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.

Oct 31 2012

Muti Cancels Vienna Philharmonic Concerts

Manfred Honeck’s loveable brother-in-law Florian Partl has passed on word that Riccardo Muti has cancelled his weekend Musikverein concerts with the Vienna Philharmonic, which several members of the Pittsburgh SYmphony were planning to attend. Too bad. Just the same, anytime the Vienna Philharmonic plays it is special, and when Manfred Honeck’s brother Rainer is serving as Concertmaster, it’s a can’t miss. Rainer was seen this past summer with powerful solos in the Vienna Philharmonic Summer Nights concert which was televised on WQED/13.

Here is Herr Partl’s post:

This evening we have heard that Mr. Ricardo Muti had to cancel his project at this weekend (two subscription-concerts and a further concert with the Vienna-Philharmonic Orchestra.

Mr. Andrés Orozco-Estrada, Music Director of the Tonkünstler Orchestra of Lower Austria, has agreed to conduct these concerts. For the third Subscription Concerts and a concert for the Society of Friends of Music in Vienna, Mr. Orozco-Estrada will conduct compositions by Luigi Cherubini, Igor Stravinsky, and Franz Schubert. The soloist in Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto is Vienna Philharmonic concertmaster Rainer Honeck. (Saturday afternoon, and Sunday 11 o‘clock.)

Oct 31 2012

Café Central, Vienna

St. Stephen's, still undergoing restoration

St. Stephen's, still undergoing restoration

Tonight’s rehearsal with the Vienna Singverein suggests the signs are good for an All Saints Day “Resurrection” Symphony No. 2 by Gustav Mahler. Pittsburgh Symphony clarinet Thomas Thompson says that singers are extraordinarily powerful. I picked up a series of recruiting postcards cards with fresh young faces on one side bearing headlines “Legato bitte!” and “Crescendo bitte!” The flip side suggests “Der Wiener Singverein sucht dich!” – The Wiener Singverein is looking for you, and we’re looking for non-professionals “mit echter Liebe zum Singen,” with true love for singing.

It sounded like they were loving it tonight and last night at the evening choir-only rehearsal.

The Exton label’s Tomo Izaki and his team were huddled in the control room, listening to microphones as they were placed to capture the nuances of the Mahler. The cables snake along the walls of the Musikverein between the control room and the stage.

Wurst at a Würstlbox on the streets of Vienna

Wurst at a Würstlbox on the streets of Vienna

After rehearsal, I walked to the Imperial Hotel, directly across from the Musikverein, where I got directions to Manfred Honeck’s apartment. Christiane and maestro Honeck were hosting a family gathering, and had included the patrons and board members who are along for the trip. I walked on Vienna’s Musical Walk of Fame, outside the Wiener Philharmoniker administrative offices, with Hollywood-style stars for Pierre Boulez, Herbert von Karajan, Johann Strauss and Dimitri Shostakovich. The Honecks are an extraordinary family with great charm. Teenage daughter Anna Maria Honeck entertained the group singing Marvin Hamlisch’s Please Don’t Let This Feeling End, from Ice Castles, with dad playing electronic piano.

Advent calendars on sale at Julius Meinl

Advent calendars on sale at Julius Meinl

Rabbi Aaron Bizno of Rodef Shalom Temple was on the guest list. He had just arrived from a trip to Berlin, where he toured the memorial sites to the Jews who perished in the Second World War. Erika and Helge Wehmeier joined Reid Ruttenberg and his wife Abby, Richard and Ginny Simmons, Bernita Buncher and Bill Fetter, Ed and Kitty Clarke, Betty and Granger Morgan, and a host of happy music lovers.

I had to bolt by taxi to get to the hotel for an interview with Herbert Willi, composer of the Violin Concerto “Sacrasonto” which has its world premiere on Thursday night. I noticed the taxi driver was listening to the radio playing the song “Losing My Religion.” The afternoon was cold, but bright and sunny. As the taxi tooled up Wiednerhauptstrasse I saw the Hotel Papageno was just a few doors from the home which Manfred has owned since he was a student, and where his son Mathias now lives with his family.

