Sep 15 2009
If you’ve seen the movies Fargo, Blood Simple, or Raising Arizona, you know one of Monessen’s most famous residents. Actress Frances McDormand graduated from Monessen High School in Westmoreland County. Monessen is named for Monongehela and the German town of Essen, with their historic steel making industries now considerably diminished on both sides of the ocean. Essen was 90% destroyed at the end of WWII. The family of Alfred Krupp lead the operations, and much like our Andrew Carnegie’s, Krupp’s philanthropy is still benefiting the region. There’s an old synagogue – the largest north of the Alps, with an impressive copper dome, now restored in Essen. With help from US Steel and the United States Information Agency, William Steinberg and the Pittsburgh Symphony recorded a concert in 1954 expressly for broadcast to Essen, Germany, celebrating the sister cities. Today, the Pittsburgh Symphony is off by bus at 2:40 to a new concert hall in Essen.
I still have one Berliner left from yesterday. They were two for a Euro at the Merzenich bakery (seit 1896!) and sold from an outdoor window in Cologne. The Berliner became famous when JFK made his famous speech in Berlin to assure the city that the US would support West Germany after the Berlin Wall divided East and West and food had to be airlifted in. It’s been suggested that Kennedy’s words “Ich bin ein Berliner!” actually meant “I am a jelly doughnut.” Not so. I’ve been told that the Berliner in the city of Berlin is actually a bit different than in the rest of Germany. In Cologne, it is a strawberry-filled doughnut with lots of sugar on top. Gut! I noticed President Obama speaking to Wall Street on several of the European cable networks yesterday afternoon.
I spoke briefly this morning with Co-Principal Clarinet Thomas Thompson and wife Chris about their day in Cologne. They enjoyed a tour of the Rhine river by boat. Violinist Hong Guang Jia spent some time back in China this summer after the Orchestra’s last tour to Beijing. Mr Jia teaches in China, making the long trip at least three times each year, where he works at the Central Conservatory. In 1986, he was the first Chinese violinist to play in an American orchestra when he joined the Baltimore Symphony and David Zinman. Now, the Pittsburgh Symphony has at least seven musicians of Chinese origin or descent.
Last night I spoke with Jeffrey Turner, PSO Principal Double Bass. Jeffrey has connected with one of his former bass students at Duquesne, now playing in one of the German orchestras. Jeffrey is heard playing the important bass solo on the new Mahler Fifth Symphony CD with Manfred Honeck, but he hadn’t had a chance to listen to the final product yet. He plans to conduct a bit more this season. We heard his terrific-sounding concert with the Duquesne Symphony on the radio just a few months ago. He’s juggling care of his four year old Ella with his wife, who is a path-breaking surgeon at UPMC working in the specialized area of entering the body just above the eye to perform neurosurgery.
I’m not much with tennis, but lots of folks have been watching Roger Federer at the US Open in their rooms, as Principal Oboe Cynthia de Almeida told me she had spent much of yesterday afternoon while making reeds. I’m fascinated by the range of European TV. Here in Cologne, you see all the German networks: ARD, WDR, NDR, and no less than five channels from the Middle East including one from Abu Dhabi. A man wearing the traditional flowing white garb of Kuwait was on a game show. His head was covered and phone numbers for Yemen and Iraq flashed on the screen for audience participation. The RTL II network had a German reality show of some kind with two young women Danielle and Natalie – it is called the Aschenputtel Experiment. Natalie is wearing a hot pink T-shirt that says, “Sleep Now, Study Later.” They talk to the camera, and there are tears over their romantic entanglements. The commercial load is amazing—shorter but more. In a single blast I saw Activia, lots of hair care stuff like Syos, and hair color Wellaflex, hair spray, Nissan and Kia twice in the same break, Dr. Oetker’s frozen pizza, L’Oréal, Persil detergent, Ritter Sport chocolate, and five program promos.
BR Bavarian TV had a documentary about Nazis. Germans sometimes tell me they never hear much about WWII but it’s my experience that every evening there are the tanks, Auschwitz, and more with Hitler on TV in Germany. When we got here, I was watching a bit of a program on the Hitler Jugend, or Hitler Youth. You can’t help but reflect on the effects of war in Cologne which was leveled by Allied bombing and only the Cathedral standing in ruins on the landscape at the end.
Then there’s CCTV from China, RAI Uno and Due from Italy, Turkish TV, Sounds of Worship mixed in with the Arte network broadcasting a complete Mozart Don Giovanni and four sports channels with hockey, soccer, tennis and more. MTV Deutschland had a funny anti-smoking PSA—“Fur ein rauch freies leben,” there’s Law and Order overdubbed, and that Harrison Ford movie with the evil US President dubbed in German, Clear and Present Danger maybe?
Germany is still a place where poetry is appreciated. I admired a monument to the poet Karl Cramer near the Town Hall yesterday.
Contrabassoonist James Rodgers bought his own brown bag dinner last evening after a day enjoying the Cologne Zoo with a ride in its aerial tram. Jim and I will have a get-together at the Carnegie Library Main Branch on September 29th, in a book discussion of Vivaldi’s Virgins by Barbara Quick. You don’t have to have read the book to join us—please come. Tonight, the Pittsburgh Symphony will bring a poetic touch to Essen with Bruckner’s Romantic Symphony and the Richard Strauss’ Four Last Songs. There’s a 90 minute rehearsal at 4:30 with Christine Schäfer. James Rodgers told me that working with her will be one of his personal career highlights.