Aug 30 2013

The Sound of Grafenegg Outdoors

Grafenegg castle

Grafenegg castle

The Radetzky of “Radetzky March” fame is just a half-hour away, honored with a museum and memorial. Composer and piano maker Ignaz Pleyel is just down the road with corn fields and vineyards all around. Grafenegg is one of the most beautiful spots on earth. It surrounds a 13th-century castle still owned and occupied by descendents of the Metternich family. The Grafenegg Festival is a place of manicured lawns and gigantic old trees, cafés, gardens and sculpture; freestanding wine, champagne, and dinner kiosks; recliners, a wine shop, an old concert hall, a new one, and an ultramodern outdoor one.

Composer Brett Dean

Composer Brett Dean

You can imagine a conversation where music lovers sat around on this spot consuming the delicious light, fresh, new Grüner Veltliner asking each other, “If you could have anything you like at a music festival, what would you like to have and how could it be better than all the other European Festivals that draw people like Prince Charles?” At the end of the talking, someone says, “We’ll do it!,” and the sponsors are on board along with the government of Lower Austria. They will write a blank check.

There is no detail too small: from sunscreen for the orchestra at rehearsal, to a glass of wine for every member of the orchestra, and deep-red blanket wraps elegantly sold for 15 Euros to audience members looking to ward off a night-time chill.

Yuja Wang rehearses Tchaikovsky

Yuja Wang rehearses Tchaikovsky

Manfred Honeck’s family was on hand: Christiane, Joachim, Anna, Teresa, Simeon, sister Elfie, brother-in-law Florian Partl, and sister Sybilla, the cellist. The governor of Lower Austria, Erwin Pröll, and a host of rulers of the empire celebrated at the castle after the second encore, which featured Principal Clarinet Michael Rusinek in Khachaturian’s Galop from “Masquerade” embellished with a lick from the Shostakovich Fifth Symphony, a dot from the “Blue Danube” Waltz, and a touch of “Edelweiss.”

Yuja Wang was sensational and fast in Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1. The piano moving technicians wear elegant grey gloves. The guy sitting in front of me wore two-tone white and blue shoes. Don’t step on his!

Wolkenturm at Grafenegg

Wolkenturm at Grafenegg

The winds and brass have so many great moments in the Shostakovitch; Principal Oboe Cynthia Koledo de Almeida, Principal Bassoon Nancy Goeres, and Principal Horn Bill Caballero all were wonderful; as well as Principal Flute Lorna McGhee with her encore from Bizet’s “Carmen.” Lighting everywhere calls attention to architectural details. Flickering flames outline white tables where wine sippers enjoy an intermission nip. It was a night to remember.

Surely they thought about how to please butterflies who flit about in the sunlight. Fresh-scrubbed teenagers in their white golf shirts smile at everyone. No one hassles the shutterbugs! A Land Rover, Jaguars and Maybachs are parked near the entrance. I’m not doing it justice.

The land of Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven knows how to to present music — outdoors and in.

Aug 29 2013

The Pittsburgh in Grafenegg

Applause for Anne-Sophie Mutter in Dvorak's Violin Concerto

Applause for Anne-Sophie Mutter in Dvorak's Violin Concerto

It was a night for violinists. Anne-Sophie Mutter played Dvorak’s violin concerto, and Noah Bendix-Balgley performed brilliantly and heroically in “Ein Heldenleben” (A Hero’s Life) by Richard Strauss. The Grafenegg Festival played host to the first concert of the Pittsburgh Symphony’s 2013 European Festivals Tour with Music Director Manfred Honeck.

The strings were featured in the opening “Suite for String Orchestra” by Leos Janacek, written when the Czech composer was 23. The Suite includes wonderful music for Principal Cellist Anne Martindale Williams, who was warmly recognized by the Grafeneggers during her solo bow.

Arcadia Records in Vienna

Arcadia Records in Vienna

It was a long day, but the weather was wonderful and sunny for a quick look at the Arcadia shop in front of the Vienna Staatsoper, where there is still a group of second-hand records for sale. I couldn’t resist picking up a Rudolf Buchbinder record of salon favorites with violinist Rainer Kuchl, and a collection of Parisian musette recordings. I bumped into trumpeter Neal Berntsen and PSO hornist Zachary Smith with tour colleagues Robert Rydel of the Charlotte Symphony and Tod Bowermaster from the Saint Louis Symphony.

En route to Grafenegg

En route to Grafenegg

At 1:00 pm, the bus departed for the hour-long ride to Grafenegg. The rehearsal at 2:00 included a careful look at some details of the Dvorak Violin Concerto with Anne-Sophie Mutter. Should I mention that Anne-Sophie wore red slipper-like shoes with gray Capri pants, a simple T-shirt, and a black sweater? She’s always elegant with her instrument, whether dressed down in jeans or dressed up in the sparkling, deep-red, floor-length, strapless gown she wore for the concert.

After the Dvorak tonight, she played a Bach Sarabande that she often favors for an encore. It is always deeply emotional.

The concert began at 7:15 and ended with the Final Waltz from the “Rosenkavalier” suite by Richard Strauss.

I had a chance to interview Manfred Honeck just before the concert. He presented me with a miniature Austrian Gugelhupf, which Mrs. Honeck had been baking until 3:00 am last night.

