Sep 01 2011
One of Europe’s newest and most amazing festivals has been put together on the grounds of a 13th-century castle built in the Tudor style. The Pittsburgh Symphony made its debut at the five-year-old Grafenegg Festival with the first of two concerts in the modern auditorium. Friday, they play outdoors in the Wolkenturm if the weather cooperates.
This morning I picked up some coffee at the Julius Meinl store in Vienna with its elegant displays of chocolates, jams, coffee – and Oreos. The J. Berger book store across the street included Henry Kissinger’s China in its window display along with giant calendars of Audrey Hepburn, Romy Schneider, and the Vienna State Opera.
At noon, an hour’s drive brought the orchestra to a rehearsal at the Grafenegg Festival with both violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter and pianist Hélène Grimaud. I toured the castle and the grounds with Julia Ornetsmüller, the festival’s Director of Media Relations.
There’s a terrific café, and a spot for picnics with Apfelstrudel. Grafenegg also has a riding school, gardens, and a 13th-century mill.
The Schloss is in the Tudor style because the original owner liked the look. The castle has passed through many owners but is still owned by the Metternich family, made famous by Klemens von Metternich who led the redrawing of the map of Europe at the World Congress of Vienna in 1815.
The Russians held the property after World War II, taking everything with them when they left, except for a few books of propaganda and a biography of Lenin now in the Grafenegg library. One of the bathtubs is the deepest I’ve ever seen. There’s a fantastic cobblestone courtyard with clock tower. I could hear pigeons or some sort of winged friends cooing and burbling like a scene from a film.
The concert worked its magic. Manfred Honeck’s family was in the audience, including son Mathias who is now a member of the Vienna Symphony as of May. Wife Christiane Honeck attended with the younger family members: Anna, Simeon, and Joachim. Only Manuel, the soccer star, was absent. He has a match pending. Brother-in-law Florian Partl welcomed us like old friends, and introduced Manfred’s sister, Elfi. Florian is a cartographer. He fits right in with the musical Honeck family, sharing the warm and generous spirit common to the Honeck clan.
With the Partls was Hannelore Grahammer, wife of the Austrian ambassador for the European Union in Brussels. They helped me fill in history of legendary Austrian Field Marshal Joseph Radetzky von Radetz, whose memorial site lies only a few miles away. The famous Radetzky March, composed in his honor by Johann Strauss, Jr., is the traditional final encore heard each New Year’s Day from Vienna. Ignaz Pleyel was born just down the road and a small museum is maintained in the town of his birth.
A cell phone rang just as Manfred Honeck was about to give the downbeat on Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony, but he took it in stride – turning and smiling before pausing to pull together the magic once more. Bizet’s Carmen Intermezzo and the Khachaturian Galop from Masquerade brought the evening to a close.
Yesterday’s Der Kurier in Vienna ran large photo and article by Peter Jarolin about Manfred suggesting that the Staatsoper will invite him to conduct next season. The reviews of this Pittsburgh Symphony tour have been terrific, as far as I can tell, with lots of attention on Anne-Sophie. The only negatives have been a general idea that American orchestras play too loud. Manfred has had the Pittsburgh at whisper quiet. Principal Horn William Caballero’s solo in the slow movement of the Tchaikovsky, and Principal Michael Rusinek’s clarinet are remarkable in their subtle prayer-like intensity. I’ve never heard such quiet playing.
I loved the Austrian men wearing loden jackets, dyed an Austrian forest green in various shades. The collarless jackets were sometimes grey or charcoal black with red trim. A few ladies wore elegant Dirndls.
This is the wine country for Grüner Veltliner a treat similar to white Riesling. You can buy the wine in a tasting room. The festival provided a glass for each member of the orchestra after the concert. Imagine having an orchestra over for a toast, and then having to load the dishwasher.
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