Sep 01 2011

Grafenegg Castle

Schloss Grafenegg

Schloss Grafenegg

Schloss Grafenegg

One of Europe’s newest and most amazing festivals has been put together on the grounds of a 13th-century castle built in the Tudor style. The Pittsburgh Symphony made its debut at the five-year-old Grafenegg Festival with the first of two concerts in the modern auditorium. Friday, they play outdoors in the Wolkenturm if the weather cooperates.

This morning I picked up some coffee at the Julius Meinl store in Vienna with its elegant displays of chocolates, jams, coffee – and Oreos.  The J. Berger book store across the street included Henry Kissinger’s China in its window display along with giant calendars of Audrey Hepburn, Romy Schneider, and the Vienna State Opera.

Grafenegg Auditorium

Grafenegg Auditorium

Grafenegg Auditorium

At noon, an hour’s drive brought the orchestra to a rehearsal at the Grafenegg Festival with both violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter and pianist Hélène Grimaud. I toured the castle and the grounds with Julia Ornetsmüller, the festival’s Director of Media Relations.

There’s a terrific café, and a spot for picnics with Apfelstrudel. Grafenegg also has a riding school, gardens, and a 13th-century mill.

The Schloss is in the Tudor style because the original owner liked the look. The castle has passed through many owners but is still owned by the Metternich family, made famous by Klemens von Metternich who led the redrawing of the map of Europe at the World Congress of Vienna in 1815.

Julia Ornetsmüller at the Schloss Grafenegg library

Julia Ornetsmüller at the Schloss Grafenegg library

Julia Ornetsmüller at the Schloss Grafenegg library

The Russians held the property after World War II, taking everything with them when they left, except for a few books of propaganda and a biography of Lenin now in the Grafenegg library. One of the bathtubs is the deepest I’ve ever seen. There’s a fantastic cobblestone courtyard with clock tower. I could hear pigeons or some sort of winged friends cooing and burbling like a scene from a film.

The concert worked its magic. Manfred Honeck’s family was in the audience, including son Mathias who is now a member of the Vienna Symphony as of May. Wife Christiane Honeck attended with the younger family members: Anna, Simeon, and Joachim. Only Manuel, the soccer star, was absent. He has a match pending. Brother-in-law Florian Partl welcomed us like old friends, and introduced Manfred’s sister, Elfi. Florian is a cartographer. He fits right in with the musical Honeck family, sharing the warm and generous spirit common to the Honeck clan.

Hannelore Grahammer and Florian Partl

Hannelore Grahammer and Florian Partl

Hannelore Grahammer and Florian Partl

With the Partls was Hannelore Grahammer, wife of the Austrian ambassador for the European Union in Brussels. They helped me fill in history of legendary Austrian Field Marshal Joseph Radetzky von Radetz, whose memorial site lies only a few miles away. The famous Radetzky March, composed in his honor by Johann Strauss, Jr., is the traditional final encore heard each New Year’s Day from Vienna. Ignaz Pleyel was born just down the road and a small museum is maintained in the town of his birth.

A cell phone rang just as Manfred Honeck was about to give the downbeat on Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony, but he took it in stride – turning and smiling before pausing to pull together the magic once more. Bizet’s Carmen Intermezzo and the Khachaturian Galop from Masquerade brought the evening to a close.

Green dirndl at Grafenegg

Green dirndl at Grafenegg

Green dirndl at Grafenegg

Yesterday’s Der Kurier in Vienna ran large photo and article by Peter Jarolin about Manfred suggesting that the Staatsoper will invite him to conduct next season. The reviews of this Pittsburgh Symphony tour have been terrific, as far as I can tell, with lots of attention on Anne-Sophie. The only negatives have been a general idea that American orchestras play too loud. Manfred has had the Pittsburgh at whisper quiet. Principal Horn William Caballero’s solo in the slow movement of the Tchaikovsky, and Principal Michael Rusinek’s clarinet are remarkable in their subtle prayer-like intensity. I’ve never heard such quiet playing.

I loved the Austrian men wearing loden jackets, dyed an Austrian forest green in various shades. The collarless jackets were sometimes grey or charcoal black with red trim.  A few ladies wore elegant Dirndls.