Grafenegg Auditorium

Grafenegg Auditorium

There was a buffet meal for players who had pre-ordered. Sauerkraut with caraway seeds, cucumber sliced thinly, a vegetarian strudel, salad, and other options were each beautifully done. Everything is elegant at Grafenegg. The grounds, the gardens, the castle, the buildings–even the parking lot are all beautifully kept. The crew wear black jeans and black T-shirts. The ushers are all young people with white shirts sporting the Grafenegg logo. Lots of male concertgoers wear the traditional collarless Austrian Loden jacket in greens and browns. Pommery champagne is for sale next to brightly colored macarons at the outdoor bars. Outdoor cafés with elaborate menus draw a crowd that seem like Austrian royalty, bankers and politicians and arty types.

Pianist and Grafenegg Festival founder/director Rudolf Buchbinder with Media Relations Director Julia Ornetsmüller

Pianist and Grafenegg Festival founder/director Rudolf Buchbinder with Media Relations Director Julia Ornetsmüller

Artistic Director Rudolph Buchbinder has a new Schubert CD out, along with his complete Haydn Sonatas, complete Beethoven Sonatas, and complete Beethoven Piano Concertos. All are for sale in the gift shop. There was also a Deutsche Grammophon CD, “Drums and Chant”, featuring tour percussionist Martin Gruebinger with monks from a German Monastery. He’ll be featured in John Corigliano’s “The Conjurer” in a few days.

Buchbinder still drives a Maybach, one of the most exclusive auto brands in the world. He seems to be enjoying life, having performed on at least four concerts at Grafenegg this season. He insisted his guests open a bottle of the white wine Der Ott, made in this grape-growing region known especially for the Grüner Veltliner sold in the elegant wine shop on the festival ground.

Wine in the foreground, castle in the background

Wine in the foreground, castle in the background

I said hello to violinist Sylvia Kim, who is back with her colleagues as a substitute after joining the Chicago Symphony this past season.

Mary Persin, Special Programs Director to Maestro Honeck, told me that Anne-Sophie Mutter has a Dvorak Diary about the making of her Dvorak concerto recording with Manfred Honeck and the Berlin Philharmonic last winter.

I’ve sipped the German water Vöslauer once or twice, but only today I noticed that the German word for carbonated or fizzy is “prickelnd.” The Pittsburgh Symphony had plenty of fizz in Austria as the cap came off the bottle for concert No. 1. If the weather permits, No. 2 will be outdoors on Friday night.

Aug 28 2013

Music and Wellness in Vienna

Preserves at Josef Meinl

Preserves at Josef Meinl

The first full day in Europe on the Pittsburgh Symphony’s 2013 European Festivals Tour was one for visiting Vienna’s art museums, and shopping at Joseph Meinl for its glittering array of jams, honey, and preserves, wall of Viennese chocolate, and bottles of ‘Andy Warhol’ Perrier. There was practicing and preparing for the tour’s first concert on Thursday at Austria’s Grafenegg Festival with Janacek’s Suite for String Orchestra, Richard Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben, and violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter playing the Dvorak Concerto.

Today, Pittsburgh Symphony CEO Jim Wilkinson and his wife Suzanne Wilkinson, a longtime docent at the Frick Art Museum and a Scaife gallery regular, visited the Albertina Museum’s “Picasso to Monet” exhibition. Principal Trumpet George Vosburgh, Librarian Joanne Vosburgh, and their daughter, Pittsburgh Youth Symphony cellist Amanda Vosburgh, visited the Vienna Museum’s current show, “Wiener Typen—Klischees und Wirklichkeit” (Viennese types–cliche and reality). Some took in the Mumok (MUseum MOderner Kunst)—analogous to New York’s MOMA—with a collection including art by Andy Warhol, Picasso, Magritte, Francis Bacon and Nam June Paik.

Noah and Tatjana at St. Anna's

Noah and Tatjana at St. Anna's

I returned to St. Anna Kinderspital (children’s hospital) and Research Center with violist Penny Brill, the creator of the Pittsburgh Symphony’s new Music and Wellness web site, to hear a concert for young cancer patients, their parents, and nurses. Concertmaster Noah Bendix-Balgley, and Associate Principal Violist Tatjana Mead Chamis performed to an audience that included the PSO’s CEO Jim Wilkinson and Media Relations Director Joyce Defrancesco.

Noah and Tatjana played Mozart’s Duo in G, K. 423. They each demonstrated the qualities of the violin and viola, and performed solos by Bach. Then, they invited the kids to join them in favorites for children of all ages, including “Happy Birthday to You”, “If You’re Happy and You Know It”, German folk songs such as “Alle Vögel sind schon da” (All the Birds Are Already there), and “Mein Hut, der hat Drei Ecken”, (My Hat, It Has Thee Corners).

Penny Brill at Café Eiles in Vienna

Penny Brill at Café Eiles in Vienna

The St Anna Kinder Concert was streamed live to all the patient rooms in the hospital. Afterward, I asked for reactions from music therapist Doris Buchmayr and Medical Director Dr. Georg Mann, as well as Penny Brill, Noah Bendix-Balgley and Tatjana Chamis. Everyone was pleased. The group was greeted by Dr. Wolfgang Holter, who heads the research operation, and the head nurse Barbara Hahn. They are hopeful about the 90% rate of cure for leukemia patients and that more research will bring an even higher success rate.

