Sep 17 2009
Jim Sweenie reminds me from time to time of Orson Welles’ line as the character Harry Lime in The Third Man, when Lime critiques the comfortable Swiss lifestyle by observing that despite warfare and terror under the Borgias, the Italians had produced Michelangelo, Leonardo, da Vinci, and the Renaissance. “In Switzerland they had brotherly love, they had 50 years of democracy and peace. And what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.” I like cuckoo clocks. My grandfather, the Reverend Elmer Ortner, brought me one from Europe and I have one at home now. I’ve always been partial to The Third Man for producing the greatest hit for the zither, played by the incomparable Anton Karas. It’s really a movie about Vienna, but the Pittsburgh Symphony arrived in Lucerne, Switzerland this afternoon.
We left Cologne under the first clear sky of this tour with an hour-long bus ride to the Berlin Air Terminal. It’s a new, efficient, gorgeous, soaring metal-clad building. The path to the gate is the most unusual I’ve ever seen—it goes right through the high-end shopping with leather goods, alcohol and all sorts of things we didn’t have time to investigate. We flew on Berlin Air, which offered a currywurst snack for 6,50 €. You could choose between a sweet snack or a salty one. The sweet was a Snickers bar, and the salty a Wasa double cracker with some cream cheese. Manfred Honeck received a ‘Happy Birthday’ wish from the flight crew chief. It’s his 51st, and his wife Chistiane is joining him in Lucerne for a celebration.
We’re all paranoid about having contraband liquids. All my carry-on stuff looks like the makings for a bomb, so I just hope for the best. The nice person in front of me had his big bottle of Purell confiscated after making the tactical error of asking the agent if it was okay. I slipped through with my shaving cream and full-sized Right Guard. It’s a function of the big bag having been shipped off last night at midnight. You have to anticipate what you’ll need and carry it on. The security agent did ask to see a can of Erdnüsse I had in with all my electronic gear. When he opened the can, he shrugged and said, “Oh, peanuts,” and waved me through.
I was sorry to leave the InterContinental hotel in Cologne, known to the residents as the ‘InterConti’ when you ask for directions. The elevator is made of clear glass so that any time you go in or out, day or night, you see a view of the most famous landmark, the Dom, Cologne Cathedral. By the way, I noticed while looking for an Internet café that Germans pronounce the wireless Internet service we call Wi-Fi, “weefee.”
At the Beethoven Geburtshaus (birth house) in Bonn, the Frau who sold me the CDs of Beethoven’s piano and viola was drinking Pfeffermintztee (peppermint tea) from a thermos at her cash register. It was so aromatic, it made me want some. My favorite smells are at breakfast—the aromas of coffee and bacon. On any Pittsburgh Symphony tour, the trip is partially successful if breakfast is included with your room. At the ‘InterConti’ the buffet was included, with lots of fresh fruits and ausgezeichnet brot with caraway seeds and big pumpkin seeds on top. There’s always a pleasant chatter in the morning at breakfast with the anticipation of the new day. The musicians are a welcoming bunch and always invite new arrivals to sit down and join them in gorging on the ‘included buffet.’ Plus the newspapers were free. Nirvana.
We landed in Zurich and were bused into Lucerne under overcast skies, but through lots of green farmland. We saw Swiss cows with their cowbells, and flower boxes beneath the windows of Alpine homes. This is the country of secret bank accounts, William Tell, the Red Cross, iconic army knives, neatly-dressed military, trains that run on time, chocolate, and watches. Plus one of the world’s most prestigious music festivals. This is the final weekend of the 2009 Lucerne Festival. The audience is stunningly elegant. There are also many blond-haired people in Switzerland.
Yo-Yo Ma and his Silk Road Ensemble returned this evening to a totally sold-out Lucerne Festival audience. Some seats were filled by Pittsburgh Symphony players, including violist Meng Wang who is a good friend of several members of the Ensemble including Yo-Yo Ma. It’s a wild mix of cultural influences from Iran, Egypt, Africa, China, and throughout Asia, blended with Western classical strings. One of Yo-Yo’s colleagues played tabla seated on the floor, a fantastic grooving Chinese mouth organ player danced while playing, and there was even some body percussion from one Silk Roader. There’s a little trance and jam band, show biz, and Osvaldo Golijov for good measure. Don’t miss it if you have a chance.
The Kultur und Kongresszentrum Luzern (Lucerne Culture and Convention Center) still smells like a new car with a sort of rubbery scent, and super-modern look with spaceship blue and red lights. In front is an incredible fountain where I had some amaretti-flavored ice cream in a waffle cone. There’s always a scene with tourists and drifters from the Bahnhof train station right next door. Frenchman Jean Nouvel designed the building so that water from Lake Lucerne flows right into the lobby. It’s a brilliant design. ‘Breathtaking’ is overused but really true here.
Principal Piccolo Rhian Kenny told me her three daughters couldn’t come along on this trip because they’ve started school, and she worried that her husband Jack would forget to give them lunch money. Jack is an exceptional sculptor of tobacco pipes, even though Rhian says she doesn’t care for the habit. Of course, many people assume that classical music deejays are the sport coat with-patches-on-the-elbows, silk cravat at the neck, pipe-smoking type, so some time I’ll have to check out Jack’s—even if I never light up.
Rehearsal is early on Friday. I turned off the light last night noticing that Kabel 1 shows reruns of Hogan’s Heroes with Colonel Klink dubbed into German! I interviewed the Colonel, Werner Klemperer, when he came to Pittsburgh. He was rightly proud of the work he did as Klink. Also, he was proud to be the son of the conductor who helped to reorganize the Pittsburgh Symphony in 1936, although he said it wasn’t easy being the son of Otto Klemperer, a maestro who was known for his manic behavior.
Tomorrow, many orchestra members will get some shopping in after the rehearsal. This is a great town for cuckoo clocks. The patrons tour will visit Richard Wagner’s house Tribschen on Lake Lucerne, where Wagner and his wife Cosima lived. He wrote the Siegfried Idyll for her and had it premiered on Christmas morning as a wake-up present played by musicians gathered at the foot of the stairs. Wagner’s piano is in the house, and the Swiss flag flies out front.