Pittsburgh at Frankfurt’s Alte Oper

Published by on September 09, 2013

Finish line at the Alte Oper

Finish line at the Alte Oper

Alte Oper, Frankfurt

Alte Oper, Frankfurt

At the Alte Oper in Frankfurt, The Pittsburgh Symphony found themselves at the finish line of a footrace benefiting AIDS research with a special effort for children. As in Pittsburgh’s Great Race, citizens of all ages huffed and puffed the last few steps. The finish line featured a banner marked “Ziel” which reminded me that former Pittsburgher Otto Klemperer wrote an opera he titled “Das Ziel,” or “The Goal.”

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Pittsburgh’s Rhine Journey

Published by on September 08, 2013

The Pittsburgh Symphony swooped into Düsseldorf from Paris on Saturday afternoon. This is where the pioneering electronica art-rock band Kraftwerk lives

Tonhalle

Tonhalle

. Robert Schumann is memorialized in the lobby of the Intercontinental Hotel and the lobby of the Tonhalle. The call to return to your seats at the end of intermission is a phrase from the Schumann Rhenish Symphony. The hotel looks out on the Königsallee known as the Koe. Filmmaker Wim Wenders is from Düsseldorf, The poet Heinrich Heine was born here, as were artist Gerhard Richter – whose canvases command astronomical sums, photographer Andreas Gorsky, the tortured artist Otto Dix, as well as less-disturbed artists Thomas Strüth, Candida Hoefer, Joseph Beuys, and Thomas Ruff.

Thomas Thompson

Thomas Thompson

It is one of the wealthiest cities in Europe and it was hopping for the city’s 725 birthday party. Friday night was a big fashion night. The hotel was packed, and a new cleaning crew had things running behind schedule for some of the Pittsburgh group who waited for over an hour. I went out to the Maredo restaurant with clarinetist Thomas Thompson. Tommy remembered traveling with William Steinberg, who smoked his pipe on the bus with fellow smokers and slept wearing a sleep mask over his eyes. Steinberg had cautioned Mr. Thompson about whistling in the opera house, claiming it brings bad luck. Tommy Thompson enjoyed the trip to Vienna with André Previn when Itzhak Perlman played the Tchaikovsky Concerto. The Pittsburgh had just recorded Gustav Mahler’s Fourth Symphony with Elly Ameling, and the news of Steinberg’s death had come on the final day of recording. The gemütlich waiter at our outdoor café encouraged me to try the Dusseldorf altbier brewed by Diebels. A specialty of the region it is a slightly dark, but great!

Rote Grütze

Rote Grütze

The sidewalks were packed with elegant shoppers on Königsallee which boasts one of the greatest concentrations of luxury retailers in Europe. A duo of male and female blue-shirted police clopped by on horseback in the bumper-to-bumper traffic.

After the salad bar, mushrooms in cream sauce and Gulaschsuppe, I stopped at Leysieffer’s “chocolaterie seit 1909” for the Sylter Rote Grütze. We call it forest berries, I think. A combination of raspberries, strawberries and blueberries in vanilla sauce. 5.90 Euros.

Celebrating 725 years

Celebrating 725 years

Leysieffer does exotic chocolates and runs several German coffee shop locations. They are offering a special Schokoladen Radschläger as “dieses jahr feiert die Stadt ihr Jubilaeum 725 Jahre.” Your 725th birthday only comes along once a millennium so you’d better make it a good one!

As I type at the airport hotel, the NTV network is running a documentary on Hitler and Eva Braun’s relationship with all the color films from the Eagle’s Nest, Hitler’s country place in the mountains of Bavaria.