Noah and Tatjana were challenged by music that didn’t arrive in Vienna. With the help of the Internet and St. Anna’s staff, the program was reassembled and went off smoothly. Penny Brill left her cell phone on a chair at St. Anna’s, so we returned by taxi to retrieve it and stopped at the Café Eiles on the way back for Kaiserschmarren and gulaschsuppe. The Café is near one of Vienna’s oldest theaters and has been a hangout for theater people and politicians for the last century. The building dates to 1834. Brown marble tables are piled high with newspapers, our waiter gemütlich, and Apfelstrudel and Sachertorte available, naturlich! Penny and her musician husband Dan, who leads the singers at Shady Side Academy, have two super-achieving daughters. Katy has made at least four trips to China for research. Anna was our WQED-FM intern last summer. She’s now in San Diego having finished an internship at KUSC in Los Angeles.

Costumed vendors at St. Stephen's hawk tickets to Mozart concerts

Costumed vendors at St. Stephen's hawk tickets to Mozart concerts

Walking around the city center, I paid my respects at St. Stephen’s Cathedral where Mozart was brought when he died, and where the confusion began about where he was buried. It’s a lively scene, with guys dressed in 18th-century garb trying to sell you tickets to a Mozart concert. It’s a full-court press and constantly in motion.

Yesterday, I lunched at the Cafe Prückel, where the daily special for 7.20 Euros featured “Rotes Linsencurry mit Gemuesejulienne und Kreuzkummerlerdaepfel plus Kafee Maria Teresia.” That’s yellow lentil curry, and coffee with orange liqueur and Schlagobers (a large helping of whipped cream on top). Next time I’ve got to try the Fiaker (chocolate coffee with rum) or the Rudesheimer Kaffee (black coffee with Asbach Uralt, whipped cream, and chocolate bits).

Anna Netrebko poster at the EMI shop in Vienna

Anna Netrebko poster at the EMI shop in Vienna

I am always drawn to CD stores. They sing to me. I’ve mentioned before the Gramola shop and the EMI store just a few blocks apart in Vienna. The EMI shop featured a large window display for Bob Dylan’s new official bootleg of “Self Portrait”-era recordings right next to a full window for Anna Netrebko and a poster for the Vienna Philharmonic Summer Night Concert with Lorin Maazel which aired last month on WQED-TV.

In the window of the Gramola Shop was a Viennese-made, battery-assisted  bicycle with an offer for a test drive. Also in the window, a 14 LP set of Wilhelm Furtwängler recordings and a box set of cult opera from the 1970’s, “When Opera Went Technicolor,” from the Arthaus label. William Steinberg’s Bruckner 8th Symphony with the Boston Symphony was available on DVD. Also, a new documentary “Karajan: Second Life,” including interviews with Anne-Sophie Mutter and audio recordings of Herbert von Karajan’s phone conversations! There was also a documentary and concert featuring the Artemis Quartet, who will play for the Pittsburgh Chamber Music Society next season.

If you had any doubt that the noodle craze is growing, discounting the two new noodle shops in Squirrel Hill, one of the signature Viennese Würstl (hot dog) stands now sells hot dogs and “happy noodles.”

"He Had a Dream"

"He Had a Dream"

The newspapers in the cafés are full of front-page articles regarding American 50th anniversary commemorations of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. The Austrian newspaper Tageszeiten featured a photo of President Obama under the headline, “I Have a Missile,” in reference to US and UK plans for a military response to alleged chemical weapons use in Syria. Der Spiegel has the attacks on its front page, and inside an article about Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and philosopher Ruediger Safranski, who has a new take on Goethe’s life and art.

Aug 25 2013

European Festivals Tour 2013

After the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra’s summer in the great outdoors at Hartwood Acres and South Park, the Mann Music Center in Philadelphia, and tribute concerts to Led Zeppelin and Jerry Garcia at Heinz Hall plus a week of intense rehearsals, the PSO goes truckin’ off to Paris on Monday, August 26th.

Many in the orchestra will take Delta’s nonstop Pittsburgh-to-Paris flight and then hop on over to Vienna for the first concerts at the Grafenegg Festival. There will be a live webcast from the Berlin Philharmonic’s Digital Concert Hall on August 31st with violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter. The PSO will visit Bucharest in Romania for the first time, there will be two concerts at the Lucerne Festival in Switzerland, and visits to Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, and Paris.

Tune in 89.3 FM and wqedfm.org at 8:30 in the morning and 5:30 in the afternoon for up-to-the minute reports and excerpts from the concerts. Follow wqedfm on Twitter and Facebook for much more after you’ve read the daily blog posts! My favorite part of the tour coverage is the photo gallery with hundreds of photos from the tour. If you miss the audio reports when they’re broadcast live, you can pick them up as audio on demand shortly thereafter.

I am hoping to visit the George Enescu Museum in Bucharest since the composer conducted the Pittsburgh Symphony at least twice, first in 1933 and again in 1936.

I promise lots of shots of café coffee, and record stores, too. Please feel free to send me a note on Facebook with any comments and corrections at either my personal account or Classical WQED FM 89.3. I am always sleep-deprived and prone to fits of fancy in the middle of the night.

