May 25 2010
At last, the Pittsburgh Symphony has arrived in the city of Johann Strauss, Beethoven, Mozart, Haydn, Schubert and Schoenberg. Even Gottfried von Einem has a star on the walk of fame here, just outside the Musikverein, home of the Vienna Philharmonic, where the Pittsburgh Symphony rehearses later this morning and presents the first of two concerts tomorrow night. It was a quick trip from Dresden yesterday. I saw a kids’ T-shirt I liked in the Dresden airport. In German it said, “Why should I clean my room when the world is in chaos?” A question I’ve been asking since childhood.
I took a stroll on the broad Strassen of Vienna to the Musikverein, where posters proclaimed the Pittsburgh Symphony “Ausverkauft,” sold out.
Last evening, it was a trip to the Wienerwald at the edge of the city where the new Grüner Veltliner, wine fresh from the press and plucked from the vines on the hillside, is poured for guests at the Schreiberhaus. The Symphony patrons group met there for a gemütlich Abend.
Today, I walked to the Hotel Sacher for a piece of Sacher Torte. It’s been baked there since 1832. The hotel says it receives letters addressed to “Hotel Chocolate Cake.” The Hotel Sacher was first named for Franz Sacher, then came the torte. In 1962, a Viennese court decision ruled that only the Hotel Sacher had the original Sacher Torte: rich chocolate cake with a light layer of apricot, it seems, although the recipe is a closely-held secret.
Across the street is the Herbert von Karajan Platz, site of the Vienna Staatsoper, which was sending its production of Rossini’s Italian Girl in Algiers onto a jumbo screen in the square, in the manner of a Penguins playoff game at Mellon Arena. I found another Pittsburgh Symphony LP in the used-records bin outside the opera; Karl Goldmark’s Rustic Wedding Symphony with Andre Previn conducting, for seven euros. Inside, I found a reissue of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto from 1928 featuring Bronislav Huberman with former Pittsburgh Symphony Music Director William Steinberg leading the Berlin Staatskapelle.
Then it was on to the Vienna Theater Museum, next to the Albertina, where a giant exhibit honors Gustav Mahler’s 150th anniversary year. The items on display are drawn from all around the globe, including a photo of Mahler with his daughter, Anna, on loan from the University of Pennsylvania. You can see his glasses and many other personal effects, and you can listen to more than a dozen interviews of conductors talking about Mahler, including Pittsburgh’s own Lorin Maazel and Mariss Jansons. You can hear the interviews online at universaledition.com/mahler. The Vienna Theater Museum is in the Lobkowitz Palace, the former home of Franz Lobkowitz, one of Beethoven’s friends and patrons. Beethoven dedicated his Third, Fifth, and Sixth Symphonies, and Op. 18 quartets to Lobkowitz, who named his giant Eroica Saal, with ceiling paintings by the Dutch artist Jacob von Schuppen, in honor of the composer.
I’m trying to get to as many coffee shops as possible for the atmosphere, and because you can hit and run with Apfelstrudel. I thought the strudel at the smoky Kleines Cafe on the Franziskaner Platz compared quite well with the strudel at Prantl’s in Shadyside.
On the way back to the hotel, I wound through the city park. There, the gleaming gold statue of Johann Strauss with his violin was admired and photographed by hordes of tourists while kids threw Frisbees on the great, green lawn. There’s a beer garden near the entrance to the park, and there I found brass players including Johann Ströcker, one of three bass trombones in the Vienna Philharmonic, reconnecting with our Principal Tuba Craig Knox, Principal Trombone Peter Sullivan, and trombone Jim Nova.
Julia Wehmeier graduated from Sewickley Academy and now lives in Brussels where she’s a graphic designer and teaches several languages for Berlitz. She and her Mom, Erika Wehmeier, who you’ll meet at Heinz Hall on a typical Friday night, taught me the German idiom “Morgenstund hat Gold im Mund,” or as Ben Franklin said it, “Early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” So I’m going to bed.