The Pittsburgh Symphony in Paris

Published by on September 08, 2013

Pleyel piano

Pleyel piano

Composer Ignaz Pleyel is immortalized in Paris by the theater that bears his name. His piano company still exists with a showroom next to the Salle Pleyel, where the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra has performed three years in a row. A white art deco instrument was in the window. The Pittsburgh Symphony arrived Friday night, and their fans were not disappointed. This time, they brought along pianist Yuja Wang, who has appeared often at the Salle Pleyel in her grande vitesse career. She is just 26 years old. A French TV crew followed her during rehearsal and interviewed PSO Music Director Manfred Honeck.

Yuja Wang's little black dress

Yuja Wang's little black dress

In every interview, she is asked about “the dress.” For Paris, it was a short black dress with a short, shiny top section that appeared to be a sort of vinyl or plastic material and a small off-center skin-revealing circle that ups the erotic wow a bit. Mon Dieu! You will find Yuja in Paris Vogue, in Cosmopolitan – and in Gramophone next to the article about Furtwängler.

It was very wow from her Tchaikovsky which was as fast and furious as you could imagine. She heard the European rhythmic applause — that prompted an encore of Gluck’s Dance of the Blessed Spirits from Orpheus and Euridice in Yuja’s own arrangement.

Noah Bendix-Balgley has six chances to wow on this trip with his solos in Richard Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben. He has been a rock star of the European Festivals tour. I wondered if the Paris public loves Strauss as much as the Germanic world. They asked for two encores and got Schubert and the Rosenkavalier Waltz at the end of the night.

Salle Playel rehearsal

Salle Playel rehearsal

The patrons were backstage to say hello to Maestro Honeck — Reid and Abby Ruttenberg, whom I had met at Pittsburgh Magazine Best Restaurants party a few years ago, Bob Egan, Barbara Forrester, Tom and Jamee Todd, Three Rivers Arts Festival and Carnegie Museum Board member Alice Snyder, and Frank and Angela Grebowski. This group could not be more congenial or pleased to hear the Pittsburgh Symphony cheered in far-flung places. They also have been kind to me when confronting them for a comment on the concert.

It was fun to see Pittsburgh Chamber Music board member Frances Debroff and daughter Jill, who praised Noah. Emmanuel Hondre, the Production Director of La Cite de la Musique and the Salle Pleyel, told me he loved the concert. Mr. Hondre laughed with Principal Trumpet George Vosburgh about the glory of the brass in the Strauss, which played the offstage music from a stairwell. He is excited about a new Paris concert hall designed by architect Jean Nouvel, set to open in 2015 or 2016. He expects the Pittsburgh Symphony to appear there regularly.

Le Boeuf sur le Toit

Le Boeuf sur le Toit

I walked back to the hotel with Honeck family members Simeon, Teresa and Anna Maria. Teresa made me laugh, coaching me to say the German expression, “Lass dein Haar herunter,” literally, “let your hair down.”  It seemed that’s exactly what the Pittsburgh Symphony did in Paris.

Before the concert, I wandered along the Champs Elysee a bit more. I peeked at the menu of Le Boeuf sur Le Toit, named after Darius Milhaud’s surrealist-ballet music with the same name, recorded by Leonard Bernstein and others. It’s translated variously as the “bull on the roof” or the “nothing-doing bar.” These days, it seemed pretty elegant and sedate inside.

Monet house at Giverny

Monet house at Giverny

I connected with Pittsburgh-born missionary Alfonso Feria and his scooter riding son for a journey to Claude Monet’s home at Giverny. The artist’s studio is in Normandy, less than an hour from the beaches where the Allies landed to turn the tide of WWII. Al Feria has worked for two decades to establish the United Church of the Marais. It’s more than 400 years old. There were just a handful of members when Al arrived. Now it’s thriving with a special outreach to artists in the Marais near the Bastille Opera.

Al Feria’s dad went to Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and his mom worked for Fred Rogers. He helped me seamlessly negotiate the two subway lines: the train from Gare Lazares to Vernon, and the bus to Giverny. The French ask you to validate your ticket “compostage” by inserting it into an automated date stamper.

