Feb 26 2012

Tilles Center, Long Island University

Published by under PSO 2012 New York

Pittsburgh Symphony at the Tilles Center

Pittsburgh Symphony at the Tilles Center

Pittsburgh Symphony at the Tilles Center

Yesterday, the Pittsburgh Symphony returned to the C. W. Post campus of Long Island University, about 50 minutes from midtown Manhattan, for the first time since 1988. Long Island is the 17th largest island in the world with over 7.5 million residents. The Post campus is named for Charles William Post of the Post cereal company. The administration has offices in the original mansion given to the private liberal arts college with 10,000 students and more on a second campus in Brooklyn. The campus has a sprawling country estate feel with an arboretum open to the public for walking among rare species of trees and plants. I walked a little but in the winter and at night with a howling wind and light snow blowing the conditions were not ideal for exploring. Even so it was lovely.

LIU's George Lindsay, Jr. and Noel Zahler

LIU's George Lindsay, Jr. and Noel Zahler

LIU's George Lindsay, Jr. and Noel Zahler

It was great to see LIU’s Dean of Visual and Performing Arts Noel Zahler, who I last saw on opening night at Heinz Hall in September just before he left his post as as Head of the Carnegie Mellon School of Music. He is delighted with his new job. Wife Clara Zahler is also working for the college at the Tilles Center. They live just 8 minutes away.

There were lots of fun stickers backstage as in many theaters from visiting productions and shows including a Pittsburgh Symphony tour sticker from 1988. Ed Stephan warmed up on his drum pad while violinist Peter Snitkovsky and Bass Drum regular John Soroka continued their 34-year-long backgammon game in the break from the rehearsal.

View from the Tilles Center stage

View from the Tilles Center stage

View from the Tilles Center stage

George Lindsay, Jr. is the General Manager of the Tilles. He expressed a genuine delight in working with over 150 students to put on thousands of shows in the 30 years he’s been in the theater. The staff including the technical director Thomas Pascarella could not have been nicer. The student union was a little sleepy. The Starbucks Coffee shop closed at 7:00 pm. Only 2,000 students live on campus; 8,000 are commuters. George told me the business has really changed. Subscribers are now much older. Most concert goers decide at the last minute. I heard some nice spots on WQXR for the Pittsburgh concert.

Can you spot the old PSO sticker?

Can you spot the old PSO sticker?

Can you spot the old PSO sticker?

Six orchestras will visit C. W. Post this season– down from 13 orchestras in a single season a number of years ago. The Dresden Philharmonic and Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos will appear on March 30. Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo had been there Friday night. Alan Gilbert led the New York Philharmonic in Thomas Ades’ Polaris in January. The Leipzig String Quartet, the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra and the Soweto Gospel Choir are all coming this season.

Lorin Maazel brought the Orchestra of France in 1984. Kurt Masur, Alan Gilbert, Yo Yo Ma, Herbie Hancock and many many more have their photos on the wall just outside the 2200-seat theater built in 1981.

PSO Principal timpanist Ed Stephan practices backstage at the Tilles Center

PSO Principal timpanist Ed Stephan practices backstage at the Tilles Center

PSO Principal timpanist Ed Stephan practices backstage

Steven Stucky’s Silent Spring was received warmly on Long Island. He has three pieces in New York this week. The New York Philharmonic is playing Son et Lumière three times and on Friday the New Amsterdam Singers will perform his Whispers, written in 2002, at the Church of the Holy Trinity. Steven is the Pittsburgh Symphony’s Composer of the Year. Manfred Honeck will take his Dreamwaltzes on tour in October, 2012.

Hilary Hahn was sensational in a red gown for her performance of Prokofiev’s First Violin Concerto. The Tchaikovsky Fifth Symphony drew applause at its false ending that often confuses  audiences. After the final blast, there was a standing ovation. Then came the Kabalevsky encore, the Galop from The Comedians ion which Principal Clarinetist Michael Rusinek cuts loose with a solo cadenza that is different every time.

Violinist Louis Lev told me he was going to investigate an all-night chess emporium in Greenwich Village where you can join in the fun of some fighting chess every day of the year, 24 hours a day.

LIU Posters at the student union

LIU Posters at the student union

LIU Posters at the student union

I enjoyed walking around the student union at LIU with banners for the fraternities and sororities. Posters suggest “Find Out How Good You Really Are,” encouraging potential students to explore careers such as radio. One poster features a successful grad who was offered a job on Z-100 New York even before he graduated.

For principal Trumpet George Vosburgh, it was a return to his old stomping ground. He grew up just thirty miles away from CW Post in Nassau County’s Woodmere near Kennedy Airport.

Tinsy Lipchak and Visit Pittsburgh have gathered contacts for business growth opportunities to hear the concert this afternoon. They are meeting first at the Porter House restaurant in the Time Warner Center. Representatives of tour sponsor Alcoa Foundation will be backstage to say hello to Manfred Honeck.

Snitkovsky v. Soroka backgammon match (34 years and counting)

Snitkovsky v. Soroka backgammon match (34 years and counting)

Snitkovsky v. Soroka backgammon match (34 years and counting)

I saw Berlin Philharmonic conductor Simon Rattle in the lobby yesterday with his wonderful frizzy white hair. He was gone before I could whip out my camera. The Berliners are back on the plane this afternoon and the Pittsburgh Symphony will be back in the city Monday night.

In just three hours at Avery Fisher Hall, the home of the New York Philharmonic, we’ll hear the Pittsburgh Symphony there for the first time since 1991 with Lorin Maazel.

 

 

Feb 25 2012

Steeltown Musicians, Pennsylvania Players

Published by under PSO 2012 New York

One World Trade Center rises into the clouds

One World Trade Center rises into the clouds

One World Trade Center rises into the clouds

The New Yorker in its February 23rd issue describes the Pittsburgh Symphony as “the remarkable ensemble, now in the reliable hands of Manfred Honeck.” Time Out New York tells us, “Manfred Honeck and his Pennsylvania players hit Lincoln Center’s Great Performers series with the New York premiere of Steven Stucky’s Silent Spring” and the Friday New York Times suggests “the visit by the conductor Manfred Honeck and his Steeltown musicians includes two substantial attractions: “Silent Spring, a new work that commemorates the 50th anniversary of Rachel Carson’s environmental book of the same title, and the superb violinist Hilary Hahn who performs in Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 1.”

The Pittsburgh Symphony has arrived in the Big Apple late by a few hours due to high winds, rain, and snow on the East Coast. The day began in Pittsburgh with a full rehearsal at WQED, while Cirque Dreams occupies the stage at Heinz Hall.

Podcast: At Carnegie Hall
 

I arrived at 12:30 pm with PSO Vice President of Public Relations Jim Barthen. We took a trip to the new World Trade Center memorial which has become one of the top visitors’ spots in the city – even while under construction. The new One World Trade Center (formerly known as Freedom Tower) was only partially visible, disappearing into the clouds. It’s best to make online reservations which are free, or you might have to stand in a long line. It’s a very sobering feeling to watch the fountains in the footprint of the towers with cascading water three stories deep. The gift shop was mobbed with folks buying Fire Department caps and accounts of the events of 9/11. You must clear security and remove your shoes and belt just like airport security.

