folk influences and dance music are felt clearly. Manfred Honeck has Czech grandparents. We spoke at the Oper Restaurant, which featured a large painting of John F. and Robert Kennedy above the wine bottles.

On stage at the Alte Oper

On stage at the Alte Oper

I spoke with Anna Maria Honeck after the concert. I hope you have a chance to meet any of the Honeck children. They have a charm that I’ve written of several times, but each time I experience it I’m impressed further. Theirs is a natural warmth and deep thoughtfulness plus good cheer. It’s every parent’s dream to have children like this. The Honeck kids never show any signs of fatigue, and have the conversational skills of Miss Manners. Speaking to Manfred Honeck’s daughter, the composer Thomas, his driver, manager and personal assistant there is a clear common denominator. Manfred Honeck surrounds himself with people who have smarts, musical depth, humor, kindness and warmth. Can you hear this in his music making? I think so.

"Tastes so refreshing"

"Tastes so refreshing"

Waking up to rain on Monday, we saw the sky soon brighten for the four-hour bus trip to Lucerne. There was a cheerful atmosphere on Bus 3 with lots of laughter. The Seeway rest stop was amazing for the depth of choices in Ritter Sport chocolate bars, coffee bar, wine and beer, energy drinks, extensive newspapers and magazines, outdoor and indoor dining area, beer steins, pay-by-weight salad bar, bratwurst and other German Klassiks, and much more. The washroom was 70 euro cents, with turnstiles to admit you once you’ve paid the correct amount.

Our route went south past Karlsruhe and Mannheim then into Switzerland by way of Basel to Lucerne.