The real Water Lilies

The real Water Lilies

Giverny has only been a tourist magnet since 1980. An army of Impressionism fans arrives daily now to pay respects at his last residence. A plaque honors Philadelphia philanthropist Walter Annenberg for funding construction of a walkway tunnel under a road.

The gardens look exactly like Monet’s Water Lilies paintings at the Carnegie. The flowers were fantastic everywhere. I must look into who Monet’s gardener was. He looked out his window at a riot of color. The house has paintings arranged on the walls, in the bedroom, living room and kitchen. There is still a flock of chickens and a rooster, and a sign asking that they not be disturbed. The gift shop is enormous – the largest I’d ever seen – with an 800 euro scale model of his kitchen. I bought a calendar and a tea towel.

Crêpe at Giverny

Crêpe at Giverny

We toured the modern addition of a museum with an exhibit by Hamamatsu, the Japanese artist influenced by Monet. The museum has its own spectacular gardens.

I made a note to look for three French films: “Hôtel Du Nord”, “C’était un Rendezvous” by Claude Lelouch, and “Le Grand Blond avec une chaussure noire,” starring Pierre Richard.

In the airport security line, cellist Aron Zelkowicz was wearing a curious T-shirt that was inspired by an internet viral video, “Honeybadger Don’t Care.” Aron told me I must see the Piatigorsky video where the filmmaker spends the entire documentary trying to secure an interview with the great cellist. He also recommended the classical music film “Small Miracles,” starring Meryl Streep, “Playing From the Heart,” and the “million dollar trio” video with Jascha Heifetz, Artur Rubenstein and Gregor Piatigorsky.

Principal contrabassonist James Rodgers knits

Principal contrabassonist James Rodgers knits

The Charles De Gaulle airport bookstore Relay included the French film magazine SoFilm, and the “50 Shades of Grey” novel – still a bestseller in French. On the charter flight, the Lufthansa magazine had an interview “Rock ‘n’ Roller der Lüfte” with Bruce Dickinson, the lead singer of the heavy-metal band Iron Maiden. Bruce is a licensed pilot of the Boeing 737 and 757, founded his own company Cardiff Aviation, and served as marketing chief for Astraeus Air. Iron Maiden has sold over 90 million records. So far I don’t own one.

Les Arts Décoratifs & Lunch at the L’Ilot Vache

Published by on September 05, 2013

Bride by the Seine

Bride by the Seine

The Île Saint-Louis is the island in the middle of Paris where you find Notre Dame Cathedral, and just across the Seine is the Saint-Chappelle with its wonderful windows. It provides the general look of Heinz Chapel in Pittsburgh. The sky was clear and blue for a wedding. A photographer helped the bride and groom find just the right spot at noon today.

I was there with the patrons group that supports the Pittsburgh Symphony generously, led by Richard and Ginny Simmons. I joined Jayne Adair and Basil Cox, there with Alice Snyder at our table, plus a group who raved about the concerts they’ve heard so far.

Mixed grill de poissons

Mixed grill de poissons

The restaurant was L’Ilot Vache – named for the cows who once roamed this island – whose windowsills are crammed with a wide assortment of cow figurines. The boeuf on the table was the best – and I’m a vegetarian, as I’ve mentioned before. A flexitarian tries things, though. The oeufs en meurette was a soup-like beef stock with egg and bits of bacon. The poissons were beautifully presented, and for desert, a bread pudding – pain perdu à l’ancienne et sauce caramel.

On our way to the museum we passed the famous bookstore Shakespeare and Co.

Behind the Seams: An Indiscreet Look at the Mechanics of Fashion

Behind the Seams: An Indiscreet Look at the Mechanics of Fashion

Fortified, it was off to the Museum of Decorative Arts, just next to the Louvre, which featured those Louis XIV chairs and Limoges enamels; armoires, tapestries, pianos and much more. A special exhibit detailed the way men and women have used underwear to shape an impression. The codpiece for men; and for the ladies, the bustle, crinoline, whalebone stays, the push up, etc. There was a segment of “Gone With the Wind” dubbed in French in which Scarlett O’Hara is tied into her underwear by her nurse. Some of it was funny and some cruel. Museum visitors could try on hoop petticoats, but I avoided the temptation.

