Aug 27 2011
It was thundering feet and cheers for the Mahler Symphony #5 from the Pittsburgh Symphony and Manfred Honeck at the Laeiszhalle in Hamburg, Germany. Anne-Sophie Mutter wowed them again, and there was television coverage of this event in the Schleswig-Holstein Festival. A huge crowd turned up for the CD signing afterward. The house was full, with tickets at over $140 the last to go at the box office. I checked with Michael Pegher, a student of violinist Albert Tan who also studied with Lorenzo Malfatti in Pittsburgh and now lives not far away from Hamburg where he has a contract singing with a regional opera house.
This concert had been scheduled for Hamburg’s new Elbphilharmonie, or Elb Philharmonic Hall, which is still under construction after massive cost overruns and delays now expected to extend through 2015.
I had an amazing visit at the Brahms Museum and the Telemann Museum. It was the 40th anniversary of the Brahms Museum on Peterstrasse, and admission was free. There was a festive atmosphere and a quiz of Brahms biographical moments for visitors. I won a Brahms CD, although I think it might have been for my foreign accent as much as my knowledge of Brahms.
The Brahms Museum is near the site of the house in which he was born, which burned to the ground in WWII. There’s also an E.T.A. Hoffman Museum in Hamburg, commemorating the composer and author who inspired Jacques Offenbach’s opera, The Tales of Hoffmann. That and the massive art museum, the Kunsthalle, must be for next time. I asked my taxi driver if he knew the Beatles Platz, where there’s a statue in their memory. He was not German, and thought I was interested in meeting “nice women.” The statue is on the edge of one of the most notorious red light districts in the world, the Reeperbahn. John Lennon said “I was born in Liverpool but I grew up in Hamburg.” Malcom Gladwell, who wrote Outliers claims the Beatles became geniuses in part because they honed their craft through thousands of hours of rehearsals here in Hamburg.
The Telemann Museum is one of the newest additions to the Hamburg cultural scene. I recorded a tour with the museum’s Vorsitzender (chairman), Erich Braun-Egidius, who was one of the kindest people I have ever met in my travels with the Pittsburgh Symphony. After the tour, he told me that he’d been in management with Volkswagen most of his life. One day decided he wanted to follow his heart, and help to open the Telemann Museum. His son is studying in Boston and has toured the American history trail which brought him near Pittsburgh. Eleven years old at the end of WWII, Herr Braum-Egidius was extremely positive about Americans, and said he thinks George H. W. Bush is under-appreciated for his role in encouraging Germany’s reunification. He explained the fine points of the history of the Alsace-Lorraine where my grandfather Ortner’s father was born. We discussed in detail Telemann’s love of plants and gardening, and his list of flowers in Latin. It’s always stunning to me how some people will go out of their way to help a stranger.
Markus Frei, a journalist who is working on an article for Die Welt about the Pittsburgh Symphony, told me his article was delayed by the death of the German comic Loriot, a cross between Peter Sellars and Victor Borge whose sophisticated routines often had a classical music twist, with a chamber music ensemble rehearsing, or a conductor swatting insects, choreographed so that he conducted Coriolan with the Berlin Philharmonic as he attempted to kill the bug. Loriot never made it big it in the US, but he’s an enormous figure here. As I write, Radio Bremen TV is running the special, Erinnerungen an Loriot (Memories of Loriot).
I have lots more to say about the concert tonight in this beautiful century-old hall with a Brahms Platz and modern monuments out front. It’s named for one of the great shipping figures in this port city. More tomorrow, as we head for Vilnius and the Pittsburgh Symphony’s debut concert in Lithuania. Manfred Honeck’s 12-year-old son, Simion, is traveling his Dad on this trip –what a guy –with a calm and concentration well beyond his years.