May 20 2010
The Grand Duchess Josephine Charlotte of Luxembourg was responsible for the amazing undertaking of building the new hall where the Pittsburgh Symphony played Beethoven and Dvorak tonight. But she died before she could hear the first concert there in 2005. Her life was tragic, I was told by Luxembourg residents Eric and Renee Osch who came to tonight’s concert. Eric is the Treasury Controller for Ikano Group. The IK in the company name comes from the initials of Ingvar Kamprad, the founder of IKEA. When I mentioned that IKEA had opened one of its first North American stores in Pittsburgh, he told me that IKEA struggled at first with Americans, who want king, queen, and double size beds, while Swedes are content to buy one size.
Eric and Renee introduced me to Dominique Hansen, the Chief of Corporate Relations for the Philharmonie. These three could not have been more charming. Tom Castelyn, the Managing Director of BNY Mellon Benelux and France, welcomed clients. He told me that he thinks Europe will work out the problems of the euro. Still, it’s clear that concern about the European Monetary Union is great. The mood generally at the concert was cheerful. There were two encores of Chopin; a waltz and a mazurka from Emanuel Ax after his Beethoven Emperor Concerto, and three encores from Manfred Honeck and the Pittsburgh Symphony.
The Philharmonie sounded great. Its Grand Auditorium and chamber music hall are enclosed in a vast, jaw-dropping space filled with lights and surrounded by 823 white steel columns. I saw lovely refreshments being served after the concert, but I didn’t have time to try one. Immense, colorful season program booklets were available. The program for the PSO’s concert was elaborate, with with lots of color, and program notes and bios in English and French.
The ride from Frankfurt to Luxembourg this morning was uneventful, except for the Ritter Sport chocolate bar I managed to melt and smear over much of my outfit for today. It’s been cold and rainy in Luxembourg until the Pittsburgh Symphony arrived. Today was a perfect day for looking at the old city and the new with 72 degrees and blue sky. David Sogg and Andy Reamer rode their folding bicycles which pack away into their own suitcases. David rode from Montana to Alaska in 2008. He rides a bike made by Bike Friday.
Luxembourg has all the beauty of Switzerland and quite a bit of the wealth. Driving in, we saw miles of amazing new buildings including the Philharmonie, elegant shops, and outdoor cafes. There were lots of stylishly-dressed people letting their elegant fragrances waft by. Even the McDonald’s serves outdoors with style.
I stopped at the new National Museum of History and Art, whose collection includes a Picasso, many Luxembourg painters, and the complete drawings of James Ensor. I think this show was at the Museum of Modern Art in NY last fall. Belgian-born Ensor inspired Bob Dylan’s song Desolation Row and another song I haven’t heard by the alternative band They Might Be Giants. Ensor was scandalous through most of his life, poking a sharp stick at authority figures, living through WWII in Belgium, then dying in 1949.
Tomorrow, percussionist and long time timpanist John Soroka and other musicians are visiting the site of the Battle of the Bulge not far away. John’s Dad fought in the Battle. Anne Sophie Mutter returns for the Brahms Violin Concerto. We leave for the rehearsal at 8:45 and yes, breakfast is included!
On Monday, May 24th, the orchestra’s concert in Dresden will be broadcast, and you can hear it on the Internet. Go to the Deutschlandfunk web site for details. The program begins at 2:03 pm Eastern time. Cellist Jan Vogler will playSchumann’s Cello Concerto, to be followed by Mahler’s Symphony #1.