Sep 02 2011

Calling on Gustav Mahler

Published by at 9:21 pm under PSO 2011 European Tour

Podcast: Rudolf Buchbinder in Grafenegg

Jim Cunningham at Mahler's grave

Jim Cunningham at Mahler's grave

Your correspondent at Mahler's grave

With Mahler’s Fifth Symphony featured on this tour, it seemed like now would be the right time to visit his grave in the Friedhoff Cemetery about twenty minutes from the heart of Vienna. Trombonist Jim Nova drove with a little help from a GPS, which announced the turns in English. The grave marker was designed by Mahler’s friend, the architect Joseph Hoffman. It’s very simple with no dates or epitaph. The tall stone reads simply, “GUSTAV MAHLER.” He would have appreciated the scene with Jim, his student Josh from Salt Lake City, and Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra Assistant Conductor Thomas Hong in the bright sunlight. Only a few graves away, a funeral was taking place; the mourners dressed in black, and the priest in a long black robe with a gold cross around his neck gleaming brightly in the sun.

Thomas Hong at Schubert's birthplace

Thomas Hong at Schubert's birthplace

Thomas Hong at Schubert's birthplace

Jim Nova agreed to pick up Maestro Hong at the Schubert Geburtshaus (birthplace). Franz was born in the kitchen because it was January, and that was the warmest room in the house. You can see a guitar, a piano owned by his brother Ignaz, and best of all Franz’s wire-rimmed glasses, quite like the glasses John Lennon wore. It was quiet. We were the only visitors. The lady in the gift shop was helpful with directions. I bought a book about Vienna’s Haydn house – and a CD, naturlich.

The second Grafenegg concert was in the same auditorium as the first after rain prompted a change of venue from the outdoor Wolkenturm. Roy and Susan Dorrance were there, and a great group of Pittsburghers including Jim and Ellen Walton, Henry and Lou Gailliot, PSO Board Chair Dick Simmons and wife Ginny, and the Director of the Buncher Family Foundation.

Small Johann Strauss statue

Small Johann Strauss statue

Small Johann Strauss statue

After the paying of respects at Mahler’s grave, I spent a few minutes in Vienna’s Stadtpark, just across from the hotel. The gold statue of Johann Strauss, which we see on the New Year’s Day broadcast, is undergoing restoration although there’s still a smaller gold statue of Johann next to the construction site.

Backstage, I had a lively conversation with the director of the Grafenegg Festival, pianist Rudolf Buchbinder, who says he took the job because he knew he could do everything to his standards and invite the best musicians in the world. He’s looking forward to his return to Heinz Hall on the opening weekend of the season to play Gershwin’s Concerto in F. To his thinking, Gershwin is every bit as valid as Beethoven. He enjoyed playing at Heinz Hall in 1983 with Lorin Maazel. He drives a great car, whose maker was new to me. We don’t see many ultra-luxury Maybach sedans on the road in Western PA – only 63 were sold in the USA last year – but they’ve been making them in Germany since 1919.

Rudolf Buchbinder

Rudolf Buchbinder

Rudolf Buchbinder

It was great to hear Hélène Grimaud playing Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto. After the concert, many members of Manfred Honeck’s family were on hand. Mrs. Honeck, Christiane, had a gift for the tour party—a note, and the Austrian confections, Mozart Kugeln and Mozarttaler. There was one last toast with Grüner Veltliner, the special Austrian wine which Mahler himself would have enjoyed, poured for each member of the orchestra on their way out the door. Fabelhaft! Wunderbar!

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