Jim Cunningham with Carnegie Hall Executive and Artistic Director Clive Gillinson

Jim Cunningham with Carnegie Hall Executive and Artistic Director Clive Gillinson

Jim Cunningham with Carnegie Hall Executive and Artistic Director Clive Gillinson

At 5:00 pm I interviewed  Sir Clive Gillinson, the Executive Director of Carnegie Hall, who told me he looks forward to the Pittsburgh Symphony returning in 2014. He is very pleased with the first season of Carnegie Hall live broadcasts. I asked him about the finances for the radio broadcasts and he politely told me he never shares financial details of his projects at Carnegie Hall. His thought reminded me of the story from Carnegie Hall a few years ago of the stagehand whose salary was in excess of $500,000, including a significant amount of overtime.

Clive Gillinson is a most persuasive advocate of classical music and its vitality. He enjoyed great success following his career as a cellist in the London Symphony Orchestra and the Philharmonia serving in administrative roles. He created the very successful CD label LSO Live. He still commutes to London every month to spend time with his family, but says he adores New York City. I reminded him that Andrew Carnegie made his fortune in Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Symphony has been coming to Carnegie Hall with great success for over a century.  The Chief of Public Relations at Carnegie Hall,  Synneve Carlino, worked for the Pittsburgh Symphony earlier in her career. Her family is from Boston, but she remembers her time in Pittsburgh with great pleasure. The staff at Carnegie Hall was extremely cheerful and welcoming in spite of the extreme sensitivity to snoopy visitors with cameras and recorders. Reporters are required to wear big red ID stickers.

Berlin Philharmonic violinist Stanley Dodds and media relations director Elizabeth Hilsdorf

Berlin Philharmonic violinist Stanley Dodds and media relations director Elizabeth Hilsdorf

Berlin Philharmonic violinist Stanley Dodds and media relations director Elizabeth Hilsdorf

I had a delightful interview with Stanley Dodds, a violinist with the Berlin Philharmonic who was born in Australia. About 40% of the orchestra are now German born with eight native Berliners. The Berlin Philharmonic are staying in the same hotel with the Pittsburgh Symphony as is their Music Director, Sir Simon Rattle .

Tonight’s concert at Carnegie Hall featured Bruckner’s Ninth Symphony in a new version completing the unfinished final movement.  The Berliners have just recorded it for release in this spring. The concert was completely sold out and received a standing ovation.

Berlin Philharmonic poster at Carnegie Hall

Berlin Philharmonic poster at Carnegie Hall

Berlin Philharmonic poster at Carnegie Hall

Sir Simon is tall with his fantastic afro-like white hair bobbing. The tympanist was  very dynamic with extremely athletic moves. Emanuel Pahud, Principal Flute, had some nice moments as did oboist Albrecht Mayer. There was laughter when the house lights had dimmed and the audience began to quiet and applaud a violinist thinking he was the concertmaster only to watch him sit in the fourth row and give a little wave before the concertmaster took the stage. During the ovation at the end of the 90-minute, heaven-storming Bruckner, Sir Simon walked all the way through the orchestra to shake his Principal French Horn’s hand and proceeded to stroll through the ranks of his players shaking hands all the way to the last row. The chief of press relations for the Berlin Philharmonic is Elizabeth Hilsdorf. She also learned the business working with the Pittsburgh Symphony about a decade ago at the invitation of Gideon Toeplitz. She has the title “Pressesprecherin.”

Carnegie Deli's strawberry cheesecake

Carnegie Deli's strawberry cheesecake

Carnegie Deli's strawberry cheesecake

I had a piece of Carnegie Deli cheesecake. The people at the table next to me asked if they could take a picture of it due to the humongous portion. The Bruckner Society of America was meeting there and they had a very jolly post-concert event near the Carnegie Hall Gift Shop in the Shorin Room. The treasurer for the group, John Berky, was the manager of the Hartford, CT public radio station. He was driving back to his home in Hartford at the end of the evening. It was worth driving ’til 2:30 am to hear the Bruckner, and I believe the Pittsburgh concerts in New York will be equally exciting.

Saturday it’s off to Long Island at 2:00 pm for a full rehearsal and the PSO’s first visit to the CW Post Campus’s Tilles Center since a 1988 concert with conductor Michael Tilson Thomas.

Sep 11 2011

Berlin on 9/11

SPECIAL NOTE: The Pittsburgh Symphony’s 9/11 commemorative performance of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony at the Berlin Philharmonie is now available for viewing on demand, thanks to American Public Media.

Podcast: Tour Finale and 9/11 ceremony in Berlin

Rathaus, Berlin

Rathaus, Berlin

Rathaus, Berlin

On the tenth anniversary of 9/11, the Pittsburgh Symphony completed its European Festival Tour 2011 in reunified Berlin, Germany at the Berlin Philharmonie, home of one of the world’s greatest orchestras. At 2:30 pm, a memorial event took place at the Berlin Rathaus, or Town Hall, in the former East Berlin. The ceremony began with Samuel Barber’s Adagio played by violinists Mark Huggins and Christopher Wu, violist Randoph Kelly viola and cellist Anne Martindale Williams. Berlin’s mayor Klaus Wowereit spoke, and was followed by U.S. Ambassador, Philip Murphy.

Remarks from the Reverend Scott Corwin of the International Baptist Church were followed by sacred texts from Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Islamic, Baha’i and Christian faiths. There was a performance of Sweet Coexistence, put together by a group known as JUGA, an acronym for the Jung, Glaubig, Aktiv Initiative; and a series of readings of messages of life and hope written by 9/11 family members and read by students and friends of the John F. Kennedy School in Berlin. The ceremony closed with a brass quartet of Charles Lirette and Chad Winkler trumpets, James Nova and Murray Crewe  trombones playing Paul Hindemith’s Morgenmusik.

Berlin Mayor Wowereit

Berlin Mayor Wowereit

Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit seeks re-election

I enjoyed speaking with the very popular Mayor Wowereit, who is up for re-election next Sunday. He is openly gay, which was controversial at first but is now just a fact. He’s widely regarded as having done good work for the city and no one expects his rivals to win next week. The ceremony was covered by several major networks.

I met my former class mate Ken Nein, who sang in the Thiel Choir and now teaches  English and works for a school library in Berlin. Ken was recently honored by the Mayor’s Office for his volunteer work with a school library. We walked from the Rathaus in the former East Berlin under the television tower built by the communists and  known as “the Pope’s revenge” because of the bright cross it reflected on a sunny day in the non religious Eastern bloc.

Berlin on a sunny Sunday afternoon was a lively place. Walking down the famous boulevard of the Unter den Linden past the Berlin Opera, where Daniel Barenboim has conducted. It’s now closed for restoration. Past Humboldt University, the Berlin Cathedral, and the Komische Oper and on to the Brandenburg Gate, I ran into the Rabbi of Berlin whose brother is a Pittsburgher, Rabbi Itkin. I’d seen the Rabbi at the 9/11 memorial just an hour earlier. He radiates a cheerful energy in this city which wiped out its 140,000 Jews during Hitler’s regime. The members of JUGA had performed Sweet Coexistence again in front of the Brandenburg Gate, where Ronald Reagan commanded, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

Bierbike in Berlin

Bierbike in Berlin

The Bierbike rides again!

I stopped to admire Marilyn Monroe at Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum. Hitler’s wax model has been a hot spot in years past. It was attacked once and now resides behind glass. There were used books on the sidewalk in front of Humboldt University. Souvenir vendors sold one item I didn’t remember seeing in other countries—gas masks. I seriously thought of buying one. It seemed like it could be useful at a staff meeting or the Christmas party or maybe even Halloween, but not being certain about fitting it in the suitcase I held back. The beer wagon was rambling down the Strasse. This blog has some video of a similiar Bierbike, a pedal-powered beer wagon in Cologne a few years ago during Karneval. Here it was again, Berlin style. Eight guys sitting at a bar drinking beer and pedaling. Slowly. Seems like just the vehicle to get you to a Steelers game. Or to keep a beer belly at bay.