Wine shop at Grafenegg Festival

Wine shop at Grafenegg Festival

Wine shop at Grafenegg

This is the wine country for Grüner Veltliner a treat similar to white Riesling. You can buy the wine in a tasting room. The festival provided a glass for each member of the orchestra after the concert. Imagine having an orchestra over for a toast, and then having to load the dishwasher.

Don’t forget to click on the Photo Gallery link at the top of the page, or on any photo, to check out the photo gallery. More to come.

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Aug 31 2011

Eisenstadt, Haydnstadt

Lorna McGhee, Peter Schreiber, and Cynthia Koledo DeAlmeida

Lorna McGhee, Peter Schreiber, and Cynthia Koledo DeAlmeida

Lorna McGhee, Peter Schreiber, and Cynthia Koledo DeAlmeida

At noon Thursday, the Pittsburgh Symphony heads to the first of its two concerts at the five-year-old Grafenegg Festival about 45 minutes from Vienna. Yesterday, I joined PSO Principal Oboist Cynthia Koledo de Almeida, Principal Flutist Lorna McGhee, freelance cellist Aaron Zelkowicz, and Vienna Symphony Orchestra oboist Peter Schreiber on a train ride to Franz Joseph Haydn’s town of Eisenstadt.

Peter Schreiber skillfully guided us through the train changes. The Austrian countryside with fields of sunflowers, grapes, and corn rolled by. Our conversation topics ranged from Cindy’s early years in marching band, where she enjoyed playing clarinet, glockenspiel, and oboe – to the classical music programming of Vienna’s Radio Stephansdom. Peter said that too many individual movements are being broadcast in lieu of complete works, and that the Vienna Symphony plays the Brahms Third and Fourth Symphonies a lot.

Kalvarienberg Haydnkirche in Eisenstadt

Kalvarienberg Haydnkirche in Eisenstadt

Kalvarienberg Haydnkirche in Eisenstadt

Haydn was born in Rohrau, another short ride away, but he’s buried in the mausoleum of the Kalvarienberg Haydnkirche, one of thee Haydn churches in Eisenstadt; the others are the Dom and the Franziskaner church. On the way up the mile-long hill to the Schloss, you can stop at the house where Haydn lived while he worked for Prince Esterhazy. You can admire a reproduction of his wig and one of the few drawings of Haydn wigless.

I wonder what Chris Fennimore, our QED Cooks chef, would think of Haydn’s kitchen equipment. One of the 114 Anton Walter pianos in the world is here, and it’s quite possible Haydn played it. His English notebooks reveal messages in a neat hand, in which he writes about soap, asks for tickets to a concert, and sends his thanks.

1802 bust of Franz Joseph Haydn at Eisenstadt

1802 bust of Franz Joseph Haydn at Eisenstadt

1802 bust of Franz Joseph Haydn at Eisenstadt

A short song, Der Böse Weib (The Evil Woman), suggests the unhappiness in his marriage. Haydn’s wife was said to wrap fish in his manuscript pages. She was overly friendly with their minister. Haydn was thought to have a mistress, Luigia Polzelli, with whom he had a child, Anton Polzelli. Haydn and his wife, Anna Aloysia, remained in a loveless marriage for most of their lives. He wrote letters to Luigia long after his retirement.

The Landesmuseum Burgenland in Eisenstadt is participating in Lisztomania 2011, honoring the 200th anniversary of Franz Liszt’s birth with the exhibition Franz Liszt – Born To Be A Superstar. The show documents the complicated relationships he had with Berlioz, Wagner, and Schumann, as well as his scandalous relations with the great love of his life, the Polish noblewoman Carolyne zu Sayn-Wittgenstein. She lived in sin with Liszt since she couldn’t get a divorce. Inside Edition would have given lots of air time to Franz and Carolyn. A plaster cast of their interlocked hands speaks volumes about their deep love.

Schloss (Esterhazy Winter Palace) at Eisenstadt

Schloss (Esterhazy Winter Palace) at Eisenstadt

Schloss (Esterhazy Winter Palace) at Eisenstadt

Haydn’s mausoleum in the Bergkirche includes a reverent marker noting that the composer’s head was removed from his grave in 1820, and was restored to the body in 1954. It’s an interesting story. While Haydn’s head was out and about, another unknown noggin served as a stand-in. Perhaps the thieves, devotees of the pseudoscience of phrenology, thought no one would notice. It’s a most unusual church, the Haydnkirche, in which the maestro presided over his choral masterpieces.