Café Restaurant Griensteidl

Café Restaurant Griensteidl

Willi was very warm, spiritual, and cheerful. Gustavo Dudamel recently conducted one his works. He has known Manfred and admired his work for years. They are from the same area on the opposite side of Austria, Vorarlberg. Christoph Dohnanyi had taken one Willi’s pieces on tour dozens of performances.

Yesterday, I attempted to get to the Belvedere Palace, where so many orchestra members were going to see Oscar Klimt’s Der Kuss, but I was waylaid by the mind-blowing cafés. I started with a look at the chestnut roasters offering chestnuts and potato slices from large black round oven drums. Sometimes, they set up beside the hot dog stands called Würstelboxes, found everywhere. The warm mulled wine beverage called Glühwein was also for sale at some of the boxes with a wide variety of sausages. The PSO’s Principal Contrabassoonist Jim Rodgers offered me a bite from his favorite stop just across from the entrance to the Stadtpark, where the golden statue of Johann Strauss stands.

Coca-Cola mit "Weinachtsmann"

Coca-Cola mit "Weinachtsmann"

Hot chestnuts in Vienna

Hot chestnuts in Vienna

Gramola record shop in Vienna

Gramola record shop in Vienna



I took a look at the most elegant grocery store and coffee shop on the Graben near St Stephen’s Cathedral. Advent candy and calendars were on display, along with Coca-Cola in special aluminum Santa bottles.

Scene at the Café Central in Vienna

Scene at the Café Central in Vienna

I’ve written about Demel’s and Café Central on previous tours. Both were crowded yesterday afternoon. I asked the waitress at Demel’s if she knew Frau Koerner, the wife of the late Pittsburgh-based Austrian artist Henry Koerner. Yes, “natürlich,” she told me, and filled me in on the details that Mrs. Koerner was now in Florida, but she had seen her son fairly recently. Frau Koerner spent every day at Demel’s after Henry’s death, and it was clear she is a favorite café regular.

At the Café Central, just a few blocks from the home of Hapsburg Emperors at the Hofburg, Alma Mahler was a fixture. The mezzo-soprano for the PSO’s Mahler Second, Gerhild Romberger, told me she didn’t find Alma very sympathetic, although she was called the most beautiful woman in Vienna. After she moved to America, where she died in 1964, Alma said, “What can you say about a country where they put ketchup on their meat?” If only she had come to Pittsburgh with her husband for his visit to Soldiers and Sailors Hall in 1910, she might have met Mr. Heinz and felt differently.

Shoe display at United Nude

Shoe display at United Nude

The author of Bambi, Felix Salter, was also a regular at the Café Central. He is remembered for an incident with fellow author Karl Kraus. The discussion became so heated that Felix slapped the face of Kraus. But Kraus was not a favorite of the group of writers who spent their days lingering over Vienna melange and newspapers. “The incident was greeted with pleasure by all the others” according to Arthur Schnitzler. This, as reported in the Café Central Treasury, which is available for sale along with tortes and a cookbook. The pastries were some of the most elaborate, shiny, delicate and delicious that I have ever had the pleasure to eat.

Cellist Aron Zelkowicz took a great photo of Cecilia Bartoli, who was signing her new CD at the EMI Shop at 5:00 pm this evening. She has photoshopped or shaved her head in the most unusual photo on the cover of the disc.

Great singers at Gramola: Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Johnny Cash

Great singers at Gramola: Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Johnny Cash

The Gramola record shop had a 10 CD collection of Andre Previn’s classic jazz records for under 10 Euros. An entire window was devoted to spoken word recordings including actor Klaus Maria Brandauer. Germany and Austria revere poets and writers more than most parts of the world. Is it because the printing press was invented in Germany? Or because the word of truth was repressed by Fascists and Communists?

I admired the arty window of the shoe store United Nude, which has just a few outposts around the world including one in New York City.

Pittsburgh's Winkler family at Winklers restaurant in Vienna

Pittsburgh's Winkler family at Winklers restaurant in Vienna

Yesterday evening, I visited Winklers restaurant as a guest of the Winkler family. Pittsburgh Symphony trumpeter Chad Winkler, his wife, and 2-year-old son Hudson were there with Dad, John Winkler, and Mom, Cathy Winkler. John Winkler has been a legend of the trumpet world, teaching at WVU and playing in West Virginia orchestras including as Principal in Wheeling. He is playing on tour next to his sons Chad and Jordan. Jordan, a member of the River City Brass Band, is married to Sonja Winkler, the Pittsburgh Symphony’s Director of Orchestra Operations and Touring. What a delightful group! The perfect advertisement for the power of music to sustain and nourish. They suggest the dead will rise tomorrow and Saturday evening at the Musikverein in Vienna.

