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.
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.
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.
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.
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.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. 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.