Aug 29 2011
It was a full rehearsal this morning at the Lithuanian National Opera and Ballet Theater. It’s a giant structure for a mere 900-seat theater. The orchestra played without an acoustical shell. Stage hands set up a screen behind the orchestra and used blue gels to backlight it. This doesn’t make for ideal acoustics, but some players said they could more clearly hear Anne-Sophie Mutter play the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto and Wolfgang Rihm’s Lichtes Spiel. There were large opera set pieces in storage backstage; a massive cake, and wine bottle from Donizetti’s Elixir of Love. Dr. Anthony Spinola’s office had a retro phone that might have come from Brezhnev’s desk. The building looked a bit like Duquesne University’s Student Union. I visited our congenial translator, Laura Karnaviciute, in her office on the first floor, where a cheerful group were working on promotion of an upcoming event. They offered me a piece of cake.
Laura (in the blue jacket) translated for the 5:00 pm press conference with Anne-Sophie Mutter and Manfred Honeck. Anne-Sophie said that Wolfgang Rihm’s Lichtes Spiel: A Summer Piece reminds her of Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. She said she likes pairing it with the Mendelssohn Concerto because she likes Mendelssohn’s humanity, his sharing and giving quality, as well as his composing genius. Manfred Honeck said how pleased he was to be back where he had conducted on the tenth anniversary of the 1991 “January Events,” when Soviet tanks rolled, and soldiers shot Vilnius citizens who defended their television tower.
The concert at 7:05 opened with house General Manager Gintautas Kėvišas welcoming everyone. Laura translated. There was rhythmic applause for the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto. The intermission crowd was young and stylish. Music lovers packed the hall with over 100 standees along the side aisles. At intermission, you could kick the tires of a blue BMW on the lower level and you could choose from delicious treats at the bars. There was a rainbow-colored parfait-like drink, fresh fruit and ice cream, along with bars for Lavazza coffee, and candy bars such as Twix.
The US Embassy’s Deputy Chief of Mission Anne Hall welcomed everyone warmly. Manfred Honeck and Anne-Sophie Mutter toasted the group. Some people in the audience said they loved Pittsburgh even more than the New York Philharmonic, who they heard last year, as well as the Kirov Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theater conducted by Valery Gergiev. Gergiev had performed the Mahler Fifth Symphony, so Pittsburgh switched to Tchaikovsky Five – which delivered a wallop and won still more rhythmic applause. The Pittsburgh Symphony’s new Principal Flute, Lorna McGhee, played the Intermezzo from Bizet’s Carmen followed by the Galop from Khachaturian’s Masquerade featuring Principal Clarinet Michael Rusinek.
Riding back and forth to the hotel, I was impressed by the number of auto dealerships. Peugeot, Kia, Mazda, VW, Ford, Lexus, Citroën, Opel, Saab and many others. Fueled by gas from gas stations that seemed unfamiliar—Statoil, EMSI, Orlen, Apsaga, and Nesta Oil.
Miles of Soviet-style apartment buildings in concrete blocks wind by. One unit was just a few floors of poured concrete and rebar, which looked like it had been there at least as long as the remodeling effort on the front of our former Hilton Hotel in downtown Pittsburgh. One wag on our bus quipped that, “We’re sorry but your rooms are not quite ready,” upon seeing the unfinished building when we arrived yesterday.
Try as I might I just couldn’t make it to the statue of Frank Zappa. Zappa never came to Vilnius, but a local sculptor has created quite a tourist draw with his tribute to Zappa’s freewheeling sensibility. I understand the Lithuanians have donated an exact replica to Frank’s home town of Baltimore, so look for it there.
Do be careful where you park in Vilnius. The mayor, an avid cyclist who was said to be in the audience tonight, made international headlines earlier this month with a video of himself driving an armored vehicle over a Mercedes that was illegally parked in a bike lane. The staged video was (mostly) in good fun. In Vilnius this week, basketball is the talk of the town. The EuroBasket 2011 competition is capturing everyone’s imagination – except for those of us listening to Tchaikovsky tonight.
I loved the concert, the people, the spirit of the place, and the music played by the Pittsburgh Symphony. “Viso gero!,” from Vilnius.