Thanks for joining me. I hope you enjoy the ride!

Nov 10 2012

Luxembourg Deluxe

The Pittsburgh Symphony’s 2012 European Residency Tour has closed with another rapturous audience roaring its approval of the Tchaikovsky, Sibelius, and Stucky program – with encores and Manfred Honeck conducting.

It was a slog to get here – a five-hour journey in the rain and fog from Stuttgart this morning. We made a 25-minute stop at the Serways highway stop “Das Beste an der Autobahn” in Ludwigshafen. It was a great roadside experience. The café has fresh salads, pre-packaged sandwiches, Chips Frisch, pepperoni, lots of Leibniz cookies, Ricola lozenges, Ritter Sport candy of every kind, energy drinks Rothaus, Billy Boy and Rock Star; and a large beer selection including Bitburger, Krombacher, Beck’s and a giant can of Faxe, from the 110-year-old Danish brewer. The guy making a selection next to me smelled rather as if he was a beer expert. I was just admiring the choice.

I spent my time checking out the news stand. The Mannheimer Morgen marked the 125th anniversary of Sherlock Holmes with a story in today’s paper. The Obama re-election is still front page news. Die Zeit‘s headline “Mach’s noch einmal–aber besser–Obama.” The newsweekly Stern‘s cover story: Der Traum Lebt–the dream lives! Jenny McCarthy is on the cover of the German edition of Playboy this month.

At the concert tonight, I spoke with Michael Kaiser and his wife Kate. Michael is a former board member of the Pittsburgh Symphony, having worked for Adtranz and Bombardier in Pittsburgh. He still gets back from time to time and was in town just a few weeks ago to hear the Mahler. He remarked on the beauty of the Philharmonie, a showplace for Luxembourg and the European Union, on which no expense was spared. The city of Luxembourg is home to banks and financial advisers, wealth managers, and mysterious characters with royal ties, as the only grand duchy remaining in the world. The shopping street near the hotel was chock full of luxury – Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Gucci, Mont Blanc pens, a shop named in french for the passion of the automobile included elegant driving fashions sporting the Gulf Oil logo, the Ladurée macaron shop, jewelbox grocers, Hermes, Tod’s, Freh Wille, and many others, one right after another. At 6:00 pm, the church bells of St. Alphonse rang for 15 minutes.

The vending machine in the orchestra lounge included Madeleines and Ritter Sport candy. In the lobby, there was lots of champagne sipping. Eight Euros for a taste of Veuve Cliquot. There is a wash of pink, yellow and green lights on the white walls, which shift hues through the intermission. I have never seen a Twix bar displayed in such an elegant fashion along with sandwiches.

The Pittsburgh Regional Alliance’s Suzi Pegg, VP of Global Business Development, and President Dewitt Peart entertained potential business for Pittsburgh with guests including representatives of steel maker ArcelorMittal and blast furnace builder Paul Wurth, which has an outpost in the Strip District.

Cellist Irv Kauffman mentioned his memories of the 1964 visit to Luxembourg with William Steinberg, and a concert on the way in Saarbrücken, Germany.

At 6:00 pm, I bumped into Nikolaj Znaider in a red T-shirt and shorts on his way out to take a run. He gave another Bach encore tonight and charmed everyone backstage and in front of the stage lights.

Mathias Naske, the Director General of the Philharmonie, told me he was thrilled with the concert and looks forward to the Pittsburgh Symphony returning as soon as possible. He looks forward to Valery Gergiev conducting later this season and many events alongside the regular concerts of the Luxembourg Philharmonic.

There will be still more photos and Facebook posts and audio on QED 893. Tour reports turn up in the PSO’s Sunday (WQED) and national (PRI) broadcasts. Please thank my colleagues because it is a true team effort. Please thank Helge and Erika Wehmeier, Richard and Ginny Simmons, and Bayer Corporation for supporting WQED’s tour coverage. It truly would not be possible without them. Thanks to the long-suffering producer and editor Stephen Baum, the best possible colleague; Anna Singer and Ted Sohier, whose programs and studio peace are dramatically affected, and enlightened QED leadership which feels it is an important story to tell. Bless you dear blog reader! In just a few hours the tour heads out by way of bus to Frankfurt at 5:00 am. Bon soir for now!

Nov 09 2012

Stuttgart Liederhalle

Liederhalle Stuttgart

Liederhalle Stuttgart

The ride from Frankfurt to Stuttgart was smooth. I admired the nice fall colors in the leaves of trees along the Autobahn. We arrived late, and it was tough because the players went right to the stage of the Liederhalle to rehearse Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony and Gershwin’s Piano Concerto in F with soloist Rudolf Buchbinder.

The hall was full. Big and broad but with good sound. The ushers were relaxed about my camera which was nice. A terrific CD store in the lobby enjoyed brisk sales of the Pittsburgh Symphony/Honeck Tchaikovsky Fifth Symphony on the Exton label, which Classical QED 89.3 offered during our most recent QED fundraising drive. Still available at wqed.org!