There’s a sunny cobblestone inner courtyard at the Esterhazy Winter Palace. You can admire the prince’s china and silver, but most of all the glorious Great Haydn Hall, where Haydn made music, and concerts are still given. Adam Fischer and the Austro-Hungarian Haydn Orchestra recorded all 104 symphonies here. Peter Schreiber played on many of them. The tour guide switched on the Symphony No. 6, the “Morning” symphony, and you can sit listening and gazing at the elaborate ceiling frescoes. No doubt Papa Haydn would have enjoyed hearing the Pittsburgh Symphony play Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto with Hélène Grimaud just 90 miles away in Grafenegg on Friday night.

Aug 30 2011

Vienna Café

Principal Piccolo Rhian Kenny in Vienna

Principal Piccolo Rhian Kenny in Vienna

Principal Piccolo Rhian Kenny at Heindl, one of several confectioners who make "Mozart-Kugeln"

Pittsburgh Symphony players fanned out all over the city after arriving this afternoon on a Nike Air flight from Vilnius. The airline has partnered with the famous Demel’s delicatessen in Vienna. Our charter flight featured an elegant cheese sandwich on Bauernbrot, or brownbread, with thin slices of green pepper. The stewardesses wore fashionable uniforms with hot pink accents including a hat which they removed once the flight got moving.

I bumped into the PSO’s Principal Piccolo, Rhian Kenny, who is looking forward to connecting with one of her daughters in Europe.

I bought a copy of Marvin Hamlisch’s soundtrack for The Spy Who Loved Me – the Italian version, La Spia Che Mi Amava – from the used-record bin at the Vienna State Opera. Marvin has promised to join us for RADical Days in QED’s downtown Byham Studio in October.

Kaiserschmarrn at Vienna's Cafe Frauenhuber

Kaiserschmarrn at Vienna's Cafe Frauenhuber

Kaiserschmarrn at Vienna's Cafe Frauenhuber

He’s been a great sport to join us live for the last five years. The checkout lady recommended the Cafe Frauenhuber when I asked for her favorite coffee shop. It’s just a block from the most famous Viennese landmark, the Stephansdom, which was dark on Tuesday night except for the hundreds of votive candles in the outer lobby. The distant altar was dimly lit. Outside, the façade was under massive scaffolding for reconstruction.

The Cafe Frauenhuber, located on Himmelpfortgasse, is one of the older cafés in Vienna. The Kaiserschmarren was terrific. Pancakes with raisins, chopped up and covered with powdered sugar and raspberry sauce. The Vienna mélange features coffee and steamed cream.

"Why are there so few women in physics?"

"Why are there so few women in physics?"

"Why are there so few women in physics?"

Newspapers from all over the German-speaking world were available, kept in the ingenious paper holders that have been in use for a century. Vienna’s Die Presse featured a large photo of Einstein with an article about why more women don’t go into the sciences. I thought of a similar recent conversation I had with Rebecca Lucore of our sponsor, Bayer Corporation. Getting women into the world of science research has been a major agenda item at the company for decades. You can look up the interview as audio-on-demand at wqed.org

The TV listings in Vienna’s Der Kurier featured a special box on Charles Bronson, who died on August 30, 2003. He was born near Johnstown and went on to star in Death Wish and dozens of famous tough-guy films.

An amazing scene surrounded the grand opening of the fashion retailer Peek & Cloppenburg just a few steps down the Kaertnerstrasse. TV crews followed the arrival of model after model along with German and Austrian TV and film stars. Hundreds of folks stood around to watch.

Peek & Cloppenburg opening in Vienna

Peek & Cloppenburg opening in Vienna

Peek & Cloppenburg opening in Vienna

The streets were crowded with tourists and Viennese regulars enjoying a beautiful evening. Some stopped for a sausage at one of the many wurst stands.

Heading back to the hotel, I found Principal Percussionist Andrew Reamer and his wife, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist Ruth Anne Dailey, who has a few weeks free from deadlines. She told me it’s her first time in Vienna. I asked her what recent column had provoked the most response. It was the item she wrote on the privatization of the PA State Store system. Johann Strauss II immortalized Wine, Woman, and Song in one of his waltzes. The Viennese, with their convivial heurige (wine taverns) producing and serving new wines just a few blocks away in the suburb of Grinzing, provide evidence here in Austria of how privatization can aid the economy.