Oct 29 2012

Third Man Theme, Vienna

Poster at the Musikverein

Poster at the Musikverein

It hasn’t snowed in Vienna in October for fifty years, but it did last night to welcome the Pittsburgh Symphony for their first ever week-long residency at the home of the Vienna Philharmonic, the Musikverein. There will be four concerts, three programs, a world premiere, and a European premiere – plus a recording of the Mahler Second Symphony with the Vienna Philharmonic’s Choir, the Singverein. The Philharmonic is celebrating its 200th anniversary with a celebration on November 29th.

Backstage was buzzing tonight because the Pittsburgh instrument cases were partly in the wig workshop where costumers dress musicians who participate in Mozart concerts of held regularly in the smaller of the two halls in the Musikverein. Every door you pass in this building has deep history. Bösendorfer pianos, the music publisher Universal Edition, the Tonkünstler Orchestra, and the Archive of Music manuscripts to name a few.

PSO violinist Shanshan Yao and violist Meng Wang

PSO violinist Shanshan Yao and violist Meng Wang

The orchestra held a full rehearsal with Rudolph Buchbinder for this evening’s performance of Gershwin’s Concerto in F. Composer Steven Stucky was on hand for his premiere at the Musikverein, Silent Spring, inspired by Rachel Carson’s influential book.

The Pittsburgh Symphony Director of Media Relations Ramesh Santanam took the two-hour Third Man tour, visiting locations from the film starring Orson Welles. The Vienna sewers figure prominently in the movie, along with the Ferris wheel in the Prater (like Kennywood), and a café with zither music. I have long been a fan of zither virtuoso Anton Karas, who is heard on the film’s soundtrack.

The wind blew all day today, but it didn’t seem to stop the movement of musicians around the city.

Arnold Schoenberg's address book

Arnold Schoenberg's address book

I visited the Arnold Schoenberg Center with Steven Stucky. The center includes a reconstruction of the Viennese composer’s home office in Los Angeles, which I had seen at USC where Schoenberg taught. He created his own chess set and his own chess rules. Fascinating items on view at the Schoenberg Center include postcards to the composer’s Hollywood address, playing cards he designed, and his address book containing Alban Berg’s address. The process by which he created Moses and Aron and Pierrot Lunaire are laid out in careful detail.

Schoenberg was just in the news because a photo of Mahler, which Mahler signed and gave to Arnold Schoenberg as a gift, turned up in the hands of a private owner in LA. The family wants it back. There have been threats of legal action by Nuria Schoenberg; Nono, his daughter, who lives in Vienna; and his sons who still live in the house in Brentwood, California.

Applause at the Musikverein for Steven Stucky's Silent Spring

Applause at the Musikverein for Steven Stucky's Silent Spring

Music lovers were packed together standing at the back of the Musikverein through the first concert this evening. There were two encores, Dvorak’s Slavonic Dance, Op. 72 No. 7, which we heard in Madrid, played just as fast in Vienna, and the Intermezzo from Bizet’s Carmen Suite No. 1, which gives the solo spotlight to Principal Flute Lorna McGhee and Principal Clarinet Michael Rusinek.

I noticed the Intendant of the Musikverein, Dr. Thomas Angyan, sitting in the balcony across from me tonight. He had welcomed the orchestra warmly to open the 11:00 am rehearsal this morning.

Walking to the Schoenberg Center with Stephen Stucky, we crossed through the Beethoven Platz and its large statue of Ludwig. The Platz includes the high school or “gymnasium” where Schubert studied along with a host of Viennese authors. This cold and windy grey day in Vienna added to the melancholy of reading a plaque remembering the Jewish students and teachers who were forced to leave the school in 1938.  Schoenberg, too, left in those years with his Jewish family.

Jim Cunningham in Vienna

Jim Cunningham in Vienna

Last night, I walked through the lobby of the Vienna film festival, the Viennale 12. There are four theaters screening the films. Michael Caine was part of the festivities. I stuck my head inside a cutout of the notorious star of Tobe Hooper’s 1974 classic horror film The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. There’s a special focus on director Fritz Lang this year. The lady behind the desk, who spoke excellent English, cheerfully took my photo.