Who was it I heard on the bus mentioning the line, “I have perfect moveable pitch. Wherever I am sounds perfect to me.” It did seem like a perfect evening. Principal Horn William Caballero was amazing in his solos, but there were so many great moments. Michael Rusinek has whisper-quiet clarinet phrases, and Nancy Goeres’ smooth-as-Nutella bassoon solos in the Scherzo. There were two bouquets of flowers tonight: one for Manfred, and one for Noah Bendix-Balgley, who has a great solo moment in the Gershwin concerto. It was another great night for trumpet Charles Lirette. Manfred Honeck walked back into the brass to pull Charles center stage with Rudolf Buchbinder to take a bow.

There was healthy applause at the end of the first movement of the Gershwin. Manfred gave the audience the thumbs-up signal with a big smile, as he had done during the movement break in the Dvorak in Pittsburgh. Rudolf Buchbinder was full of life and energy, kicking his legs about in a mini-ballet under the keyboard.

Michael Rusinek had another twist on the clarinet cadenza for the Khachaturian Galop from Masquerade. This time, it included a bit of the Gershwin concerto, some Tchaikovsky, and just a few notes of Deutschland, Deutschland Über Alles, the German national anthem from Haydn’s string quartet. A perfect farewell to Germany and the next-to-last concert on the tour.

The Liederhalle is on one of Stuttgart’s busiest streets. Streetcars whiz along. The hall has an unusual shape like a grand piano. The balcony is striking, rising like a grand staircase from the left side of the main floor. The big Beethovensaal was last renovated in 1992. There are actually four halls, two of which seat 2,000, including a Mozartsaal, Silchersaal and Hegesaal. On the same square is a Cinemax Theater, now showing the latest Bourne movie in German. There are many nearby restaurants Restaurants and a large center for Media.

I enjoyed speaking with Thomas Brand, the Geschäftsleiter for BNY Mellon in Germany. He’s taken on added responsibility this past year, having helped grow business for the company. He noted the long association with Mellon and the Pittsburgh Symphony. Brand explained that they don’t really discuss business matters around the concert, it just brings client relationships to a whole new level. He loved the concert, noting that Steven Stucky’s Silent Spring was a challenge for the audience, but moving. He told me he thinks the economy for 2013 is impossible to predict, although he feels better about the Euro’s chances for survival. He says that Angela Merkel is doing the right things to lead the European economy. Manfred Honeck was headed off for dinner after the concert with BNY Mellon folks.

Standing in line to say hello after the concert was Elianne Schiedmayer, the CEO of Schiedmayer Celesta, the company that makes the instrument Tchaikovsky made famous in his Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker. Elianne has been to Pittsburgh several times to make sure our instrument is in good shape. She says the Sugar Plum can be played by a glockenspiel or electric piano, but that there’s nothing like the real thing. She’s an interesting woman, born in Haiti. Her father was a doctor in Haiti, and she knew the Mellon family of Pittsburgh from their long work to establish a hospital and improve medical care in that country.

I am enjoying listening to Klassik Radio on my FM portable I bring along. I switched on the TV for a moment, and Pro Sieben network was starting the first of the trilogy of Terminator films dubbed in German. This is the one where he does in the bad robot in a pit of molten steel and then, having saved mankind, has to terminate himself by being lowered into the steel.

You know those ads for the Veg-O-Matics? They’re always on in Europe. I was really tempted by a CD collection featuring the harmonica player Michael Hirte offered by Shop24direct.de. The collection is 49.99 Euros with 84 hits like Bridge over Troubled Water, What a Wonderful World, and Ave Maria. The Liebesgrusse auf der Mundharmonika. It’s a must have.

Luxembourg is the tour’s wrap-up in less than 24 hours.

Nov 09 2012

Frankfurt Smile

Alte Oper, Frankfurt

Alte Oper, Frankfurt

Der Alte Oper in Frankfurt is an elegant edifice with a square to itself facing the amazing skyscrapers of the city. Before the concert, I wandered down the shopping street leading away from the opera to the GoethePlatz, named for Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the writer who inspired so many composers. A gigantic statue of Goethe is surrounded by shopping and restaurants and One GoethePlatz, a new building under construction.

I looked in Hugendubel, “Die Welt Der Buche” (The World of Books). It is a terrific store. Chairs were set up for an imminent author’s reading. Holiday decorations were out in full force. The was fake snow in a can, dozens of DVDs including Rudolf mit der Rote Nase, and a Casper the Friendly Ghost Christmas story. Lot of interesting calendars for the new year in large format featuring artists and one 38 Euro calendar of The Best Cafes in Europe that really tempted me. Featured artists included Horst Janssen, a collection for the Der Blaue Reiter, Gabriele Munter, and Frank Kunert. The store is a book lovers’ dream, like the much-missed Borders. Hugedubel is on four levels with escalators.

Christmas books at Hugendubel

Christmas books at Hugendubel

On the St. Katherine’s square the church bells rang at 6:00 pm. It has a plain interior, and only a few people praying. Quite the contrast to Notre Dame in Paris with hordes of tourists swirling about during the mass. There had been a 30-minute organ recital earlier. Outside the church, a group was protesting in solidarity with a group of prisoners on a hunger strike.

I had gulaschsuppe, and a side of krautsalat in Ebert’s Suppenstube with a piece of rye bread as part of the deal for 6 Euros.

