May 16 2010
Sunday morning at breakfast, I spoke with Heidi Gorton who’s playing harp in the Mahler First Symphony and the Shostakovich Fifth, sharing the stage with her mom, PSO Principal Harpist Gretchen van Hoesen, and her dad, Co-Principal Oboist James Gorton. This morning brought the first rays of sunshine on this trip. The bus leaves for Stuttgart at 11:00 am. Violist Penny Brill showed me a postcard of a Basel tradition, the Rheinschwim. It’s a custom to swim across the Rhein from the Cathedral on the first Tuesday after the school year ends. The river is closed to traffic, and over 5,000 swimmers take part as the Swiss lifeguard society stands by in rescue boats. It’s been going on for over 30 years, except in 2007 when a flood forced a cancellation. Maybe we could get something like it going on the Monongehela.
Yesterday, I met with two faithful listeners to Classical QED 89.3 who live in Basel, Jim and Luanne Shock. They listen online while Jim finishes his doctorate, and Luanne works in human resources for the pharmaceutical firm Novartis. He worked with KDKA talk show host Roy Fox and our own czarina of public information Rosemary Martinelli. Jim Shock listens online even during the fundraisers. He remembers a morning some years ago when the Sleepers Awake program played a classical piece by Frank Zappa. The Shocks celebrated their wedding anniversary by coming to the Pittsburgh Symphony’s Basel concert. They told me the top Swiss news stories of the last year have been the ongoing tax problems of Swiss banks’ “don’t ask, don’t tell policy” with regard to who has what in their bank account, and the seeming Swiss intolerance in trying to legislate against minarets in new construction. Violinist Irina Laraby-Goldwasser said this morning that she was impressed at the Swiss mix of multinationalism on this visit, having lived in Germany with its large Turkish population since the end of WWII.
The Beyeler Museum in Basel, created by Hildy and Ernst Beyeler, was a revelation. Ernst just died last fall after establishing the museum in the Riehen neighborhood a few miles from downtown. The building was designed by architect Renzo Piano, who also designed the San Francisco Museum of Art. It looks out on a lush green landscape of farmland and Swiss cows with the cowbells that Mahler included in his Symphony #6. Jean Michel Basquiat is featured this summer with a massive show of 150 paintings. Basquiat is the friend and disciple of Andy Warhol. I first saw his work at our Warhol some years ago. There are several paintings in the show with Warhol in the title, Brown Spots (Andy Warhol as a banana), and a painting that features the Arm and Hammer logo, in the manner of Andy’s Campbell’s Soup can. Also, a white refrigerator that Basquiat painted on. There is a spirit of merry prankster and genius about it all. He was amazingly prolific having died at age 27 with over 3000 artworks.
Yesterday afternoon, I took a tram and bus to the Jean Tinguely Museum, which anyone should love. Tinguely wanted everyone to interact with art, so he made many things move and asks the viewer to step into some of them. I thought of our Ted Sohier when I encountered Tinguely’s Pit Stop, which involves projectors in a wacky arrangement showing bits of driver Alain Prost driving his Renault into a pit stop. It’s something deep about time and man’s effort to avoid violent death, but on the surface it’s just fun.
Tinguely’s Meta Harmonie II is a giant room-filling contraption that plays a piano and a drum and lots of other things that growl clank, buzz and whir. The building is gorgeous. Tinguely died in 1991.