Teresa and Simeon Honeck with violinist Christopher Wu

Teresa and Simeon Honeck with violinist Christopher Wu

I ran into the part of the Honeck family in the lobby as Teresa and Simeon were on their way out the door. Teresa was off to visit Monet’s garden at Giverny with orchestra members. Someone mentioned Simeon looks just like Justin Bieber, and even his Dad has noticed the similarity with his son’s hairstyle and Justin.

The cyclists had a field day today in the sunshine, and tomorrow it is back to work: a full afternoon rehearsal and evening concert at the Salle Pleyel in Paris.

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Pittsburgh in Paris

Published by on September 05, 2013

Champs-Élysées in Paris

Champs-Élysées in Paris

The Pittsburgh Symphony flew via Austrian Air to Paris in a clear blue sky with the good feeling of having made a great debut in Bucharest. Tubist Craig Knox wrote in a Facebook post of a meeting of low brass players who shared stories of the pre-Romanian-Revolution times while also sharing several Romanian liqueurs distilled from fruits and herbs. The minibar featured a small sample of BRAN, which the hotel front desk clerk said was a favorite of her grandparents who lived to 92 because they enjoyed a regular sip.

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Traditional Romanian spirits

Traditional Romanian spirits

I met Kenneth Wetzel, the Press and Information officer for the US Embassy in Bucharest, at the Pittsburgh Side-by-Side concert. Ken told me he was thrilled to hear the Americans making new friends in Romania. We shared memories of our favorite places in Erie, like Presque Isle. Although the post of Ambassador is currently vacant, a new Ambassador is expected this fall, so the chargé d’affaires is keeping order for the Embasssy.

On the way to the new Bucharest airport we passed an amazing mix of old and new in Romania. You see Soviet-style architecture; one building resembles a small version of Moscow University. At the airport the duty-free shop sparkled with an abundance of attractively displayed cheese, prunes, cookies, wine, liqueurs, and a CD of Ensecu conduced by Georgescu. A few folks were doing some banking at the Banca Transilvania counter.

I sat next to clarinetist Ron Samuels who is putting together a concert for late October at Duquesne University with Stravinsky’s “The Soldier’s Tale” and music by Debussy and Auric. Ron was reading “The Foreign Legion” by an author who was new to me, Clarice Lispector.

Ladurée

Ladurée

In Paris, I walked the Champs-Élysées to the tea room Ladurée, which has several branches including one in New York. It has long been a famous source of the colorful cookies known as macarons. A long line waited patiently to make selections that are packed in elegant boxes and lime-green bags. A few blocks further along the boulevard is the Gaumont Cinema, where the movies included some French films, the latest Percy Jackson movie, the bio-pic on Steve Jobs, Red 2, and more. I walked past the sad and empty decaying storefront of the Virgin Megastore – the erstwhile CD mecca in Paris, as well as in New York and Los Angeles. In the lobby of the Bucharest concert hall, it was nice to see three separate extremely-popular CD retailers selling hundreds of discs. More than I have ever seen anywhere. One of the CD sellers was the Romanian radio.