If you have a reservation at the restaurant Käfer on top of the Reichstag, you can be whisked to the dome designed by British architect Norman Foster avoiding the usual long wait for tourists. It’s amazing to stand on top of the Reichstag, where a famous photograph was made near the end of World War II as Soviet troops on the roof took down the Nazi flag. Some say the Russians faked the photo, but it’s a symbolic one just the same. A dramatic thunderstorm rolled up while we were on the roof, but a taxi driver arrived just in time in the deluge saying, “I don’t give rides to wet passengers.” He took us to the Philharmonie just the same, where Manfred Honeck and the Pittsburgh Symphony thrilled the packed home of the Berlin Philharmonic and its great maestros Simon Rattle and Herbert von Karajan. I spoke with composer Wolfgang Rihm at intermission. His music is formidable, but in person he is very gentle and good-natured. He said that he was delighted to have had the chance to hear the Pittsburgh Symphony in Wiesbaden and in Berlin. The Berlin Festival is featuring 13 of his works, and he’s producing a steady flow of new offerings as “the most important composer after Stockhausen in Germany today,” according to Dr. Winrich Hopp, the Director of the Berliner Festspieler, who also said it had been ten years too long since the Pittsburgh Symphony was last at the Philharmonie.

Manfred Honeck applauds Isaias Zelkowicz (image from Arte.tv)

Manfred Honeck applauds Isaias Zelkowicz (image from Arte.tv)

Manfred Honeck applauds Isaias Zelkowicz

At the last bow, Manfred Honeck pulled retiring violist Isaias Zelkowicz from the orchestra to give him his flowers. There’s a café backstage where the players lingered, enjoying a Berliner Kindl pilsener, and a large quantity of sweet cakes provided by the Philharmonie. The Berlin orchestra’s famous logo adorns instrument cases backstage. The walls are decorated with massive photos and text in German in English detailing the history of the places the orchestra has played and recorded in Berlin including the Altes Philharmonie, reduced to rubble in 1944, and the Jesus Chistus Kirche in the suburb of  Dahlem, where Herbert von Karajan made hundreds of recordings for the Deutsche Grammophon label.

Sep 10 2011

Beethovenfest in Bonn

Podcast: Beethovenfest 2

Beethoven's birthplace

Beethoven's birthplace

Beethoven's birthplace

The city where Beethoven was born has been putting together a festival in his honor since 1876, when Franz Liszt organized the first one. Liszt also organized the fundraising for the Beethoven memorial statue or Denkmal in the Münsterplatz in the heart of the city. Thousands gathered in the square throughout Saturday to watch a Beethoven documentary and a live transmission of Hélène Grimaud and the Pittsburgh Symphony performing Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto. Onlookers sat around the flowers at the base of the statue enjoying the  sun and the energy from Ludwig van Beethoven’s gaze. The regional beer, Kõlsch, was for sale with pretzels. Cafés surround the square. I browsed at the lively Saturday market in front of the old courthouse, and made a pilgrimage to the house where Beethoven was born. The last stop on the tour is the room where he was born. It’s empty, except for a bust on a pedestal indicating Beethoven’s short stature. There’s a special exhibit devoted to his string quartets. I looked at his ear trumpets and instruments. I bought more CDs of instruments from Beethoven’s collection including one disc of Pablo Casals playing his cello. You’ll be hearing them all soon on the QED Morning Show.

Sauerbraten

Sauerbraten

Sauerbraten at Dreesen Gasthaus im Stiefel

Then, I walked next door to the restaurant Dreesen Gasthaus im Stiefel. This is German cooking at its best. Sauerbraten, the marinated beef—the full menu item reads “Rheinischen Sauerbraten vom Rind mit Rosinensauce, Rotkohl, Kartoffelknödel und Apfelkompot.” Potato dumplings, red cabbage, applesauce, and for desert apple strudel with cream sauce, naturlich! I sat outside and enjoyed the street traffic. A tall cold alcohol-frei Erdinger made it complete. In Beethoven’s house you can see the glasses he wore, with wire-rim frames like Schubert’s. Across the street is a discount eyeglasses shop, “30-50% off!”

Walking back to the hotel, Pittsburgh Symphony bassist Aaron White was sampling a street vendor’s crepe with a banana and Nutella for just one and a half euros. On the way to the Beethovenhaus, trumpeter Neal Berntsen was having one. I couldn’t resist any longer.  I saved it for blog writing.

Dreesen Gasthaus im Stiefel

Dreesen Gasthaus im Stiefel

Dreesen Gasthaus im Stiefel

Next to the Crêpes Kõnig cart was a newspaper stand. One headline on a tabloid read “New York Terror Angst.” Listening to the radio, I heard a documentary produced for the WDR 3, NDR and SWR networks on the 10th anniversary of 9/11.

Hélène Grimaud was a smash with the audience in Bonn, as Anne Sophie Mutter had been last night. Last night was opening night of the Beethoven Festival with some of Germany’s most prominent politicians in the first row, speeches, and TV cameras. Guests included Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, SPD party leader Peer Steinbrück, and one of the members of the Sayn-Wittgenstein family—the same family that brought Liszt the great love of his life, Carolyne zu Sayn-Wittgenstein.

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Ilona Schmiel and Stefan Blunier

Ilona Schmiel and Stefan Blunier

Ilona Schmiel and Stefan Blunier

Ilona Schmiel has run the festival for the past eight years. She was delightful, as was the staff who provided newspapers and fruit backstage. I must admit the weekend edition of Die Welt left with me at the end of the evening. I have an entire suitcase full of printed matter and newspapers. In spite of budget crises, the European orchestras spend a fortune to produce massive season-long prospectus books in shiny full color. Something to behold and lug around with me. The door on my garage broke, and inside it is floor-to-ceiling with boxes of old newspapers that must be moved before the door can be repaired. I’m not complaining.

TV cameras galore

TV cameras galore

TV cameras in the Beethovenhalle

Hélène Grimaud and Anne-Sophie Mutter, in addition to their fascinating playing, have thousand-watt smiles. Hélène Grimaud signed for everyone in the lobby tonight. Also in the lobby is a terrific art piece with five cuckoo clocks that sequentially open their doors and play tunes. The artist is Erwin Stach. His piece is called Kuckucksuhrenorchester Politische und Andere Lieder. You press a button to start it up. Concertgoers arriving early were sitting in a small row of chairs laughing and enjoying it. There was a pre-concert talk with Pittsburgh Symphony CEO Larry Tamburri and Manfred Honeck’s manager Lothar Schaacke.

It was the tour’s final performance of the Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 5, and the encores by Bizet and Khachaturian.

With David Mareček

With David Mareček

With David Mareček

Backstage, I met the conductor of the Beethoven Orchestra of Bonn, Stefan Blunier, and the CEO of the Czech Philharmonic David Mareček, who told me Manfred will conduct Franz Schmidt’s Book with Seven Seals next season in Prague. David must be one of the most youthful orchestra managers in the music world. I’d guess his age at 35. Maybe we will get the Schmidt in Pittsburgh. Eric Shiner, the new Curator of the Andy Warhol, was at the reception for tour sponsor Lanxess. He told me Andy would have loved the concert. We talked about the Warhol Beethoven poster in the gift shop of the Beethoven Haus. He told me about his New Castle family and how pleased he is to be at the Warhol, which has some great shows coming up this fall. He’s in Cologne this week making some arrangements for Warhol shows in Europe.

