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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.