When I woke up this morning, I was treated to the views of the Austrian Alps which are a regular feature of Austrian TV. At 8:00 am, ORF 2 began with Bezaubernde Jeannie— a dubbed German version of I Dream of Jeannie. There isn’t much American football on European TV, but when we arrived last night Puls4 had German-speaking commentators describing the action on the Fox NFL broadcast of the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Jets.

There are still 6 Viennese newspapers – all with music critics. I enjoyed taking a look at the Kurier Am Sonntag which a few days ago featured Manfred Honeck. The papers’ pop critics liked the new Van Morrison album. There was a large article on Kylie Minogue.

Composer Steven Stucky

Composer Steven Stucky

The music lovers in line to see Manfred Honeck at his dressing room at the Musikverein after tonight’s concert were rhapsodic. The Head of the Department of International Relations at the Vienna campus of Webster University was there, Dr. Samuel Schubert, and his wife Karen Schubert. Great name for an American guy living in Vienna! He told me he grew up in Chicago. Joachim Honeck is a student there. Joachim’s charming girlfriend Anna Ferschel joined in a group photo with Mrs. Christiane Honeck to cap off a great day. Joachim’s brother Mathias, and sister Theresa were also backstage. At intermission, Manfred’s brother-in-law Florian Partl introduced me to Herbert Willi, the composer whose premiere will be heard on Thursday evening. Willi had drive 8 hours from his home in Vorarlberg, arriving just before the downbeat.

Creamed spinach and fried egg in Vienna

Creamed spinach and fried egg in Vienna

I enjoyed some wondrous Viennese classics for dinner last night – creamed spinach, egg and potatoes; and Kaiserschmarrn for desert. I wrote in another blog entry about these Viennese pancakes which are chopped up on the plate, dusted with powdered sugar and topped with plum sauce.

Today it was Gulasch with Spaetzle, potato salad and cucumbers at Figlmullers near St. Stephen’s Cathedral. Lots of Pittsburgh Symphony players have been headed there to fortify themselves with enormous thin Schnitzle. Apfelstrudel is always available in the lobby of the hotel, and on every corner. I am going to try to take photos of the wurst stands or Würstelboxes which are never more than a few steps away.

Honeck family at the Musikverein

Honeck family at the Musikverein

Oct 27 2012

In the Midnight Hour

Nikolaj Znaider in Madrid with the PSO

Nikolaj Znaider in Madrid with the PSO

Both Pittsburgh Symphony tour concerts in Madrid began at 10:35 pm with the traditional announcement (in Spanish) about turning off your cell phone. Both Friday and Saturday nights had completely full houses. I saw only a handful of empty seats.  Last night, Nikolaj Znaider played a highly charged Sibelius concerto followed by a Bach sarabande from the solo violin partitas. Manfred Honeck conducted a beautiful Dvorak New World Symphony with its touching solos for the winds including the famous “going home” tune played by English Horn Harold Smoliar.

Segovia aqueduct

Segovia aqueduct

Dvorak’s Slavonic Dance Op. 72, No. 7 was a barn-burner, faster than any I’ve ever heard live or on record. The concert goers filed out into the morning at 1:00 am. I’m told that in spite of the late night operation of Madrid, the number of late night places to get something to eat in Madrid are actually rather limited, although you can find lots of late night bars.

I joined the group of Symphony fans and patrons who are along for  this trip to visit the city of Segovia, about an hour north of Madrid. Our bus traveled through deep fog and rain. We arrived to look at the 2,000 year-old Roman aqueduct, a UNESCO world heritage site.

The Cap and Cape society tours Segovia landmarks

The Cap and Cape society tours Segovia landmarks

Do you know the red hat ladies? The Spanish equivalent, the cap and cape people, were having a meeting in Segovia. They wore long black capes and black caps. But they are cheerful in demeanor. I loved seeing the choir loft and a richly-illustrated choir book in the choir stall. The choir predates the cathedral in Segovia, founded in 1,400.

The patrons are a wonderful group. Bonita Buncher  was there with Bill Fetter, Carol and Jon Walton and Kitty and Ed Clarke. Spanish tour guides were organized by the PSO’s Jan Fleischer.