Nutella and banana crêpe

Nutella and banana crêpe

Nutella and banana crêpe

When I got to the room at the Hilton, the Last Night of the Proms was on the BBC. The speech given by Edward Gardner was interrupted twice by malfunctioning microphones. Terrific fun, all the way to the audience linking arms to sing Auld Lang Syne at the very end. Does BBC America show it? It should be on PBS, and I hope you caught it on Classical QED 89.3.

Berlin on the tenth anniversary of 9/11 to close the tour in just a few hours.

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Sep 08 2011

Chopin, Bizet, Satie and Jim Morrison in a Day

L'Amour on the steps of the Sacré Coeur

L'Amour on the steps of the Sacré Coeur

L'Amour on the steps of the Sacré Coeur

After a magnifique concert at the Salle Pleyel in Paris on Tuesday evening, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra musicians enjoyed their last day off before the home stretch. Cynthia Koledo de Almeida and Jim Gorton purchased new oboes at the Lorée factory store. Bass Betsy Heston toured the Louvre and loved the Fragonard. Lots of folks looked for souvenirs, or visited the Orsay Museum of Impressionism, looked at Notre Dame, took a bicycle tour, slept and practiced. Tonight, I met the Associate Principal Cello of the Philadelphia Orchestra, Efe Baltacigal, who was in the lobby talking with PSO Assistant Conductor Thomas Hong. The Philadelphia will wrap up its tour of Europe with Charles Dutoit conducting Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique at the Salle Pleyel. I have vivid memories of being in the front row at Heinz Hall to hear the Berlioz just the season before last.

Satie wrote here

Satie wrote here

Satie wrote here

I met a friend of Classical QED 89.3 listeners Lynette MacLeod and Bea Thomas who lives in Paris. Alfonso Feria promised to help me get to Erik Satie’s house at 6 Rue Cortot. It is no longer open as a museum. When Satie died, the house was filled with hundreds of umbrellas. He lived for six years in the house in the artists’ district, Montmartre. Getting there on the subway was challenging. A very insistent man had some sort of scam going at the ticket purchasing machine.

To get to the Métro, we walked through the Monceau Park near the Hilton Hotel. The flowers were beautiful, as was the white statue of French writer Alfred Musset, and the gold and black entrance gate modeled on Versailles.

Portrait of the artiste at Chez Eugène

Portrait of the artiste at Chez Eugène

Portrait of the artiste at Chez Eugène

From the house of Satie, we had lunch at the Chez Eugène. The waiter wore a beret to deliver Onion soup and croque-madame (ham and cheese toasted with an over-easy egg on top), and Tarte tatin with cream for dessert. All around the open-air restaurants in the cobblestone square, the bohemian life survives, with artists selling portraits, landscapes, and while-you-wait masterpieces. It’s right out of Puccini’s opera, La Bohème.

After lunch, I visited the 1871 Sacré Coeur (Sacred Heart Basilica), which looks like the Taj Mahal, at the highest spot in the city. The look over the skyline with the Centre Georges Pompidou in the distance is just amazing and a real people magnet. A violinist sat on the steps, playing Tchaikovsky with Parisian lovers oblivious to the crowds taking photos.

Sacre Coeur de Paris

Sacre Coeur de Paris

Sacré Coeur de Paris

Photos! I was gently but firmly escorted from the cathedral which has a strict policy against photos. I wanted to take a shot of the poster for the restoration of the Cavaillé-Coll organ and a shot of the dome, but a uniformed guard thought otherwise. He motioned and led me past the line to get in to the door. What would Jesus say about cameras? It is his consecrated blood in the monstrance at the altar, but dear blog reader, I meant no harm. I always have a fear that my SD memory card will be taken from me in times like these. It’s an irony that in the increasingly secular world of Europe, where very few penitent are sitting in the pews at any given service, the church would be so unwelcoming.

Moulin Rouge

Moulin Rouge

Moulin Rouge

From the sacred world of Sacré Coeur, it was a few blocks to Pigalle – the red light district which is naughty, but not shocking, with ladies on the street encouraging visitation to the erotique shops. The famous Moulin Rouge is right in the middle of it all with its famous neon windmill.

Keep walking to 15 Rue Chaptal, and you’re looking at the spot where Django Reinhardt played his guitar for the Hot Club of France. Django, the notoriously unmanageable guitar player who fused two fingers together in a terrible fire, still managed to do things with his strings that guitarists today try to figure out. It’s a bar now.

On the other side of the street, Parisian parents wait for their kids at 4:30 every day. The nationalized school system has set the time uniformly across the country.

George Sand's arm & Chopin's hand

George Sand's arm & Chopin's hand

George Sand's arm & Chopin's hand

Next to the school is the Musée de la Vie Romantique. It is the former home of the painter Ary Scheffer. Ary invited George Sand and Chopin, Liszt, Rossine, Delacroix and Pauline Viardot to visit, and they did so often. Sand and Chopin were regulars. Chopin’s piano was there, but it was covered with a sign reminding me not to lean on it. I loved seeing the lovers’ hands next to one another in white plaster casts by Auguste Clesinger. The arm of Sand and hand of Chopin make a wonderful reminder of their eight-year, most unusual love affair. Chopin’s music plays on, gently, from a recording. The house was in the family until 1983 when it was donated by one of Georges Sand’s relatives.

Frederic Chopin at Père Lachaise

Frederic Chopin at Père Lachaise

Frederic Chopin at Père Lachaise

The Métro again to Père Lachaise cemetery, to see Chopin’s permanent residence. At least his body’s. He asked that his heart remain in Warsaw, and so it is – in the column of his church there. The grave has a beautiful white sculpture on top, said to be music crying over Chopin’s demise. Flowers and votive candles adorn the plot. A tour group stopped to hear a few words from a guide. The cemetery is not easy without a guide map and we could only find a permanent map. As luck would have it, Joel was walking near Georges Bizet’s grave and asked if we needed help. Speaking French, Al said that I wanted to see Luigi Cherubini, Vincenzo Bellini, and Jim Morrison. D’accor! Off we went.

Luigi Cherubini's memorial at Pere Lachaise in Paris

Luigi Cherubini's memorial at Pere Lachaise in Paris

Luigi Cherubini

It seems Rossini and Bellini were once buried here, but now have gone back to Italy. Still, you can admire their memorials and former resting places. Jim Morrison is the most visited of all. More than Colette, Héloïse and Abelard, Edith Piaf, Molière, Seurat, Yves Montand, Delacroix, Oscar Wilde, and Max Ophüls. There are photos of the Doors lead singer on the grave decorated with votive candles and flowers. The tree immediately in front of the grave is covered with graffiti from fans. Messages like “Wake up Lizard King!” are scrawled amidst the names of thousands who’ve come to pay their respects. A young man scaled the fence in hope of getting a closer photo. Morrison’s grave is the only one with a metal fence, due to the attempts by overzealous fans to take a souvenir. The gorgeous cemetery meanders along for over eight miles.

pistachio pastry at La Tradition boulangerie in Paris

pistachio pastry at La Tradition boulangerie in Paris

La Tradition

Al and I stopped in La Tradition Boulangerie to pick up some pastry, then visited his apartment where I met his wife Nicole, and children Joel, Emmanuelle and Elizabeth, who are bilingual. They do missionary work with outreach to artists, children, and families in Paris. In Pigalle we noticed a poster from the Catholic Church encouraging young people to attend catechism. It’s a large poster campaign seen throughout the city.

