Sep 15 2009

Essen, Germany

Published by at 8:08 pm under PSO 2009 European Tour

The steel-making town of Essen warmly welcomed the musicians from the Steel City as the Pittsburgh Symphony made its debut with Music Director Manfred Honeck on the European continent. Just an hour away by bus from the hotel in Cologne, the the orchestra had its first chance to hear Christine Schäfer at a 4:30 rehearsal. No one was disappointed. Petite with high black boots, blond hair tied back, and a sumptuous  vocal sound, this Berlin-born star was focused and on target.

The sound reflector and lighting fixture above the stage at the Essen Philharmonie

The sound reflector and lighting fixture above the stage at the Essen Philharmonie

The sound reflector and lighting fixture above the stage at the Essen Philharmonie

Essen is a modern city having been rebuilt after World War II. The hall is new and sounds great; comfortable seats and a backstage cafeteria with an attendant for the musicians. The stage door staff was relaxed and bemused at their guests from Pittsburgh. The Pittsburgh Regional Alliance was on the scene with a row of guests representing possible business connections.

The new Philharmonie is in a leafy park not far from the Essen train station. The city is buzzing this week with a welders and foundry workers convention. A number of musicians, as well as Post-Gazette Music Critic Andrew Druckenbrod and your correspondent, found a terrific Turkish restaurant named Tablo on Huyssenallee where we had Turkish coffee and a spicy eggplant vegetarian stew with paprika. I’m not a big fan of lamb, which figured in many of the menu items. I visualize big puffy white sheep with pink noses.

Cellist Hampton Mallory backstage in Essen

Cellist Hampton Mallory backstage in Essen

Cellist Hampton Mallory backstage in Essen

Lots of players enjoyed a box dinner and hung out backstage in the time between the rehearsal ending at 6:00 and the start of the concert at 8:00.

Once again, the Essen Philharmonic publishes a huge full color prospectus of their season with countless guests—Seiji Ozawa and the Berlin Philharmonic; the Vienna Philharmonic with Lorin Maazel; Marek Janowski and the Berlin Radio Orchestra playing Bruckner; Rudolf Buchbinder and the BBC Philharmonic; the Seoul Philharmonic; the Jacques Loussier Trio; Hélène Grimaud and the Stockholm Radio Orchestra; Kurt Mazur and the National Orchestra of France; Nigel Kennedy and the Orchestra of Life; Ivan Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra; Bruno Weil, Anne Sophie Mutter and the London Philharmonic; the Capitol of Toulouse Orchestra, and dozens more, mixed in with a complete season of the Essen Philharmonic and their Music Director Stefan Soltesz.

Christine Schäfer after Strauss' Four Last Songs

Christine Schäfer after Strauss' Four Last Songs

Christine Schäfer

Speaking of conductors named Stefan, Harold Smoliar’s violist daughter Rachel is playing in the Florida orchestra lead by Chautauqua’s Stefan Sanderling whom we heard last summer from the Amphitheater. Rachel said she is really enjoying her season in Florida and being along with Dad on this tour as a substitute.

Schäfer wore her hair tied back, severe elegant cabaret style, with a lacy black top over an elaborately folded floor-length, plum-colored gown. There were more than the usual bows. I didn’t count carefully, but  I’d say over a half dozen. Backstage, she said she was nervous but there was no sign of it.

There were flowers for Christine and Manfred after the concert. Two encores followed Bruckner’s “Romantic” Symphony No. 4. The Grieg Morning Mood from Peer Gynt, and the Brahms Hungarian Dance No. 5. I’ll leave you with a little video clip of Brahms from the Pittsburgh Symphony’s encore in Essen. Bis Später!

Brahms Encore in Essen (mp4 video, 8 MB)