 

The owner of Meson de Candida presents a roast suckling pig

The owner of Meson de Candida presents a roast suckling pig

The lunch at Meson de Candida was a wonder. White beans from Segovia accompanied the traditional complete roast suckling pig presented tableside with a speech from the proprietor, who cuts the pig with a white plate to prove it is tender – then smashes the plate with great fanfare on the floor. A vegetarian’s nightmare, but what theater! Jimmy Carter and Henry Kissinger have dined there, and on the wall is a photo of the owner shaking hands with Generalissimo Franco.

The predicted demonstration came off in downtown Madrid without much trouble. One musician reported seeing a smoke bomb while returning from the Prado Museum. There were lots of police lined up all day, but no violent events were shown on the evening news.

After Mahler's "Resurrection" Symphony in Madrid

After Mahler's "Resurrection" Symphony in Madrid

The Mahler Second tonight was really fabulous. Manfed Honeck seemed to be in the moment, and the choir and soloists were energized. I spoke to the choir director Josep Pons, who was extraordinary. I watched him warm up the choir with exercizes and key entrances at the rehearsal.

Organist Larry Allen liked the Madrid instrument very much. The organ caretaker said that Larry had tears in his eyes.

We move the clocks back one hour, but its 3:00 am and we’re off to Vienna in the morning. I noticed one member of the orchestra on crutches in the lobby. I heard that several people were pickpocketed in Barcelona. The wind turned very cold this afternoon. Everyone is very worried about the reports of the hurricane heading toward the Eastern seaboard at home.

Gerhild Romberger, Alfonso Aijon, and Laura Claycomb

Gerhild Romberger, Alfonso Aijon, and Laura Claycomb

Oct 25 2012

Buenos Noches, Barcelona

The first concert of the 2012 European Residency tour is over. Mahler’s Second Symphony cast its spell of beauty and terror leading to a transformation and a choral resurrection. The two choirs from Spain were gorgeous: the Orfeó Català and the Cor Cambra del Palau de la Musica Catalana. We heard soprano soloist Laura Claycomb for the first time with contralto Gerhild Romberger.

The Palau was packed and hot with all 1800 seats filled. I sat next to Amanda Vosburgh and Resident Conductor Lawrence Loh. The century-old hall is amazing. Architect Lluis Domenech outdid himself in the whimsical style of Gaudí. Stone figures leap from the walls, Spanish tile depicts flowers and leaves, everywhere you look there is a new detail to admire. The names of composers are in tile in the ceiling with Mozart, Gluck, Beethoven, and Carissimi, the latter not on every hall of fame list.

Before the concert, lots of cameras were out to capture a bit of the exquisite design of the Palau. Principal tympanist Ed Stephan shined up his timpani with Windex. Backstage, I met hornist Tom Bacon, a recent retiree from the Houston Symphony. There are 115 players on tour, including “extras” needed in the Mahler and a few substitutes to cover for musicians who had family commitments or other needs to stay home.

It was  a long day with a full rehearsal of the Mahler with the chorus, and for tomorrow night’s concert in Madrid, Dvorak’s Ninth Symphony the Sibelius Violin Concerto with soloist Nikolai Znaider.

The offstage band and percussion for Mahler arrived early for a special session. It must have been challenging to readjust to the new acoustics with the choir high above the organ loft and spill into the second balcony.

There were notices of the concert with Manfred Honeck’s photo in El Pais and La Vanguardia, two of the national Spanish papers. Pop music nostalgia is just as powerful in Barcelona as at home. Doo Wop comes to the Palau de la Musica on November 18 when the Platters will sing “Only You” and “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.” There were ads in today’s paper for Barry White and Whitney Houston tribute shows and a visit by the “Original Glen Miller Orchestra with the Andrews Sisters.” All that plus Handel’s Messiah, concerts by the Barcelona orchestras, and visits by ensembles such as the Academy of Ancient Music Berlin.

A TV documentary crew from the Anima network was interviewing the singers downstairs where there is a compact choir rehearsal room. The concert was recorded for broadcast on Radio Catalunya, which will share it with the European Broadcasting Union. We were promised a copy to share with you.