At the Viennese-style bakery Heberle, I bought a Kreppel smile: a cream doughnut with a smile on it just like Eat ‘n’ Park’s Smiley cookie. When I asked for the Kreppel, the clerk said “the Smiley?”

Pittsburgh Symphony on stage in Frankfurt

Pittsburgh Symphony on stage in Frankfurt

The sound in the Alte Oper was great. Three encores once again, with part of the Khachaturian Galop clarinet solo devoted to the Dvorak Ninth and part Die Frau Rauscher, a tune known to Frankfurters according to Michael Rusinek, who told me he did his research for indigenous music on the Internet.

There have been beautiful flowers delivered to Manfred Honeck at each city since Paris.

A huge lobby bar is a lively spot during the Frankfurt intermission. Giant pretzels on six racks spanned the width of the long bar. Pleasant waitresses with smiling faces deliver your beer, coke, or champagne. I had a Possman Apfelschorle, a sparking apple juice.

A defiant Jim Cunningham

A defiant Jim Cunningham

The entrance into the hall from backstage is clearly labled “Kein Durchgang” (Don’t go through) — but everybody does. If you look closely, you’ll see an old “Pittsburgh Symphony on Tour” sticker on the air duct above the door.

I wanted to try Frankfurter Grüne Sosse (green sauce), a local specialty, but there just wasn’t enough time.

A reprint from the paper Frankfurter Algemeine featured Lorin Maazel on the cover in a caricature. He told the reporter that he never conducts music he doesn’t like.

Nov 09 2012

Cologne Philharmonie

Pittsburgh Symphony at the Philharmonie, Cologne

Pittsburgh Symphony at the Philharmonie, Cologne

In Köln (Cologne), we heard three encores for the first time. The Philharmonie is underground, built in 1986 as part of the Ludwig Museum complex just behind the immense Cologne Cathedral. Built starting in the 11th century, the cathedral still stands dark and commanding on the skyline. I enjoyed a look through the Ludwig’s vast holdings of contemporary art. There’s a big show of the recent work of David Hockney now on view, but the permanent collection – rivaled only by museums in Barcelona and Paris – is a treat. The Pittsburgh Symphony’s final encore, Khachaturian’s Galop from Masquerade, gave Principal Clarinet Michael Rusinek time to interpolate a little of Dvorak’s New World Symphony, the “Goin’ Home” tune that brought a chuckle in the audience, the local anthem Viva Colonia, and even a phrase from Hail to the Chief as a nod to the close of Presidential election season. After the concert, there was a glass of beer for all at the Philharmonie.

Kölsch for everyone

Kölsch for everyone

A backstage cafeteria and bar serves tall, thin glasses of Kölsch, a style of beer made in Cologne and nowhere else. It makes for a very festive atmosphere. Backstage were Gabriela Schiller and Anna Frankenberg, who help promote the Pittsburgh Symphony in Europe, and Helge and Erika Wehmeier, who brought friends from Bayer Corporation.

Principal English Horn Harold Smoliar and I admired the gigantic Nespresso machine backstage with lots of options for how to brew your coffee.

I loved the shopping at Galeria Kaufhof with Tannenbaums throughout the store, and a sumptuous food court featuring more Christmas Stollen than I’ve ever seen in one place.

I loved the Merzenich bakery with its jelly-filled doughnuts called Berliners, and Weckmann or gingerbread men with a white pipe. Cheese bread or Käsebrotchen and many other delights were tempting.

Ich bin ein Berliner

Ich bin ein Berliner

Joe Bock and Rui-Tong Wang

Joe Bock and Rui-Tong Wang

I’m just back from visiting with Joe Bock and violinist Rui-Tang Wang and their 2 year-old son Reagan, who was baptized at a 4:00 pm ceremony in St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna. Manfred Honeck turned up unexpectedly as one of the guests. This is the cathedral where Mozart was married and his 5th and 6th children were baptized, as well as where he was first buried. The priest, Father Timothy McDonald, has spent 30 years in Europe. Young Reagan took it in stride, with the exception of the application of Holy Water which was a small bath.

Father McDonald feels that there have been many misguided stories about Mozart’s death, such as that he was buried in a pauper’s grave. There were several levels of service for memorials and Mozart was memorialized in accordance with his station in life at the time of his death.

Nov 06 2012

Ooh La La! Pittsburgh in Paris

Manfred Honeck and Nikolai Znaider

Manfred Honeck and Nikolai Znaider

Parisians at the Salle Pleyel seemed to say “Ooh La La!” – asking for two encores and applauding in rhythm after the Pittsburgh Symphony’s Dvorak New World Symphony. The presenter of the concert, the Directeur de la Production Emmanuel Hondre, was over the top with praise. So was Pittsburgh Symphony Board Chair Richard P.  Simmons, with his wife Ginny, Kitty and Ed Clarke, Jon and Carol Walton, Bernita Buncher, and Bill Fetter. It was a great evening — except for being dunned by an usher for trying to get some photos for you. I had similar scolding the last time I was on the scene. I spoke with blogger Sabine Pena Garcia, who asked for my help in reaching Noah Bendix-Balgley for an interview that will appear on the classiquenews.com website, which is connected with classiquetv.com.

Electric-car sharing service autolib'

Electric-car sharing service autolib'

Today was the last free day of the tour and it was chilly, but blue sky for the vast hordes of tourists in Paris on a Tuesday.

