Sep 14 2013

Beethovenfest Finale Pittsburgh Symphony in Bonn

Published by at 6:51 am under PSO 2013 European Tour

Beethoven was born here

Beethoven was born here

I am hearing, very faintly, a french horn practicing in a nearby room for tonight’s final concert of the Pittsburgh Symphony’s 2013 European Festivals Tour.

Yesterday began with a tour of the Beethovenhaus with Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Music Critic Elizabeth Bloom. Liz is a Harvard grad, a percussionist, and she spent last year in Turkey on a research grant learning about Turkish percussion. The Beethovenhaus has over 100,000 visitors each year. It’s a tourist magnet in Bonn. The house features a concert hall for chamber music in the building next door. Underneath is the archive, containing priceless original manuscripts by Beethoven in a concrete vault with all the appropriate temperature and humidity controls. There’s a silent alarm to the police if anything is disturbed – and if the city of Bonn were leveled by bombs, the manuscripts are stored in a way that they should survive. The public never sees the originals; only scholars and megawatt musicians like Anne-Sophie Mutter. The assistant archivist, Julia Ronge, said she is coming to Pittsburgh on November 6th to give a Beethoven talk at the national meeting of the American Musicologists Society at the Convention Center!

Beethoven's grandfather

Beethoven's grandfather

Our tour guide showed us the portrait of Beethoven’s grandfather, the famous original portrait of Beethoven by Joseph Karl Stieler, Beethoven’s life and death masks, his wireless glasses, his inkstand, organ, the instruments for his quartet, and the viola to which he attached a wax seal in red, lightly inscribed with a cursive letter “B.” There is the Conrad Graf piano he played. Also, his scissors, writing desk, notes for his housekeepers, a lock of his hair, and much more. There is  a technology lab where you can line up a dozen different recordings of the “Waldstein” Sonata or the Fifth Symphony – allowing you to switch among them to compare interpretation. On the computer screen, you can see  the original score of Beethoven’s Ninth while listening to Karajan’s recording. There is a multimedia version of “Fidelio” going every hour. A single ticket is 5 euros.

Beethovenhaus entrance

Beethovenhaus entrance

The gift shop featured lots of DVDs and CDs. I was tempted by “Der Junge Beethoven,” produced by the German broadcaster WDR. You can buy a death mask or a life mask in plaster for 50 euros. Reproductions of Beethoven’s conversation books from the years of his deafness, biographies, busts, scarves, pencils and pens, and postcards are all for sale. It is a great shop. I picked up a few more Beethoven CDs which feature performances with the instruments found in the house. You will hear them soon.

I took the No. 66 tram to Heussallee Museumsmeile – 1.90 euros. You buy your ticket from a machine, an electronic sign tells you how many minutes until the tram arrives, and off you go. I was headed to the massive Deutsche Welle building, where the Beethovenfest has its offices. There, I interviewed Ilona Schmiel, the Intendant or Director these past ten years. She is now the head of the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra. She says she would love to present a series of Pittsburgh Symphony concerts in Zurich, and is talking to Bob Moir, the orchestra’s Senior Vice President of Artistic Planning, about just that.

Courtyard garden at the Beethovenhaus

Courtyard garden at the Beethovenhaus

I had to run back to the hotel to join a group of musicians, organized by Cynthia Koledo DeAlmeida, who were going to play a fundraising concert in Cologne. An intern from the festival, Natalie Chen, drove me back in a BMW – the Official Car of the Beethovenfest. We left from an underground garage reminiscent of the Pentagon’s.

Then it was off to Cologne with Dr. Dirk Spillman. He drove the musicians to the home he shares with his wife, Inga Spillman. The intimate concert was given to benefit Cologne schoolchildren, who do not get much music their classes. Cindy had met the Spillmans in Santa Barbara, where she participates in the summertime Music West festival. Dr. Spillman, nicknamed “Tiger,” is now retired as an EMT specialist. He loves good design. His home, with its garden and Braun stereo system, was stunning. It was built in 1907. In the ravages of WWI, German homes were required to build bomb shelters in the basement. That’s where the doctor keeps his tools and hangs his wash.

Beethoven's viola

Beethoven's viola

We walked a short path through the lush green Cologne Südpark to the home of Marian and Ludo Rautenstrauch. Marian and Ludo are prominent supporters of the arts, and agreed to host the concert. Marian is part of the German publishing company Uhlstein. She knew Herbert von Karajan and other German art and music luminaries.

Cindy, Christopher Wu, David Premo, Rodrigo Ojeda, Lorna McGhee and Meng Wang played Mozart’s Oboe Quartet, the Gypsy rondo finale from Brahms’ Piano Quartet No. 3, Dohnanyi’s Aria for Flute No. 1, and Bach’s Trio Sonata, BWV 1038.

An early work by Beethoven

An early work by Beethoven

At dinner, I sat with Wolfgang Arndt, Marian’s attorney, who had lived in America in the early 60’s as an intern for Youth for Understanding – which still places Germans in American homes. They are based in Washington, D.C. The Rautenstrauch’s nephew Klaus was with us, too. He also had been an American exchange student. These two couldn’t have been nicer dinner companions. They say that Germans are highly self-critical since the events of WWII. We talked about Angela Merkel and her upcoming election. They say she has exactly the right view of Vladimir Putin, since as a former East German she had suffered oppression from the East. When Merkel meets Putin for diplomacy, she speaks with him in fluent Russian. We talked about the German view of the NSA scandal, and Obama’s predicament with Syria. All the conversation had a good-natured warmth that was an absolute delight. This along with German meatballs, creamed Krautsalat, and boiled potatoes with parsley, followed by apple sauce with a crumble topping. Fabelhaft! Back in the van, Dirk drove us all back to Bonn.

Many of the Beethoven Festival souvenirs are emblazoned with the word “Freude,” or Joy, as in the Ode to Joy. What freude it is to hear the Pittsburgh Symphony in Bonn tonight for their final tour concert. The tickets for the festival here are a bit more affordable than the 350 Swiss franc tab (about $350 US) in Lucerne.