Le cinéma

Le cinéma

Speaking of radio, I enjoyed listening to Romanian Radio’s classical service and some of the pop stations in Bucharest. In morning drive, the classical station ran a Pittsburgh Symphony “Cinema Serenade” favorite with John Williams conducting Itzhak Perlman in the music by Carlos Gardel that served as a theme for “Scent of a Woman.” They played a lot of pop classical music hits in drive time, and for some reason even included a Frank Sinatra classic. One pop station was running a Michael Jackson weekend. In Paris, Radio France runs the classical music service France Musique, which just finished a suite of dances by Rameau from “Zaïs” played by the Musicians of the Louvre, followed by a Bach Cantata at 10:00 am on a Thursday. I’ve been enjoying the jazz station which has played two Frank Sinatra favorites already today, and Diana Krall who made a CD in Paris and Nat King Cole. Django Reinhardt and Stephan Grapelli were just on playing La Mer a great hit of Frenchman Charles Trenet later turned into a hit for Bobby Darin. Django and Grapelli are Paris legends. It’s great that they are still on the radio. Jazz was an importnat part of the history of the Salle Pleyel where the Pittsburgh plays tomorrow night.

Artcurial

Artcurial

Horn player Ron Schneider told me his colleagues Penny Brill and Paul Silver went to a synagogue last night for the Rosh Hashanah Eve service in three languages, although he felt the English was a little rough. The horn players on this trip have a room downstairs in the hotel, where they practiced yesterday enjoying great cameraderie with the extra players along for this tour including Alberto Suarez, the principal in the Kansas City Symphony, and Todd Bowermaster from the Saint Louis Symphony.

Also on the Champs-Élysées yesterday, I looked into the ornate art auction house and bookstore, Artcurial. There was an an amazing array of art magazines and journals for sale. You must tell me who reads these things. The classical music world has Grammophone and American Record Guide, BBC Music, Opera News, Strings, Fanfare, and a few others, but the art world swamps music for its exotic print journals. Jane Birkin was on the cover of one. She was the muse of singer Serge Gainsbourg who is featured in promotionaly-priced CD subscription deal for the newspaper “Le Monde.”

Delmontel patisserie

Delmontel patisserie

From the art library I took a taxi to the Rue St. Martyrs, said to be the Brooklyn of Paris and an evolving hip, lively part of town. I picked up a baguette at Arnaud Delmontel, which won the grand prix in a 2007 Parisian baking contest for the best baguette in the city. It was terrific, but I can’t say for certain it was better than la Gourmandine in Lawrenceville. My baguette was still warm from the oven. The area is known as “SoPi” for south of Pigalle. Fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier, who has created Madonna’s look more than once, is a regular in this part of town and often dines at the Casa Olympe. I didn’t see him, and in fact I didn’t see a taxi at the taxi stand for twenty minutes, so I asked a nice priest at the nearest church who told me to just stand across the street and flag one. When that didn’t prove successful, I moved on to a livelier corner. I could see lots of taxis with red lights indicating that they were occupied. I asked for advice of a sharply dressed guy who laughed and said “This isn’t New York. Just be patient.” Sure enough, along came a green light cab which took me back to the Arc de Triomphe. Maybe it was because I didn’t find a used record shop, but I’d say I’ll let SoPi evolve a bit more before returning — even with the delightful Arnaud Delmontel.

Delmontel macarons

Delmontel macarons

Dining in Paris is the thing. The Obamas had dinner at La Fontaine de Mars. I don’t think I’ll make it to the restaurant Jules Verne on the 32nd floor of the Eiffel Tower. The showplace of chef Alain Ducasse is 450 euros prix fixe, with reservations made months in advance.

I asked Dr. Fotios Koumpouras, the tour doctor, for the secret to a long life. He told me he was interested in an article this past year in the New England Journal of Medicine about groups of people in several parts of the world who reached their late 90s. The common denominator seemed to be eating a diet of wild herbs and naturally-grown vegetables.

Radio France Musique just played Debussy and now they’re playing Colin Davis’s recording of Berlioz’ Harold in Italy. Bonjour!

Pittsburgh Romanian Rhapsody

Published by on September 03, 2013

Yuja Wang/PSO webcast

Yuja Wang/PSO webcast

The Pittsburgh Symphony made its debut in Bucharest at the Enescu Festival to a full house of more than 4,000 and thousands more watching on live national TV, listening on Romanian radio, or streaming the concert online. The Sala Palatului was built on command of Nikolai Ceaucescu for meetings of his communist party comrades, and he spoke often from the stage. What a treat to have Tchaikovsky with Yuja Wang instead, and Manfred Honeck leading the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony.

