Sep 20 2009

Lucerne Festival Triumph

Published by at 3:04 am under PSO 2009 European Tour

The 2009 Lucerne Summer Music Festival, with its overall theme of Nature, is now history. The Pittsburgh Symphony and Music Director Manfred Honeck brought the festivities to a close in the final concert with the massive sound of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 4, followed by their encores—Grieg’s Morning Mood, and the Brahms Hungarian Dance No. 5.

Christine Schäfer and Jim Cunningham

Christine Schäfer and Jim Cunningham

Christine Schäfer and Jim Cunningham

Christine Schäfer set the mood of finality with her Four Last Songs by Richard Strauss, which opened the program. Gorgeous! I spoke with her during intermission. She told me she’ll return to the Metropolitan Opera in two upcoming productions including Verdi’s Rigoletto. She was heard last season singing the role of Gretel in Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel. This was her first time with the Pittsburgh Symphony. She loved the experience and hopes to join the orchestra again at Heinz Hall. She said that among her discography, Schubert’s Winterreise is her favorite recording.

The concert began at 6:30pm on a perfect evening after a sunny day. Many orchestra musicians had been strolling the gorgeous old city, mixing in with the throng of Saturday shoppers. There’s an outdoor market near the Kappelbrücke, the historic landmark wooden bridge built in 1333 which nearly burned to the ground in 1993 due to a fire caused by a cigarette.

Lucerne's Chapel Bridge, built in 1333

Lucerne's Chapel Bridge, built in 1333

Lucerne's Chapel Bridge, built in 1333

The Bodu brasserie is near the bridge. I stopped there for lunch to enjoy its authentic Parisian feel. For the last day, I ordered their classic quiche Lorraine with a salad, and for dessert, blackberries in a white cream port sauce served warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream in the middle. The food was great, and so were the newspapers such as the Bern paper Berner Zeitung, Neue Zuricher Zeitung, Der Bund, the Lucerne paper, and the Swiss equivalent of People magazine Schweizer Illustrierte with its front page devoted to the wife of Swiss tennis star Roger Federer. The headline: ‘Mirka Federer –Sie Macht Roger Stark!’ Inside, I enjoyed the article on the Miss Schweiz competition, with the sechzehn schönheiten finalsinnen in Montreux on September 26. There was a profile of soprano Cecilia Bartoli, ‘Die Koenigin des Hohen C’ (Queen of the High C), with her home in Zurich—she has a feuriges (fiery) temperament, we read.

Merkur chocolates

Merkur chocolates

Merkur chocolates

The Swiss entertainment charts reveal that the top Klingeltöne (ringtone) for your cellphone is Poker Face from Lady Gaga and the top single is by The Black-Eyed Peas. The Swiss are going to see Inglorious Basterds more than any other movie this week.

After lunch, I wandered through the crowded streets and stopped at the Merkur chocolate shop. The beauty and variety of the selection was overwhelming. Then, a stop for a raspberry tart at Heini, Lucerne’s Meisterkonditorei with Feine Torten! (Master sweet shop with Fine Cakes). Cappucino with its artfully foamed milk and cinnamon spritzed on top will linger in my mind when I make my breakfast selection from the WQED vending machines at 6:30 am this coming week.

President and CEO Larry Tamburri tells me the orchestra is thrilled with the outcome of the trip and the invitation to return to the Lucerne Festival in 2011.

Lucerne Festival crowd at intermission

Lucerne Festival crowd at intermission

Lucerne Festival crowd at intermission

During the concert I sat with Helmut Mauro, critic for Bavaria’s Suddeutsche Zeitung, who is writing an article on Manfred Honeck. Mauro says he is very impressed with Honeck’s unorthodox approach to music making, his focus on the music and not career, and his deep musicality.

The intermission crowd moved out to the front of the Congress and Convention Center for champagne and a view of the lake.  The elegant crowd is interrupted for a  moment by a most un-Swiss happening. A scraggly, long-haired, unshaven, rumpled, and obviously inebriated man lurched toward the crowd shouting. He tossed a splash of beer toward the crowd from a can he held in his hand and violently spat on the sidewalk, cursing the privileged concert goers in German. There was a puzzled look from the Bruckner fans, and the Swiss security guards looked alarmed, but the visitor kept moving toward the lake and the incident was over.

Guten Abend und aufwiedersehen, Lucerne

Guten Abend und aufwiedersehen, Lucerne

Guten Abend und aufwiedersehen, Lucerne

After the concert, I joined the crowd that wished Manfred Honeck farewell in the downstairs conductor’s room, and then recorded his comments about the trip. He is totally relaxed and excited about the great reception for the orchestra as well as their great playing under trying and exhausting conditions. There is a warm, cheerful atmosphere with Mrs. Honeck and three of the Honeck children. 13 year old Anna Maria has perfect English. She told me she enjoyed their week in Pittsburgh with visits to the Warhol and Kennywood among the highlights. Leaving the Lucerne Culture and Convention Center, the lake couldn’t be more fairy-tale beautiful. Young people sit on the docks and the steps to the water—is that a whiff of pot I smell?  The hotels on the hillside across the lake are lit with their names across the top –the Montana, the National. A boat is lined with little Christmas tree lights along its sails. The fountain in front of the concert hall was illuminated in the soft warm air of this late-summer evening. Fabelhaft!

One for the road at Heini Konditorei

One for the road at Heini Konditorei

One for the road at Heini Konditorei

Group A had already gone, and my luggage is out the door. Bus to Zurich, Lufthansa to Frankfurt, then on to Chicago and Pittsburgh at last. Thanks so much for following along and please thank anyone you meet from Bayer, our tour sponsor who paid for the airfare and hotel. Thanks to Stephen Baum for his steadfast blog and photo editing, audio production, and joie de vivre, and my long-suffering colleagues Anna Singer, Ted Sohier, and Jim Sweenie for getting my reports on the air and enduring the tales of raspberry tarts. Stay tuned—there’s more to come on the QED Morning Show later next week and on the Pittsburgh Symphony broadcast series Sunday nights at 8:00 pm. Tschuss! Ciao Ciao! Vielen, Vielen Dank!