In the taxi on the way back to the hotel, the driver said it was Fashion’s Night Out on the Champs-Elysées and traffic was especially heavy. I noticed a KFC and a Pizza Hut with a sign for Emporte or take away. I love the national differences. In London the Detour signs read “Diversion,” and the exit signs are “Way Out.”

Croque-madame at Chez Eugène

Croque-madame at Chez Eugène

Croque-madame at Chez Eugène

Last night, Michel Sidier, from BNY Mellon had recommended President Obama’s favorite bistro where he’d dined with Nicholas Sarkozy. It’s La Fontaine de Mars. As a second choice, he suggested Chez l’Ami Jean. Next time. I did get an Indian vegetarian thali sampler at Chez Gandhi with members of the orchestra. They suggested that I see the movie Shadowlands and Black Swan. I wanted to see Black Swan, but there are just so many newspapers and records and so little time. It will have to be on DVD. They told me a psychologist who teaches at Pitt had said the psychological aspects of artistic breakdown into madness in Black Swan were portrayed quite convincingly.

Paris Metro

Paris Metro

Paris Metro

I am listening to radio Nostalgie playing Stevie Wonder, Peter Gabriel, and the Rolling Stones singing “Miss You” from their disco period, along with lots of French nostalgia which I must admit is lost on me. President Obama is giving his economic pep talk to Congress on French TV. CSI is still on in every European country in every language, here dubbed en Français.

Tomorrow begins the last three concerts of this tour. We’ll take a train ride to Cologne, and a one-hour bus trip to Beethoven’s hometown, Bonn.

Sep 08 2011

Paris

Podcast: Pittsburghers in Paris

All Aboard!

All Aboard!

All Aboard!

From St. Pancras Station in London, we departed right on time aboard the Eurostar train that runs underneath the English Channel. I must be honest; I slept right through it. I had been up until 4:00 am, and we left the hotel at 8:45.  The waiting area for the Eurostar is clean and modern with dark wood and a nice news stand where I purchased some Cadbury candy bars (“official treat of London 2012″) that were new to me.  The Wispa aerated milk chocolate bar; Twirl, the “intense chocolate hit”; and a Dairy Milk bar. Also one healthy treat, a Go Ahead! bar with crispy slices of apple and sultana. What is a sultana? The departure boards listed the time for the three stops on the train: Paris, Brussels, and Disneyland.

Violinist Jeremy Black

Violinist Jeremy Black

Violinist Jeremy Black

The Eurostar hits top speed almost immediately and stays there throughout. Co-Principal Flutist Damian Bursill-Hall had his GPS working. He reported the top speed was 185 miles per hour. Very quietly and very smoothly, the Eurostar rolls through farmland and a tunnel now and then. There’s no sign or announcement that you are going under the English Channel, but you’re under water for about twenty minutes. No one came through the car to sell snacks, but there is a snack car with the French ham-and-cheese favorite, croque-monsieur, and beverages are available. The train was almost anti-climactic. It zips from London to Paris in two hours. You’d hardly know you were under a body of water that has seen centuries of warfare and seafaring adventure. The train has been the subject of endless speculation as to whether it will ever turn a profit after all those expensive years of digging. A year ago, there was a fire on board a train that was quite scary and there has been the threat of terrorist trouble.

Bronze guardians of the Musee d'Orsay

Bronze guardians of the Musee d'Orsay

Bronze guardians of the Musée d'Orsay

After check in, it was already 3:00 pm. I joined Dr. Ted Osial and his daughter Alyssa, who works at the Andy Warhol Museum, to look at the Musée d’Orsay. This amazing museum is a lavishly restored train station crowded with rooms of Monet, Manet, Van Gogh, Renois, Bonnard, and many more. The Café du lion listed Glaces Ben&Jerry for 4 euros, along with the salades Parisiennes with jambon et fromage.

In the lobby of the Hilton, I ran into Costas Karakatsanis and Barbara Blackmond. Their son was a QED Musical Kid in 1998. They hoped to see the Pittsburgh Symphony at the Philharmonie in Berlin, but the schedule didn’t work out. Instead, they saw pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard, whose recital was interrupted by a cell phone ringtone that prompted him to rush off the stage. He returned to roar through the first half of the recital, taking no pauses between pieces. After the second half, he played no encores and seemed to be still in a foul mood over the interruption. Costas retired from Bayer, and mentioned how much he appreciates hearing about the Symphony’s travels. Barbara has an international health care law practice. They enjoy the Delta flight connecting Paris to Pittsburgh, and were staying at the airport after the concert to return home in the morning.

Jeffrey Turner at Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Paris

Jeffrey Turner at Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Paris

Jeffrey Turner at Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

On the way to the Salle Pleyel, Principal Bassist Jeffrey Turner and I admired the Russian Cathedral,  La Cathedrale de la Trinite Saint Alexandre Nevsky. This was the Nevsky who inspired Sergei Prokofiev and Sergei Eisenstein to create a masterpiece of Russian cinema.

Hélène Grimaud will be taking part in a five-part concert series devoted to her in November at the Salle Pleyel and Cité de la Musique. Her fans were cheering at the Salle Pleyel for her Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 4. She played a Chopin étude as an encore. She was very relaxed afterward in her dressing room, where she spoke about her falling out with Claudio Abbado this summer, forcing them to cancel concerts. They disagreed over her wish to play a Busoni cadenza in a Mozart Concerto.  She is so immediately likeable in person it is hard to imagine her having a dust-up with someone like Abbado. She’s working on a new novel.

Helene Grimaud with the Pittsburgh Symphony at the Salle Pleyel in Paris

Helene Grimaud with the Pittsburgh Symphony at the Salle Pleyel in Paris

Hélène Grimaud with the Pittsburgh Symphony

Laurent Bayle is one of the most important managers of classical music in France. He described the amazing history of the Salle Pleyel, named for the composer Ignaz Pleyel, whose family operated a piano factory which is still represented by a piano showroom next to the concert hall.  Laurent was delighted to bring  the Pittsburgh, Chicago and Philadelphia orchestras within a week. In addition to the two French resident orchestras in the Salle Pleyel, he presents over 120 concerts from visitors like the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, who appear tonight with Murray Perahia. Paavo Järvi and the Orchestre de Paris play Beethoven’s Fifth on the 17th, Zubin Mehta leads the Israel Philharmonic in Mahler’s Fifth on the 18th, and the London Symphony Orchestra with Sir Colin Davis perform the Beethoven Missa Solemnis on the 17th.  Bayle feels that more must be done to bring in young people, for whom classical music is becoming increasingly irrelevant.

BNY Mellon's Michael Cole-Fontayn, Michel Sidier, and Anne-Laure Frishlander at the Salle Pleyel, Paris

BNY Mellon's Michael Cole-Fontayn, Michel Sidier, and Anne-Laure Frishlander at the Salle Pleyel, Paris

BNY Mellon's Michael Cole-Fontayn, Michel Sidier, and Anne-Laure Frishlander

In the main foyer after the concert, BNY Mellon entertained clients. I spoke with Michael Cole-Fontayn, the Chairman for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, who told me the Pittsburgh Symphony concerts have been a grand success. He introduced Manfred Honeck, who explained his choices of encores. Michael Rusinek played fragments of Gershwin’s An American in Paris and Piaf’s La vie en Rose in his cadenza for the PSO’s final encore at the Salle Playel, the Galop from Khachaturian’s Masquerade. Michel Sidier, the managing Director, Country Executive for France and Chief Representative for BNY Mellon, joined in a photo as did Anne-Laure Frishlander, the Directeur General of Asset Management for BNY Mellon. We talked over the economic problems which are pushing the financial world into uncharted territory. “Challenging” is the word, to put it mildly.