Ruth Ann Dailey and Andrew Reamer

Ruth Ann Dailey and Andrew Reamer

Ruth Ann Dailey and Andrew Reamer

One of the last new CD stores standing, the EMI store here in Vienna, featured new releases by Amy Winehouse, and British actor Hugh Laurie, who stars in the TV series, House. I considered a box set of Franz Kafka stories, but the fine points would be lost with my rudimentary German … as appealing as the idea is to be listening to Kafka while stuck on the Parkway. And why would I do that anyway, when I can listen to QED 893?  In the window at the Opera was a new DVD of the opera Anna Nicole, by Mark Anthony Turnage, packaged with six postcards of the Royal Opera production. Among the books in the opera shop on Herbert von Karajan Platz was The Mahler Letters by Stephen McClatchey, published by Oxford University Press, containing letters from Budapest, Vienna and Hamburg during the composer’s years at the opera houses in those cities. Gustav Mahler is buried nearby in Grinzing, and the Pittsburgh Symphony will keep his spirit alive by playing his Fifth Symphony at the Grafenegg Festival on Friday night, one hundred years after Mahler’s death in 1911.

 

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Aug 29 2011

Vilnius

Rehearsal at the Lithuanian National Opera and Ballet Theater

Rehearsal at the Lithuanian National Opera and Ballet Theater

Rehearsal at the Lithuanian National Opera and Ballet Theater

It was a full rehearsal this morning at the Lithuanian National Opera and Ballet Theater. It’s a giant structure for a mere 900-seat theater. The orchestra played without an acoustical shell. Stage hands set up a screen behind the orchestra and used blue gels to backlight it. This doesn’t make for ideal acoustics, but some players said they could more clearly hear Anne-Sophie Mutter play the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto and Wolfgang Rihm’s Lichtes Spiel. There were large opera set pieces in storage backstage; a massive cake, and wine bottle from Donizetti’s Elixir of Love. Dr. Anthony Spinola’s office had a retro phone that might have come from Brezhnev’s desk. The building looked a bit like Duquesne University’s Student Union. I visited our congenial translator, Laura Karnaviciute, in her office on the first floor, where a cheerful group were working on promotion of an upcoming event. They offered me a piece of cake.

Anne-Sophie Mutter speaks to reporters

Anne-Sophie Mutter speaks to reporters

Anne-Sophie Mutter speaks to reporters

Laura (in the blue jacket) translated for the 5:00 pm press conference with Anne-Sophie Mutter and Manfred Honeck. Anne-Sophie said that Wolfgang Rihm’s Lichtes Spiel: A Summer Piece reminds her of Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. She said she likes pairing it with the Mendelssohn Concerto because she likes Mendelssohn’s humanity, his sharing and giving quality, as well as his composing genius. Manfred Honeck said how pleased he was to be back where he had conducted on the tenth anniversary of the 1991 “January Events,” when Soviet tanks rolled, and soldiers shot Vilnius citizens who defended their television tower.

The concert at 7:05 opened with house General Manager Gintautas Kėvišas welcoming everyone. Laura translated.  There was rhythmic applause for the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto. The intermission crowd was young and stylish. Music lovers packed the hall with over 100 standees along the side aisles. At intermission, you could kick the tires of a blue BMW on the lower level and you could choose from delicious treats at the bars. There was a rainbow-colored parfait-like drink, fresh fruit and ice cream, along with bars for Lavazza coffee, and candy bars such as Twix.

Manfred Honeck and Anne-Sophie Mutter meet VIPs after the concert

Manfred Honeck and Anne-Sophie Mutter meet VIPs after the concert

Manfred Honeck and Anne-Sophie Mutter meet VIPs after the concert

The US Embassy’s Deputy Chief of Mission Anne Hall welcomed everyone warmly. Manfred Honeck and Anne-Sophie Mutter toasted the group. Some people in the audience said they loved Pittsburgh even more than the New York Philharmonic, who they heard last year, as well as the Kirov Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theater conducted by Valery Gergiev.  Gergiev had performed the Mahler Fifth Symphony, so Pittsburgh switched to Tchaikovsky Five – which delivered a wallop and won still more rhythmic applause. The Pittsburgh Symphony’s new Principal Flute, Lorna McGhee, played the Intermezzo from Bizet’s Carmen followed by the Galop from Khachaturian’s Masquerade featuring Principal Clarinet Michael Rusinek.