I enjoyed a few more tapas – a sort of egg omelet, and a bit of brie and red pepper in the backstage bar. There is a fabulous gift shop and café at the entrance. Manfred Honeck signed Mahler CDs after the concert.

CDs from Spanish superstar soprano Montserrat Caballe, 79, are featured in the gift shop. She was reported to have suffered a stroke just two days ago and is in a Madrid hospital. You may remember her big hit “Barcelona” with Freddie Mercury after he left Queen in 1987. It was heard often during the 1992 Olympics. Our hotel is in the former Olympic Village. Now, there’s a casino next door.

The bags are already on their way to Madrid. It’s a train ride to the Spanish capital for a 10:30 concert Friday night featuring Mozart’s Requiem as we heard it in Pittsburgh a few weeks ago, but this time with the Spanish choirs we heard tonight.

 

Oct 24 2012

Miró, Miró on the Wall

The Pittsburgh Symphony’s instruments arrived at the hotel this morning, allowing the players who can’t carry their instruments with them to reunite. It was a terrific repeat of yesterday’s California-style weather. I joined a group of string players including violist Paul Silver, violinist Carolyn Edwards, and cellists David Premo, Aaron Zelkowicz, and Michael Lipman for a multi-part subway ride from the Olympic Village to the Telefèric de Montjuïc, which lifts you, alpine village style, to Montjuïc (the Mountain of the Jews), where much of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics was staged.

Here you’ll find the Miró Museum and wonderful views of the city including the still-under-construction masterpiece of Antoni Gaudí, his basilica known as Sagrada Familia. At the top, we looked out over the blue Mediterranean waters and the industrial edge of the city. The Miro Museum is a joy, now featuring the special exhibition Explosio! El llegat de Jackson Pollock, exploring the artists who were influenced by Pollock and his method of drip painting. We admired Yves Klein’s fire paintings, involving painting a nude model who crawled around on a canvas which was then burned. Allan Kaprow was influenced by John Cage in assembling a vast wall of old tires behind a fence and calling it Pneumatics all the way back in 1961. Niki de Saint Phalle’s paintings involved firing a gun at the paint and canvas. Not to be outdone, Shozo Shimamato threw glass bottles of paint at the canvases in addition to gunshots.

Then there’s Joan Miró himself, who said in 1920 that his intention was to “assassinate painting” as a surrealist. We enjoyed floor-to-ceiling Miró collages with umbrellas, his amazing paper work, and colorful squiggles. A giant model of Lovers Playing with Almond Blossoms, a work designed for an office complex in Paris, was a standout. It all makes you appreciate the Miró at the Carnegie Museum of Art that much more.

Back in town, it was time for a tapas lunch at a place called Sagardi. The meal included beautiful olives and anchovies, handmade sausages, cream cheese combinations, and lots of things I could not identify.

The Picasso Museum was next. It offered a chronological look at his output, including the decade he spent in Barcelona. Picasso’s early landscapes and portraits are a revelation, since we know best his cubist work. The Museum is beautiful and occupies what appears to be at least two old buildings.

At lunch, there was a small discussion of important verbal expressions of conductors. Manfred Honeck has an endearing habit of asking for “organical beautiness” and special gestures pronounced “guesstures.” Mariss Jansons often requested “dramaturgical” playing meaning he wanted more drama. He was also fond of asking for a sound “like small drum.” Is it Manfred who often suggests we take it from the “very first beginning?”

The conductor’s lot is challenging — speaking in a second language to request the very finest of fine points on a musical phrase. There is a complete list of the sayings of Eugene Ormandy somewhere on the Internet.

Our group admired the Cathedral of Santa Maria de la Mar. Mary of the Sea is represented at the altar by a statue of Mary — at her feet is a wooden ship. The ceiling is blackened by fires from the Spanish civil war. Strangely, recorded music played in the sanctuary; Wagner’s Tannhäuser, Verdi’s Triumphal March from Aïda, a bit of Mozart’s Requiem, and other choral hits. Someone had simply slipped Robert Shaw’s golden hits into the player, I guess.