Frances DeBroff welcomes Pittsburghers and Pittsburgh Opera guest conductor Jean-Luc Tingaud to her Paris Pied-a-terre

Frances DeBroff welcomes Pittsburghers and Pittsburgh Opera guest conductor Jean-Luc Tingaud to her Paris Pied-a-terre

Frances DeBroff welcomes Pittsburghers and Jean-Luc Tingaud

Volunteer in the Arts Award winner Frances DeBroff hosted Pittsburghers at her Paris apartment after enjoying the concert. Frances invited Jean Luc Tingaud, the conductor of Pittsburgh Opera’s Dialogues of the Carmelites last season. He will be back, having just received an invitation to conduct Puccin’s Madame Butterfly in Pittsburgh. It was his birthday. He blew out a candle on a chocolate torte that played “Happy Birthday” after it was lit. A taxi ride down the Champs Elysees past the brightly lit Eiffel Tower, with its spotlight beaming from the top, and we were home.

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Sep 07 2011

Cheers from the Royal Albert Hall

Podcast: Cheers from the Royal Albert Hall

Pittsburgh Symphony at the BBC Proms

Pittsburgh Symphony at the BBC Proms

Pittsburgh Symphony at the BBC Proms

Hundreds of promenaders stood in complete silence throughout the seventy-minute Mahler Symphony No. 5. Last night, a crowd of nearly 6,000 at the Royal Albert Hall heard the second of the two concerts at the BBC Proms with the Pittsburgh Symphony conducted by Manfred Honeck. There were two encores, including Die Libelle (The Dragonfly) by Johann Strauss, which Honeck explained was “one of Mahler’s favorites.” The Director of the Proms, Roger Wright, who is also Controller of the BBC’s Radio 3 classical music service, was backstage beaming. Also delighted to hear the concert was former PSO principal guest conductor Yan Pascal Tortelier, who will be back at Heinz Hall this season.

Yan Pascal Tortelier

Yan Pascal Tortelier

Yan Pascal Tortelier

The Chairman of the Board of the Pittsburgh Symphony said “Wow!,” when I asked him what the thought of the evening. There’s a wonderful atmosphere in the gallery, where Prommers spread out on the floor and bring their dinner to share like tailgaters at a Steelers game. Like the peanut vendor, ushers walk around to sell Häagen-Dazs ice cream cups. Many inspect the hundreds of great events at the hall preserved in photos posted around all the curved hallways. Here there’s a photo of a 1952 exhibit of new Fords, as well as performers Frank Sinatra, Elton John, Pavarotti, and countless others.

Sir John Soane's Museum

Sir John Soane's Museum

Stephen Astley leads a tour of Sir John Soane's Museum, London

Earlier in the day, I joined the patrons group to take a look at Sir John Soane’s house museum with a personal tour from  Stephen Astley, the Curator of Drawings, who guided us through the amazing collection. Sir John was an influential architect and a classic English eccentric. He has arranged thousands of paintings and great examples of architectural brilliance in a mind-blowing, but relatively small space.

The English are still the English, with their red phone booths hanging on in this age of smart phones; and their boxy London taxis and squat red post boxes in the age of email. The news is good from Merry Olde England – now it’s on to the Salle Pleyel in Paris.

Sep 05 2011

London and 9/11

Podcast: Co-hosting the BBC Proms

Co-hosting the Proms with BBC presenter Suzie Klein

Co-hosting the Proms with BBC presenter Suzie Klein

Co-hosting the Proms with BBC presenter Suzy Klein

The tour’s first BBC Proms concert at the Royal Albert Hall brought the Pittsburgh Symphony and Manfred Honeck to a worldwide audience. I was invited to co-host the broadcast with Suzy Klein in the tiny box on the audience left side. The hall was full with the Prommers standing right to the front rail through the entire concert. They pay five British pounds each, and they were waiting in some light rain this evening. The BBC staff were delightful.  The Prommers shouted “Heave Ho!,” when PSO Production Manager John Karapandi lifted the piano lid.  Later, they chanted that they had raised 75,000 pounds for the Musicians Benevolent Fund. I saw Jonathan Mayes in front of the Royal Albert Hall. Jonathan worked with Pittsburgh Symphony VP Bob Moir in the Artistic Planning Department for three years until he returned to London for a job in in 2008. Jonathan works for the British Arts Council, which awards 350 million pounds (down from 450 million, but still more than the NEA’s $200 million dollars). A soccer team from Ghana is in the hotel with the Pittsburgh Symphony making for a lively lobby. The bar is Trader Vic’s. It was a lively post-concert environment tonight.

With Jonathan Mayes at the Royal Albert Hall

With Jonathan Mayes at the Royal Albert Hall

With Jonathan Mayes at the Royal Albert Hall

Don’t miss the seven day window for listening to tonight’s concert online at the BBC Proms website.  http://www.bbc.co.uk/proms. When I first checked the site this afternoon the “Beeb” had spelled Pittsburgh without the “h,” but now they’ve corrected it. Listen for interviews with Christiane Honeck; Dennis Yablonsky, Chief Executive Officer of the Allegheny Conference; and BBC presenter Suzy Klein with pianist  Mark Swartzentruber.

Leaving Lucerne this morning, I tuned in the Swiss SF2 network to find they spend the early hours simulcasting their morning pop radio show – in the manner of Howard Stern on cable networks at home. The DJ wore a plaid shirt over a white T-shirt, played Nena’s oldie 99 Luftballoons and mentioned that it’s “9/11 Woche.” Watching radio on TV is quite silly, but for me it has some fascination. He had five computer screens on his desk where once there would have been turntables or CD players. His sidekicks and sports and weather announcers made cameo appearances. They also played Tom Jones and a rapper named Mousse T in a hit I’d never heard called Sex Bomb. Is Tom Jones still around? Then there was an ad for Desperate Housewives dubbed in German.

PSO second violinist Laura Motchalov

PSO second violinist Laura Motchalov

PSO second violinist Laura Motchalov

The Financial Times of London’s weekend edition published a lengthy article on the tenth anniversary of 9/11. The Pittsburgh Symphony will play the final concert of this tour on the tenth anniversary. There is a special ceremony planned at Berlin’s City Hall with mayor Klaus Wowereit, a choir of young Muslim singers, and readings of letters from children who lost their parents on 9/11. The event is organized by the US Embassy and the German government. A string quartet will play Barber’s Adagio, and a brass quartet will play Hindemith’s Morgenmusik – reflecting Paul Hindemith’s time spent in both Germany and America. Paul Hindemith wrote his Pittsburgh Symphony on commission for the Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh Regional Alliance, BNY Mellon clients, and PSO personnel at the Royal Albert Hall

Pittsburgh Regional Alliance, BNY Mellon clients, and PSO personnel at the Royal Albert Hall

Pittsburgh Regional Alliance, BNY Mellon clients & PSO personnel at the Royal Albert Hall

I thought you might like to read how the Germans announced the event, as sent to me by my friend Ken Nein, fellow Thiel College graduate, who has lived in Berlin for the past thirty years.

