May 29 2010
The Pittsburgh Symphony’s European Tour 2010 is history, with a final playing of Grieg, Khachaturian, and Brahms encores. Cellist Jan Vogler played the Schumann Concerto and a Bach encore with distinction. At intermission, Vogler said his colleagues at the Dresden Festival, where the Pittsburgh played last week, thought the Pittsburgh visit was the highlight of the festival. He said he liked that he was able to bring an American orchestra to a formerly communist country. After World War II, the two countries were on opposite sides but are now friends. On the second half of the program, Manfred Honeck conducted the powerful Symphony No. 5 by Shostakovich.
I spent the afternoon with Vladimir Assejev, the grandson of former Pittsburgh Symphony Music Director Fritz Reiner, who in the decade from 1938-1948 spent more time in Pittsburgh than at Cincinnati, Chicago or the Met. Vladimir remembered Carlotta Reiner, the third Mrs. Reiner, as a very strong-willed woman who helped to organize Dr. Reiner’s gypsy life. The first and third wives had met in Budapest on a congenial evening.
Mr. Assejev had the most cheerful and warm outlook and recalled his grandfather sending wonderful presents and signing affectionate notes, “Dein Vati.” But he did remember at least one occasion when Grandpa had given his mother the famous look — from the eye of a hawk — suggesting the quality that caused his players to say about Reiner, “In him, the milk of human kindness curdled.” Vladimir Assejev also showed me a set of Wagner 78′s with the Pittsburgh Symphony, which Reiner had sent from across the ocean in Pittsburgh.
Ljubljana’s Cankarjev Dom concert hall is named for a popular poet. It is vast in a city center square built by a Slovenian architect after WWII. It suggests the Communist socialist ethic with enormous statues in the adjoining park. Nearby are embassies and tall concrete block office buildings. The city was charming even with threatening rainclouds. At the end, all agreed it was a successful tour — one of the best ever for the Pittsburgh Symphony. Watch this space for more, but just now I’m three hours away from the long trip home through Munich and Chicago. I’ll sort out and share all the photos, videos and materials I’ve picked up along the way. Thanks to you for hanging in there with me, and to Bayer Corporation for making it all possible.