Sep 13 2013

Pittsburgh Symphony at Bonn’s Beethoven Festival

Published by at 2:32 am under PSO 2013 European Tour

Beethoven monument

Beethoven monument

There are 12 museums or memorial sites to Ludwig van Beethoven in five countries. He slept more places than Queen Elizabeth and he moved more often than anyone can imagine – terrorizing his housekeepers at every stop. Polite guests always, the Pittsburgh Symphony returned to Beethoven’s namsake festival in the city where he was born – Bonn, Germany – after a short charter flight from Zurich, Switzerland on Thursday afternoon.

I walked past the Beethovenhaus shortly after we arrived. It’s just a few blocks from the hotel. There is a lively market in a cobblestone square. I made a pilgrimage to the most famous Denkmal, or memorial statue, of Beethoven. Franz Liszt was among those who helped to raise the money to build it. It turns up on many record covers of Beethoven. There is a Bonn walk of fame with famous figures from music, science, painting, math, as well as others memorialized beneath your feet. In a music store, you could look in a mirror and see your face framed with Beethoven’s hair and clothes.

PSO in the Beethovenhalle

PSO in the Beethovenhalle

The first of two concerts at the Beethovenhalle involved only a moment of Beethoven when principal clarinetist Michael Rusinek played a phrase from the Minuet in G during his Galop from Khachaturian’s Masquerade. The Ravel Bolero was the best on the trip. It was followed by the Fauré Pavane as the first of three encores which included Wagner’s Prelude to Act III from Lohengrin.

The Rapsodie Espagnole never gets old for me with its many delicate colors and lively Spanish dance music.

Martin Grubinger heard a large whoop from the Festival audience on the final crash in John Corigliano’s “Conjurer” Percussion Concerto. He is a hero in Bonn, too. Speaking to the audience in German, he again praised the Pittsburgh Symphony, and introduced a virtuoso super-fast hit from the golden age of the xylophone.

Deutschlandfunk

Deutschlandfunk

The concert was recorded by Deutschlandfunk for later broadcast and there was a team from the international broadcasting network Deutsche Welle making a documentary on this American orchestra’s arrival in Germany at the Beethoven Festival.

I like the slogans of the Deutschlandfunk, “Hoeran ist wissin,” listening is learning or listening is knowing and “Kultur ist Überall,” culture is everything.

P1160359beethoven sculpture-001

P1160359beethoven sculpture-001

Once again large pretzels were for sale in the lobby. There was a pre-concert talk. A large modernist sculpture of Beethoven stands on the lawn at the entrance. The BMW 360i Gran Turismo is the official car of the Beethoven Festival.

There are dozens of concerts from September 5 to October 5 featuring the Bamberg Symphony, The Ural Philharmonic (a new one on me), the World Doctors Orchestra, the Academy of Saint Martin in the Fields, the NDR Orchestra, the Beethoven Orchestra of Bonn, pianist Helene Grimaud, the Minguet Quartet, the Ensemble Modern, a recital by soprano Christine Schäfer, the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen, Christian Thielemann and the Staatskapelle Dresden, the London Symphony with Daniel Harding, the Istanbul University State Conservatory Orchestra, and multiple recitals by the Borodin Quartet and pianist Andras Schiff in three concerts of Beethoven Sonatas.

Wang, Grubinger & Carpenter

Wang, Grubinger & Carpenter

Martin Grubinger has already appeared at the Beethoven Festival with his own ensemble. He is much loved. Lots of fans showed up backstage afterward, including Yuja Wang (who asked him for his phone number) and flamboyant organist Cameron Carpenter, who gives a recital on Saturday night at the same hour as the Pittsburgh Symphony. Cameron gave Martin a gift of hand cream with a rosewater fragrance from Crabtree and Evelyn. Martin had applied powder to his hands just before the Corigliano concerto began. There was commotion at the dressing room door with photos and laughter with the three young stars of classical music in a tight space.

Mike McConnell & Laura Motchalov

Mike McConnell & Laura Motchalov

It was fun to speak with Pittsburgh Symphony and WQED board member Dr. Mildred Myers backstage. I strolled along Robert Schumann’s Rhine River watching the coal barges and excursion boats glide by with percussionist and Duquesne grad Mike Culligan, and violinist Laura Motchalov. The concert hall is just a few blocks from the hotel.

The staff of the Beethovenfest were warm and welcoming. I enjoyed a Bionade – the classic soft drink in Germany with a sort of cherry cola flavor. Haribo gummy bears were for sale alongside champagne. The Pittsburgh Symphony’s European public relations firm, PR2, was backstage.

Bionade Holander

Bionade Holander

I enjoyed speaking with Anna Frankenberg and Gabriela Schiller who helped set up a visit to the Beethovenhaus Archiv later this morning. With luck, there will be lots of good reviews to share for the European Festivals tour.

Friday is the final day off for the musicians, and on Saturday the tour comes to an end at the Beethoven Festival with Yuja Wang in Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, followed by Richard Strauss’ Ein Heledenleben and bittersweet encores. The musicians may be as reluctant as the audience to let the evening end.