The shops we passed were wonderful. I was impressed with a great newsstand named La Vanguardia, which was left unattended. Even the dog was asleep, making a comment on the penchant of the next generation for getting its news from the internet. Other specialty shops were a great Spanish classic tile store, ART Escudellers; you could outfit the cast of Die Fledermaus at a shop of nothing but masks like Arlequín Máscaras, or make your afternoon disappear at the oldest magic store in Spain, El Rei de la Mágia, founded in 1881. Next time you need cups to hide your money in or an “ordinary” deck of cards, you know where to go. Knitters would love All You Knit is Love, which sells everything a yarn enthusiast could want.

Thursday is a big day. It starts with a full rehearsal of Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 “Resurrection” with what local musicians say is the best choir in Barcelona, and ends with this tour’s first concert at the Palau de la Musica, an ornate theater with colorful design by an architect who studied with Gaudí.


Oct 23 2012

Ramble on Las Ramblas

On Tuesday evening, cellist Adam Liu demonstrated his practice cello for me and Bronwyn Branerdt, who is a regular cellist with the New York Philharmonic, New Jersey Symphony and the Philadelphia Orchestra. This Prakticello has a wood structure which comes apart to fit in a suitcase, unlike a regular cello that’s typically strapped into the airplane seat next to you at full fare. It is also quieter than a full-voice cello so it doesn’t annoy your hotel neighbors while you practice.

Adam, Bronwyn, and I set out to find Caelum (“Heaven” in Latin), one of the oldest pastry shops in Barcelona, which sells “Tentaciones de monasterios,” a wide range of items baked or made by monks at monasteries. We looked into the Catedral, which suffers a bit on the tourist trail next to Antoni Gaudi’s showy Sagrada Familia which will be under construction till at least 2026. The Catedral is older and wonderful.

Then, a taxi to Escriba, founded in 1906 in the old Casa Figueras on the broad boulevard, Las Ramblas. More incredible pastry. Las Ramblas is pickpocket ground zero, but we got away clean on this visit. It was hopping with kitschy T-shirt vendors and lovely flower vendors on the big night of Barcelona’s soccer championship with Ireland. We had tapas, which Adam Liu described as the Spanish equivalent of dim sum, and walked back to the hotel.

Amid the centuries-old pastry shops and tapas bars are Burger King, Dunkin Donuts, and Starbucks. We dropped into the Starbucks but found the WiFi was down for the day. I admired a newsstand with lots of out-of-town newspapers. The BBC scandal of host John Savile, described as a “pervert” by The Sun, is on all the front pages. Javier Bardem and Bob Dylan are on the cover of the Spanish edition of Rolling Stone.

With luck the Pittsburgh Symphony will generate some positive ink when they play.

Oct 23 2012

Barcelona

Pool at the Hotel Art Barcelona

Pool at the Hotel Art Barcelona

This Pittsburgh Symphony tour began smoothly with arrival in sunny Barcelona on time. Waiting for the shuttle bus at Heinz Hall on Monday morning, violist Penny Brill told me the Mahler Second Symphony last Friday night was “what it’s all about, why we do what we do as musicians, a thrilling performance.” The reviews were great, and the audience went nuts. With luck, the Spaniards will do the same later this week as the PSO performs with a Spanish choir and an organ played by Larry Allen at the Palau de la Musica.

There are interesting substitute musicians from orchestras around the country on this trip including the Utah Symphony, the Charlotte Symphony, New York free lance players, and members of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra which sadly was locked out Sunday night, as the Minnesota Orchestra has been since October 1st.

Hotel Arts Barcelona

Hotel Arts Barcelona

On the bus from the airport, our tour guide pointed out a few of the buildings designed by Spanish architect hero Antoni Gaudi, and suggested that while our hotel is near the water, most residents of Barcelona would find it too cold for swimming. Our guide suggested the Picasso and Miró Museums, noting that Pablo Picasso lived here for ten years. She also cautioned that this is a large city and one must be careful about pickpockets. With the economy in crisis and with high unemployment the problem of professional pickpockets is intense.

Spanish TV includes a take on the Today Show called La Mañana. While I am tapping out these words, the three hosts are interviewing dentists and oral surgeons regarding the latest in dental procedures with an Experto Ortodoncia displaying a nice model of jaws and teeth. Remember to brush and floss, and listen to tour reports at 8:30 am and 5:30 pm daily. I’ll be posting on Facebook and we’ll have a photo gallery so please stay tuned. If you miss a report, look for audio on demand at wqed.org.

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