“Der Regierende Bürgermeister von Berlin, Klaus Wowereit, und der Botschafter der Vereinigten Staaten von Amerika, Philip D. Murphy, haben für Sonntag, 11. September 2011, um 14.30 Uhr zu einer gemeinsamen Gedenkveranstaltung anlässlich des zehnten Jahrestages der Terroranschläge des 11. September 2001 ins Rote Rathaus geladen. Wowereit bittet die Gäste um 14.46 Uhr um die Teilnahme an der weltweiten Schweigeminute zum Gedenken an die Opfer. Anschließend halten Wowereit und Murphy Gedenkreden. Nach einer kurzen Überleitung durch Reverend Stephan Kienberger der American Church tragen Jugendliche Sätze aus Glaubensbüchern verschiedener Religionen vor. Die JUGA-Gruppe „Sweet Co-Existence“ interpretiert einen Song. Abschließend wird aus englischsprachigen Briefen von Kindern, die ihre Eltern durch die Terroranschläge des 11. September 2001 verloren haben, vorgelesen, u. a. von Schülerinnen und Schülern der John-F.-Kennedy-Schule. Musikalisch wird die Veranstaltung von Mitgliedern des Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra begleitet.”

Sep 04 2011

Lucerne, Switzerland

Podcast: Interview with Concertgebouw Orchestra’s Joel Fried

Manfred Honeck backstage in Lucerne

Manfred Honeck backstage in Lucerne

With Manfred Honeck backstage in Lucerne

Pittsburgh Symphony Music Director Manfred Honeck sat down for a few minutes just before the concert in Lucerne, Switzerland to say how happy he is with the orchestra’s tour so far. He loved having family and friends around in Grafenegg, Austria. The reviews have been good, although one critic took aim at Anne-Sophie Mutter for playing the Mendelssohn Concerto too fast. Manfred agreed it is fast, but he thinks it works. In Lucerne, the Musik Hug CD store has a large sales operation in the lobby.

Anne-Sophie Mutter with the PSO in  Lucerne

Anne-Sophie Mutter with the PSO in Lucerne

Anne-Sophie Mutter with the PSO in Lucerne

Deutsche Grammophon has released a 14-CD set of recordings by Anne-Sophie Mutter, celebrating her 35 years on the label. An introductory essay by André Previn begins a lavish hard-bound book that comes with the set. André’s article, “The Complete Musician,” is very funny. He points out how those who write about music like to show off their knowledge and make grand statements with obscure references to the Pfitzner sonatas, or the early part writing of Gesualdo, but none of that is needed with Anne-Sophie who simply has it all. She doesn’t stomp her foot or grimace when she plays. She just stands with an occasional facial expression and knocks it out of the ballpark. The CD set costs 347 Swiss francs and includes some new recordings such as the Double Concerto for Violin and Double Bass that André wrote for her.

Outdoor café at the Culture and Congress Center, Lucerne

Outdoor café at the Culture and Congress Center, Lucerne

Outdoor café at the Culture and Congress Center, Lucerne

The concert hall in Lucerne, designed by Jean Nouvel, is a wonder. The French architect had prepared drawings for the Carnegie Science Center’s expansion, but the economy took its nosedive and that was the end of that.

The Kultur und Kongressszentrum Luzern (KKL) is brilliant in the way it brings the water of Lake Lucerne into the building. It’s cool and angular, with red carpet, gleaming steel, charcoal, dark wood, twinkly lights, and inside it sounds great. The musicians say they can hear each other like nowhere else. The huge cantilevered roof shelters the outdoor plaza from rain, and there are cafés such as the World Café and Seebar all around. Tourists and street musicians are always around and people are lining up for the excursion boats  that depart out front for the Vier Waldstattersee Rundfahrten.

Burmese stir-fry at the World Café

Burmese stir-fry at the World Café

Burmese stir-fry at the KKL's World Café

The World Café is the best, serving stir-fry dishes from a half-dozen nations, wraps and salads, coffee, amoretti cookies, and tortes in a buffet line. You order right away and take a tray to your chosen table where you’ll find glasses, plates, and napkins. It’s Swiss efficiency at its best, right next door to the concert hall. Nothing like it in Pittsburgh. It should be copied exactly and brought home.

I noticed an unusual beverage there from the Swiss Eichhof brewery called Eichhof Lemon. It’s a tangy blend of beer, lemonade, and peppermint. Eichhof Braugold is the Iron City of Lucerne. There were also nice oblong Käse und Schinken (cheese and ham) sandwiches at the lobby bar. Come on, Common Plea, lets bring back the sandwiches to Heinz Hall!

Raspberry and mango gelato

Raspberry and mango gelato

Raspberry and mango gelato

There’s a gelato stand in front of the concert hall. A cone of mango and himbeere or raspberry gelato is 5 Swiss francs.

I’ve been watching the SF 1 Swiss Television network’s Berlin Philharmonic broadcast from the Lucerne Festival. Simon Rattle is the conductor. Earlier, he was on Charlie Rose with conductors Antonio Pappano and Valery Gergiev. The Swiss TV network crams all the commercials into a big block between programs. I just saw a Lindt chocolates ad (established 1845), right next to a spot for Schuppen-Killer dandruff shampoo, and Purina dog chow.

Chapel Bridge

Chapel Bridge

Chapel Bridge

When we arrived, I spent a sunny hour looking at the most famous landmark in Lucerne, the water tower or Wasserturm, and Kappelbrücke (Chapel Bridge), which burned down after a tourist tossed a cigarette in 1993, but has been restored. We have a long way to go to catch up with the outdoor cafés of Switzerland. They surround the bridge too.

Right next door to the concert hall is the train station, which also burned down in the early 70’s. It’s been replaced with a phenomenal Santiago Calatrava design (the Spanish architect who designed the new Milwaukee Museum of Art and New York’s new World Trade Center transit station).

Ai Weiwei's "Provisional Landscapes"

Ai Weiwei's "Provisional Landscapes"

Ai Weiwei's "Provisional Landscapes"

On the far right end of the Kultur- und Kongresszentrum Luzern is the Lucerne Museum of Art. I roared through an exhibit of modern Chinese landscape art. The only name I recognized was Ai Weiwei.  There was also an exhibit called Der Moderne Bund to celebrate the modern art scene in Switzerland. Paul Klee is the most famous modern Swiss artist. Klee is in the show with Arp, Luethy, Gimmi and Huber. There’s an installation by violinist Charlotte Hug with wondrously weird sounds, glowing lights and a broken violin bow floating in a pool of water. It’s called Insomnia.

The Lucerne Festival's Barbara Higgs

The Lucerne Festival's Barbara Higgs

Barbara Higgs

I met the charming Barbara Higgs, PR director for the Lucerne Festival, which is working with a distinguished Japanese architect and the artist Anish Kapoor to build an inflatable concert hall to be moved about Japan starting in the areas hardest hit by the earthquake and tsunami. It looks like a gigantic red heart. The Lucerne Festival is the biggest in the world, with Austria’s Salzburg Festival as its only rival. I tried to get both Barbara and festival director Michael Haefliger and to tell me why Hélène Grimaud, our pianist on the tour playing Beethoven, had canceled her July concert in Lucerne due to artistic differences. No one is talking. They had “artistic differences.”

Ark Nova's inflatable concert hall

Ark Nova's inflatable concert hall

Ark Nova's inflatable concert hall

Haefliger did say he enjoyed the Pittsburgh Symphony’s Tchaikovsky Fifth very much, and that Manfred Honeck is keeping the quality at the high level of Mariss Jansons.