I took photos of the Parisian electric rental cars with their chargers and rental bicycles.

QED 89.3 volunteer and Pittsburgh Youth Symphony board member Antoinette Tuma, who also serves on the Board of the Pittsburgh Concert Society, was in Paris for the concert. She organized a group to visit one of the oldest Parisian cafes, Bofinger, where Francois Mitterrand had his election night victory party and Woody Allen has been a regular. The English-language menu suggested that children should begin to develop their taste buds with the proper sampling of the menu. Sauerkraut, or “choucroute,” was prominent on the menu which details the Alsatian family history of the founder.

At the Louvre

At the Louvre

The Eiffel Tower sparkles at night on the hour for three minutes with showers of high-intensity flashes. It is a wonderful light show.

The 6:00 pm mass at Notre Dame included a massive incense burning. The organ is being restored for the 850th anniversary of Notre Dame, and there will be World Organ Day in May with 850 events already scheduled. Do we have any in Pittsburgh?

I took a Seine river tour at 7:00 pm, which was very crowded sailing past the Louvre. I visited the famous art museum yesterday to look at the Venus de Milo and the Mona Lisa along with thousands of other tourists. Several members of the orchestra said they gave up on visiting the Musée d’Orsay today because of the long lines caused by the Louvre’s Tuesday closing. The admission at the Louvre was 11 Euros, and 5 more if you want to see the Raphael special exhibition.

Mona Lisa, rock star of the Louvre

Mona Lisa, rock star of the Louvre

Peter Sullivan told me he enjoyed an evening with composer Roger Boutry. The get-together was organized by PSO trombonist Rebecca Cherian, who has just made a Boutry recording.

Do you know where I can get physalis in Pittsburgh? It’s the plant known as the Chinese lantern or sometimes called a gooseberry. They are served as a garnish on many desserts in both Paris and Austria. Very tart yellow-orange, with a bit of the leaf still attached.

 

Eiffel Tower at Night

Eiffel Tower at Night

At lunch, Ruth Ann Daily recommended the book Cold Mountain. Ruth is the Post-Gazette columnist who has been seen on WQED-TV 13 a number of times. She is married to percussionist Andrew Reamer, a passionate biking enthusiast on tour.

In Austria, I enjoyed listening to the Austrian traditional tunes the broadcaster ORF plays till 9:00 am while showing temperatures and conditions on the Austrian alps. I heard Manfred Honeck’s brother play Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto with great style and energy. Something odd happened during the concert. Someone fainted, and was carried out from the middle of the hall. Six ushers hustled quietly and quickly removing the unfortunate concertgoer as if on a stretcher.

Nov 04 2012

Pittsburgh Symphony at the Musikverein

The Vienna Singverein cheek to cheek with the Pittsburgh Symphony

The Vienna Singverein cheek to cheek with the Pittsburgh Symphony

With the sound of the cheers for Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 “Resurrection” still in the ears, the Pittsburgh Symphony’s first-ever, week-long residency is in its last few hours. The Mozart Requiem on Thursday, and the Friday and Saturday Mahler concerts, were all full houses, virtually sold out, with standees packed in at the back on the main floor.

Last night, there was a short post-concert session to patch up any untoward noises for the recording. I ran into our wonderful former Classical QED intern, Elizabeth Shribman, who has been working in Europe with the Prague Symphony Orchestra. She brought a friend to the concert – and a Terrible Towel. I enjoyed potato soup with FM Angels, Tom and Jamee Todd. Jamee has been working with Robert Boudreau to find a buyer for the American Wind Symphony’s Louis Khan-designed floating home, Point Counterpoint II. It’ill set you back $1.5 million, but you’ll sail on a unique bit of music and nautical history.

Nurses listen as Penny Brill and Adam Liu perform for kids

Nurses listen as Penny Brill and Adam Liu perform for kids

Violist Penny Brill listens to kids through a translator

Violist Penny Brill listens to kids through a translator

Friday afternoon, I joined violist Penny Brill and cellist Adam Liu for a visit to the oldest and largest children’s research hospital in Vienna, St. Anna’s. Penny is nationally recognized in the field of music therapy. She played for a group of young leukemia patients. The hour-long concert was webcast to all the patient rooms. It was a totally positive experience. There is a spirit of hope that progress ins being made on the medical front with children’s diseases. The hospital’s Medical Director, Dr. Wolfgang Holter, was warm, cheerful, and kind. They had prepared very carefully for the visit, and made their guests feels special. There were notices of the concert on the walls everywhere.

We had a complete tour of the hospital. There had been a Halloween party the night before. The hospital was under construction, but everything smelled fresh and sparkled with cheerful kids’ art. The nurses all had a happy look. St Anna already does work with music for therapy. The visit was a good reminder of the importance of service to the community.

I took a quick trip to the house in the Viennese suburb of Baden, where Beethoven wrote his Ninth Symphony. It has been carefully preserved, and escaped damage during WWII. We stopped at the Holy Cross Monastery and heard the monks chant at noon. Then, a visit to Mayerling, and its chapel remembering Archduke Rudolph and what must have been a murder-suicide with his girlfriend.