Memorial of Rebirth (detail)

Memorial of Rebirth (detail)

The concert hall is just steps away from the plaza where the Romanian Revolution took place in December 1989—Ceausescu and his wife spoke from the balcony to thousands in the square, attempting to quiet growing unrest. For the first time, booing was heard. Mrs. Ceausescu grabbed the microphone to assure the citizens that a wage increase of 200 leis was on the way. It wasn’t enough. The Ceausescus escaped in a helicopter, but were apprehended elsewhere in Romania and executed on Christmas Day, 1989. Now the Memorial of Rebirth – a tall pointed pillar, with a blotch of red suggesting the bloodshed in the square – is a reminder of those events. It is quite a history-filled block, with events of WWII and the 1989 Revolution mixed together.

With organ 'rock star' Cameron Carpenter

With organ 'rock star' Cameron Carpenter

The two main halls of the George Enescu Festival are there, too. On Sunday, I heard Meadville native (actually Townville, population 306) Cameron Carpenter give an organ recital at the Athenaeum, which was broadcast live on national TV. When is the last time you saw an organ recital on network TV? An organist with a Mohawk haircut, sequins on his shoes, a crushed velvet suit, and a chest-exposing, scoop-neck shirt, he also exhibited killer technique in Bach and Dandrieu, topped off with The Stars and Stripes Forever and Chopin as encores. He last played in Pittsburgh for the Organ Artists Series, and I hope he returns soon.

Romanian Athenaeum

Romanian Athenaeum

Enescu Museum

Enescu Museum

The Athenaeum is surely one of the most beautiful concert halls in the world. It’s where George Enescu met the princess who became the love of his life. But she was married, and he had to wait 40 years for her to become available. Now, her palace is the George Enescu Museum. It’s been open again only in recent years and still needs a lot of work. Music critic Norman Lebrecht called attention to the deplorable shape of the museum’s document storage in a January post on his “Slipped Disc” blog.

Vlad the Impaler

Vlad the Impaler

The Pittsburgh Symphony patrons group, including Richard and Ginny Simmons and Tom and Jamee Todd, toured the Enescu Museum and took a look at the palace where Vlad the Impaler once exhibited his enemies as if they were olives on toothpicks. We strolled through Vlad’s basement and wine cellar. Vlad was the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula legend, which is kept alive in old movies here just as in the States.

But first we looked at Nikolai Ceausescu’s parliament and his attempt to build a boulevard more grand than the Champs-Élysées. The entire area around it was leveled and every home moved by an army of 40,000 workers. It wasn’t finished in 1989 when he met his Christmas Day firing squad. Now, the parliament meets in a building second in size only to the Pentagon.

Ceausescu’s Sala Palatului, where the Pittsburgh Symphony played, featured exhibits on the many artists who’ve appeared at the Enescu Festival including André Previn in 1970 and Herbert von Karajan in 1964.

Sala Palatului

Sala Palatului

There was an encore for Yuja Wang—wearing her little red dress. She played Chopin. Later, Manfred Honeck and the PSO offered three encores after the Shostakovich Fifth Symphony including a new tour encore, Fauré’s Pavane. The others were the Galop from the ballet “Masquerade” by Shostakovich’s compatriot Khachaturian – this time with clarinetist Michael Rusinek offering a cadenza quoting George Enescu’s Romanian Rhapsody which brought chuckles of recognition and applause from the audience, which was on its feet for the third encore: Wagner’s Prelude to Act III of “Lohengrin.”

Afterward, I spoke with Principal Cellist Anne Martindale Williams, who had played in Bucharest earlier this summer at the invitation of Kenneth Tucker, Director General of an organization called Oratorium. Ken, his wife, and violinist daughter Anna have been living in Romania for the past twenty years.