Joel Fried was backstage. He was Pittsburgh Opera’s Chorus Master under Tito Capobianco, and then went to Amsterdam where he is Artistic Administrator for the Concertgebouw Orchestra. Joel said Mariss is doing well even after several surgeries in the past year, including treatment at the Cleveland Clinic. Mariss has cut back in Munich and Amsterdam but still working hard. Andris Nelsons conducted the Concertgebouw tonight on a tour. The concert of Wagner’s Rienzi overture, Dance of the Seven Veils from Salome by Richard Strauss, and the Shostakovich Eighth Symphony was recorded by Unitel for a DVD. There was a standing ovation for the concert.

Andris Nelsons and the Concertgebouw Orchestra in Lucerne

Andris Nelsons and the Concertgebouw Orchestra in Lucerne

Andris Nelsons and the Concertgebouw Orchestra in Lucerne

I spoke with Andris at the CD signing. He said to say, “Hello,” to everyone in Pittsburgh and that he had enjoyed himself very much there. I asked him when he’s coming back. Andris said it’s just a matter of his schedule and he’d like to find two weeks because he hates flying. Talk about charisma. Tall, he hops up and down on the podium, smiles with genuine pleasure, and seems possessed. He conducts again tomorrow with Yefim Bronfman in Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto.

I spoke with Yefim Bronfman this morning. He was seated near me at Maurizio Pollini’s recital. The Milan-born pianist also hates to fly, and as a result we never get him Pittsburgh. He played a recital with two Klavierstücke by Karlheinz Stockhausen. Stockhausen was one of the people on the Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper album cover. A wild man from the 60’s. His music is still wild. Bronfman told me he “loved the colors” in it. Bronfman says he’ll be back at Heinz Hall the season after next, and looks forward to it. His Bartok is one of the highlights in the upcoming broadcast season from Heinz Hall. He played a different encore in each of the three concerts for Pitsburgh.

Joel Fried

Joel Fried

Joel Fried of the Concertgebouw Orchestra

Pollini smiled warmly while taking his bows and had no eccentricities at the keyboard. The Steinway says Fabbrini on it. Does he travel with his own instrument? He’s been compared to an Italian banker in the way he appears on stage, but his playing is dynamic and exquisite. He wore a dark suit with a gold tie and a blue shirt. The modernist Stockhausen with its dissonance, twinkly upper-register figures, and thunder with occasional lightning bolts made the songful and dramatic Beethoven seem even more of a treasure. No encores. He’s playing a series of recitals, Pollini Perspectives, featuring Beethoven paired with a 20th-century composer..

BNY Mellon's Chris Porter with the PSO's Lizz Helmsen

BNY Mellon's Chris Porter with the PSO's Lizz Helmsen

BNY Mellon's Chris Porter with the PSO's Lizz Helmsen

At the Pittsburgh concert intermission, I spoke with Chris Porter of tour sponsor BNY Mellon. Chris is from a small town in central PA, but he’s now in the Frankfurt office as Managing Director of Global Client Management. He spoke of how pleased BNY Mellon is with the tour so far, and how good the Pittsburgh Symphony is for European business development. He told me the financial environment will continue to be challenging for a while given the fiscal problems in America and Europe with the euro in particular creating quite a mess. Among the guests joining the group were Jamee and Tom Todd from Pittsburgh. Tom is the very loyal and true Board Chair Emeritus.

In the lobby of the Radisson hotel, I ran into Co-Principal Bassoonist David Sogg and his wife Lisa.

Bojana Durovic with David & Lisa Sogg

Bojana Durovic with David & Lisa Sogg

Bojana Durovic with David & Lisa Sogg

David kindly provided the photo of the Frank Zappa statue in my earlier blog post from Vilnius. I met their former exchange student Bojana Durovic who lives nearby in Lucerne.  She was in Pittsburgh in 1998 and 1999, attending Schenley High School, and staying with the Soggs. David found Bojana through Youth for Understanding. David has just returned from a sabbatical during which he visited Europe looking into rare editions of bassoon pieces by Graun, Valentini, Sammartini, and others. He just presented some of this music at the International Double Reed Conference. David told me some musicians self deprecatingly call it the “International Double Nerd” conference.

Off to London in just a few hours for the Royal Albert Hall and the BBC Promenade concerts. Cheerio!

Sep 02 2011

Calling on Gustav Mahler

Podcast: Rudolf Buchbinder in Grafenegg

Jim Cunningham at Mahler's grave

Jim Cunningham at Mahler's grave

Your correspondent at Mahler's grave

With Mahler’s Fifth Symphony featured on this tour, it seemed like now would be the right time to visit his grave in the Friedhoff Cemetery about twenty minutes from the heart of Vienna. Trombonist Jim Nova drove with a little help from a GPS, which announced the turns in English. The grave marker was designed by Mahler’s friend, the architect Joseph Hoffman. It’s very simple with no dates or epitaph. The tall stone reads simply, “GUSTAV MAHLER.” He would have appreciated the scene with Jim, his student Josh from Salt Lake City, and Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra Assistant Conductor Thomas Hong in the bright sunlight. Only a few graves away, a funeral was taking place; the mourners dressed in black, and the priest in a long black robe with a gold cross around his neck gleaming brightly in the sun.

Thomas Hong at Schubert's birthplace

Thomas Hong at Schubert's birthplace

Thomas Hong at Schubert's birthplace

Jim Nova agreed to pick up Maestro Hong at the Schubert Geburtshaus (birthplace). Franz was born in the kitchen because it was January, and that was the warmest room in the house. You can see a guitar, a piano owned by his brother Ignaz, and best of all Franz’s wire-rimmed glasses, quite like the glasses John Lennon wore. It was quiet. We were the only visitors. The lady in the gift shop was helpful with directions. I bought a book about Vienna’s Haydn house – and a CD, naturlich.

The second Grafenegg concert was in the same auditorium as the first after rain prompted a change of venue from the outdoor Wolkenturm. Roy and Susan Dorrance were there, and a great group of Pittsburghers including Jim and Ellen Walton, Henry and Lou Gailliot, PSO Board Chair Dick Simmons and wife Ginny, and the Director of the Buncher Family Foundation.

Small Johann Strauss statue

Small Johann Strauss statue

Small Johann Strauss statue

After the paying of respects at Mahler’s grave, I spent a few minutes in Vienna’s Stadtpark, just across from the hotel. The gold statue of Johann Strauss, which we see on the New Year’s Day broadcast, is undergoing restoration although there’s still a smaller gold statue of Johann next to the construction site.

Backstage, I had a lively conversation with the director of the Grafenegg Festival, pianist Rudolf Buchbinder, who says he took the job because he knew he could do everything to his standards and invite the best musicians in the world. He’s looking forward to his return to Heinz Hall on the opening weekend of the season to play Gershwin’s Concerto in F. To his thinking, Gershwin is every bit as valid as Beethoven. He enjoyed playing at Heinz Hall in 1983 with Lorin Maazel. He drives a great car, whose maker was new to me. We don’t see many ultra-luxury Maybach sedans on the road in Western PA – only 63 were sold in the USA last year – but they’ve been making them in Germany since 1919.

Rudolf Buchbinder

Rudolf Buchbinder

Rudolf Buchbinder

It was great to hear Hélène Grimaud playing Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto. After the concert, many members of Manfred Honeck’s family were on hand. Mrs. Honeck, Christiane, had a gift for the tour party—a note, and the Austrian confections, Mozart Kugeln and Mozarttaler. There was one last toast with Grüner Veltliner, the special Austrian wine which Mahler himself would have enjoyed, poured for each member of the orchestra on their way out the door. Fabelhaft! Wunderbar!

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