30 CDs of Maazel

30 CDs of Maazel

Yesterday I hit the EMI Austria store which has a large display of Christmas CDs. It’s also a spot where you can buy concert tickets for a wide range of events including Eric Clapton, Diana Krall, Die Toten Hosen, and many others.

You can buy a 40 CD set of reading of Goethe, or a 30 CD set of Lorin Maazel’s recordings, including several made at Heinz Hall: The Saint-Saëns Organ Symphony, Respighi’s The Pines of Rome, and Grofe’s Grand Canyon Suite.

I found violist Paul Silver and cellist Michael Lipman at Vienna’s version of the Pittsburgh Strip District, the Naschmarkt. It is a bustling scene with a giant Flohmarkt, or flea market, at the end of all the restaurants and vegetables. I was tempted by the records but I managed to restrain myself. Plus I was carrying my purchases from the EMI store including Andre Previn’s 10 CD set for the amazing bargain of 10 Euros, and a video of Lorin’s Maazel’s Ring Without Words made in Berlin.

Café at the Hotel Sacher

Café at the Hotel Sacher

Bob Dylan’s Tempest was on the wall. I was tempted by a Christmas collection that had a special feature. Pressing a button on the package causes Christmas lights to flash and a phrase from Jingle Bells to play.

I visited café after café. The smoky hot Hawelka, The Museum, the Trasnewski.

I happened to be in the right place when Concertmaster Noah Bendix-Balgley asked me to take his picture with violinist Shanshan Yao’s camera as soprano Cecilia Bartoli was leaving the Musikverein. Many said her concert was one of the most beautiful they had ever heard.

I witnessed a protest at St. Stephen’s Cathedral. About fifty people chained themselves together and used a bullhorn to protest the imprisonment of 50 Turks. There was a grafitto on the wall across from the Musikverein that made little sense to me.

Dr. Otto Biba, director of archives at the Musikverein

Dr. Otto Biba, director of archives at the Musikverein

I had two wonderful interviews, the first with Dr. Otto Biba, the head of the Arkiv at the Musikverein. He’s just published a book on the collection, and put together a special exhibition to mark the 200th anniversary of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde. He showed me the familiar painting of Mozart by Barbara Kraft, which was painted after Mozart’s death. He has a piano played by Brahms in his office. Most of the treasures are buried in climate-controlled storage deep beneath the Musikverein. He told me the Nazis respected the integrity of the collection, and did not disturb materials that related to Jewish composers such as Mendelssohn.

Dr Thomas Angyan, the Intendant of the Gesellschaft at the Musikverein, gave me a terrific interview, and showed me the $1,200 Euro facsimile of the Beethoven Eroica with a hole it’s title page, where napoleon’s name was scratched out when Ludwig became unhappy with Napoleon’s grand scheme.

Backstage brass location

Backstage brass location

There was considerable drama in getting the offstage band of brass and percussion to sound best. There were two locations attempted. One just off stage to the right rear, and the other in the middle of the Musikverein at the audience entrance. The soloists sang from the organ loft above the stage.

There have been some good reviews. One critic in Die Presse took issue with the special presentation of the Mozart Requiem titling the review “Unpassenede Mozart” (Inappropriate Mozart), but still finding lots of good things to say about the orchestra. The cheers and bravos, and prolonged applause last night could only be heard as a roaring success for the residency. Dr. Thomas Angyan announced at the orchestra’s post-concert reception on Friday night that he has invited them back for another week in 2016. Also hearing cheers was Pittsburgh Symphony Board Chair Dick Simmons, who told the orchestra he loves them – only to be told by Oboe Cynthia de Almeida, “We love you too!”

Hofkapelle in the choir loft

Hofkapelle in the choir loft

It is impossible to mention the numerous moments of gorgeous playing. You’ll hear for yourself in the recording, but Cynthia de Almeida’s oboe duet with mezzo-soprano Gerhild Romberger, George Vosburgh’s trumpet solo, Noah Bendix Balgley’s solo, Peter Sullivan’s trombone moment, and the percussion section’s gongs and triangles, bass drum and cymbals, were all played with utmost subtlety and drama. Wow! Fabelhaft!

There were many dignitaries: the Archbishop Cardinal of Vienna Schoenborn, the owner of the famous Viennese Plachutta Restaurant known for Tafelspitz, Dr. Clemens Hellsberg, who heads the Vienna Philharmonic; US Ambassador to Austria William Eacho, and one of the concertmasters of the Vienna Philharmonic, Albena Danailova. Many others were backstage.

Bassoonists James Rodgers, Nancy Goeres, and Milan Turkovic

Bassoonists James Rodgers, Nancy Goeres, and Milan Turkovic

I enjoyed meeting a superstar of the bassoon world, who is also an author and conductor, Milan Turkovic. He played the offstage bassoon moment, which is just a few notes. He was delighted to join Pittsburgh’s Nancy Goeres, Jim Rodgers, and David Sogg in the Mahler Second Symphony. We spoke in the Musikverein café named for modernist Viennese composer Gottfried von Einem.

Yesterday, I found a vinyl LP from the early 80’s featuring chamber music by Herbert Willi at the flea market. Willi’s latest, his Violin Concerto, world-premiered by the Pittsburgh Symphony and Nikolaj Znaider, has received some positive notice in the press.

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