Vlad Vizireanu and Mihai Hristu

Vlad Vizireanu and Mihai Hristu

The Pittsburgh Symphony made many friends yesterday at the smaller hall of the Sala Palatului in a Side-by-Side concert with Romanian-born conductor Vlad Vizireanuh and South African pianist Ben Schoeman. The Romanian musicians were from the Camerata Regala – consisting of recent Conservatory graduates, some of who also reported playing in the Radio Orchestra.

Vlad just spent the summer at Chautauqua where he worked with Timothy Muffitt as Conductor. Mihai Hristu, the Reprezentant, helped to organize the event which benefited Children Skills For Life, which has ties to California where Vlad and his family now live (in Thousand Oaks).

Vlad’s Mother told me that she and her husband left careers as engineers in Romania to move to Los Angeles, where they worked menial jobs at Technicolor. Now, their daughter is a doctor at UCLA, and their son is a globe-trotting conductor. Mom remembers trudging in the snow to get milk for her newborns and standing in line for one grocery item at a time during the Communist days. She has no nostalgia for the Communists even though some do.

Cellist Mikhail Istomin and violinist Susanne Park

Cellist Mikhail Istomin and violinist Susanne Park

Violinist Susanne Park stood backstage, waiting with a ticket for an American friend she connected with online in the running community in Bucharest. He had helped her in a morning run through a Bucharest park which can be treacherous, due to packs of wild dogs. There do seem to be a lot of dogs around. This morning’s paper ran a harrowing story about wild dogs killing a child.

I answered a 6:00 pm knock on my door to find a nice lady who asked if I could help her. I could see she did not seem to need much help, and I explained that I was on deadline to complete a work assignment. Several tour party members have had similar mysterious visitors. None seemed interested in hearing Shostakovich.

Tour de Pittsburgh Symphonie

Tour de Pittsburgh Symphonie

Andrew Reamer and Ed Stephan had an extensive ride on their bicycles yesterday. A helpful doorman commented that bicycles are still a rarity and often ignored by speeding trucks in Romania.

Cynthia Koledo DeAlmeida told me that she had connected with Pittsburgh pianist Marina de Pretoro, who was in Bucharest visiting her Romanian family.

Tomorrow, onward to Paris!

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Pittsburgh at the Berlin Philharmonie

Published by on September 02, 2013

Anne-Sophie Mutter live in HD

Anne-Sophie Mutter live in HD

The Pittsburgh arrived in Berlin blitzschnell and departed less than 24 hours later for Bucharest after opening the Berlin Festival with Anne-Sophie Mutter playing Lutoslawski’s “Chain 2” preceded by Janacek’s “Suite for Strings”, and on the second half, “Ein Heldenleben” by Richard Strauss. I loved having a chance to interview Manfred Honeck for the Berlin Philharmonic Digital Concert Hall webcast. We recorded it in the green room with two producers and two cameramen with full regalia. The crew was extremely cheerful and warm. I poked around the backstage area of the Philharmonie while the audio crew set up microphones. The history of the Berlin Philharmonic is displayed on the wall. There are photos of the Old Philharmonie, destroyed during WWII, and Wilhelm Furtwängler conducting in the old building.

Joyce DeFrancesco and Jeremy Black

Joyce DeFrancesco and Jeremy Black

In the hour before concert time, I explored the area near the hotel with PSO violinist Jeremy Black and Media Relations Director Joyce DeFrancesco, my former colleague at Pittsburgh magazine as well as PR Director at Thiel College. We passed a small chunk of the Berlin Wall and proceeded past the British Embassy and the Bundestag to the Brandenburg Gate, where there was a large free-standing exhibit, on display for more than a year, “Diversity Destroyed”chronicles the rise of the Nazi party. There are photos of the book burnings in which smiling students throw works by famous German authors into the flames. Other images show Jews being deported, the camps, and much more. The exhibit is just across from the Adlon Hotel which figures in many movies and pre-WWII books.

Berlin protest

Berlin protest

Just beyond the Brandenburg gate was a protest against NSA spying. The banner read “Stop Watching Us.” A truck held a banner that said “Free Bradley Manning.” A loudspeaker proclaimed the message, while the Polizei watched over everyone. I had seen one of the signs of President Obama wearing headphones, captioned “Stasi 2.0”, last winter. I wonder how long this protest has been going on and if it turns up every weekend. The Germans are expressing their unhappiness with the US, but there is underlying concern that the German government is involved in the spying.

We moved on the Reichstag, where a long line waited to clear security to visit the dome. Then we hurried back through the tall trees of the Tiergarten.

The TV director briefs Jim and Maestro Honeck

The TV director briefs Jim and Maestro Honeck

Back a the Berlin Philharmonie, I interviewed Robert Zimmerman and Christoph Franke who together dreamed up the plan of putting all the concerts from the Philharmonie on the Internet – on demand and live. It costs millions of Euros with no government support, and has yet to become profitable. The look and sound are spectacular. They invited me to watch the concert with them in the control room, where a staff of seven smoothly and happily rolls through the concert. They were especially impressed with Concertmaster Noah Bendix-Balgley, giving me the thumbs up sign when he soloed. The director jumped up at the last note of the Waltz from “Der Rosenkavalier” and said he had to catch a train, leaving the others to finish the webcast. They cheered for each staff member as their credits rolled on the screen. The transmission included some drama, since there had been internet distribution problems which had to be resolved at the last moment .

The remote for the control room’s Sony TV can bring up the Digital Concert Hall, YouTube, NPR, and many other internet streams.

Audio control room

Audio control room

Christoph showed me the separate audio control room where all the Berlin Philharmonic CDs are produced. The same enormous B&W 801 speakers sit in the WQED-FM control room. I enjoyed seeing the spot high above the stage where the announcer sits for live broadcasts. In the lobby, the festival director praised the orchestra and Manfred Honeck came to the microphone to say how happy he was to be in Berlin with the Pittsburgh Symphony. Pretzels, canapés, beer, and wine were distributed to attendees.

One of the first reviews appeared in Berlin’s Tagesspiegel which was a very mixed bag, praising and finding fault at the same time. The European critics praise the power of the American brass but at the same time take issue with it.

Ken Nein at Potsdamer Platz

Ken Nein at Potsdamer Platz

My friend Ken Nein has been living in Berlin for nearly forty years. He came to visit me on Sunday morning for breakfast. We walked next door to the Alexanderplatz, the former “no man’s land” of the Berlin Wall, which has been completely redeveloped and is now a film museum, theater, and restaurant shopping complex known as the Sony Center.

There are still several classical radio stations in Berlin. Kulturradio RBB had a freestanding exhibit in the lobby with heavy elaborate printed program guides and the tag line “Kultur ist Uberall!”, or “Culture is Foremost!”  I also listened a bit to Klassikradio which is a bit more pop-hit driven. After I listened to Emanuel Ax play Chopin, Kulturradio featured a program of Sunday morning spiritual music by Schutz, Schein, and Max Reger .

It’s a national election in just a few days, so Angela Merkel is featured heavily on posters that suggest “Deutschland ist stark so muss es bleiben.” Germany is strong, it must stay that way.

From Berlin, with love

From Berlin, with love

The Berlin Air charter got underway after a determined customs agent methodically checked everyone in a long slow line. The flight attendants wore hot pink shirts and blue jeans. Everyone received a heart-shaped chocolate on arrival in Bucharest.

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The Sound of Grafenegg Outdoors

Published by on August 30, 2013

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.

The Pittsburgh in Grafenegg

Published by on August 29, 2013

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.

Music and Wellness in Vienna

Published by on August 28, 2013

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.

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