Not the Hilton

Not the Hilton

Not the Hilton

Riding back and forth to the hotel, I was impressed by the number of auto dealerships. Peugeot, Kia, Mazda, VW, Ford, Lexus, Citroën, Opel, Saab and many others. Fueled by gas from gas stations that seemed unfamiliar—Statoil, EMSI, Orlen, Apsaga, and Nesta Oil.

Miles of Soviet-style apartment buildings in concrete blocks wind by. One unit was just a few floors of poured concrete and rebar, which looked like it had been there at least as long as the remodeling effort on the front of our former Hilton Hotel in downtown Pittsburgh.  One wag on our bus quipped that, “We’re sorry but your rooms are not quite ready,” upon seeing the unfinished building when we arrived yesterday.

Frank Zappa memorial (photo by David Sogg)

Frank Zappa memorial (photo by David Sogg)

Frank Zappa memorial (photo by David Sogg)

Try as I might I just couldn’t make it to the statue of Frank Zappa.  Zappa never came to Vilnius, but a local sculptor has created quite a tourist draw with his tribute to Zappa’s freewheeling sensibility. I understand the Lithuanians have donated an exact replica to Frank’s home town of Baltimore, so look for it there.

Do be careful where you park in Vilnius. The mayor, an avid cyclist who was said to be in the audience tonight, made international headlines earlier this month with a video of himself driving an armored vehicle over a Mercedes that was illegally parked in a bike lane. The staged video was (mostly) in good fun. In Vilnius this week, basketball is the talk of the town. The EuroBasket 2011 competition is capturing everyone’s imagination – except for those of us listening to Tchaikovsky tonight.

I loved the concert, the people, the spirit of the place, and the music played by the Pittsburgh Symphony. “Viso gero!,” from Vilnius.

 

Aug 27 2011

Backstage in Hamburg

I ran into Rolf Beck, the Intendant of the Schleswig-Holstein Festival, after the Pittsburgh Symphony’s concert. He was delighted to see Manfred Honeck, who he has known and admired for more than twenty years.

Brahms guards the pretzels and Champagne

Brahms guards the pretzels and Champagne

Brahms guards the pretzels and Champagne

Also on hand for the Saturday concert was Dr. Steven Paul, who works for the North German NDR network which presents three orchestras in the Laeiszhalle. Conductor Thomas Hengelbrock soon takes over the NDR Orchestra. Hamburg is where conductor Christoph von Dohnanyi based his European career. His brother served as Hamburg’s Mayor. Joanne Rogers has been a lifelong friend of Christoph since she studied piano in Florida with his father, the noted composer Ernst von Dohnanyi, best remembered for his Variations on a Nursery Tune for piano and orchestra. Joanne and Fred were there for Christoph’s wedding. I’m digressing.

Steven Paul had been in Pittsburgh working for Sony as Associate Producer when soprano Kathleen Battle recorded Victor Herbert songs with Lorin Maazel. She wasn’t happy with the way they turned out, and refused to give her okay to release them. They sit in the “ice box,” as Paul called it. Steven Paul is a big fan of Manfred Honeck.

Aug 27 2011

Hamburg Laeiszhalle

Applause at the Laeiszhalle in Hamburg

Applause at the Laeiszhalle in Hamburg

Applause for the PSO at the Laeiszhalle in Hamburg

It was thundering feet and cheers for the Mahler Symphony #5 from the Pittsburgh Symphony and Manfred Honeck at the Laeiszhalle in Hamburg, Germany. Anne-Sophie Mutter wowed them again, and there was television coverage of this event in the Schleswig-Holstein Festival. A huge crowd turned up for the CD signing afterward. The house was full, with tickets at over $140 the last to go at the box office. I checked with Michael Pegher, a student of violinist Albert Tan who also studied with Lorenzo Malfatti in Pittsburgh and now lives not far away from Hamburg where he has a contract singing with a regional opera house.

This concert had been scheduled for Hamburg’s new Elbphilharmonie, or Elb Philharmonic Hall, which is still under construction after massive cost overruns and delays now expected to extend through 2015.

At the Telemann Museum

At the Telemann Museum

Erich Braun-Egidius at the Telemann Museum

I had an amazing visit at the Brahms Museum and the Telemann Museum. It was the 40th anniversary of the Brahms Museum on Peterstrasse, and admission was free.  There was a festive atmosphere and a quiz of Brahms biographical moments for visitors. I won a Brahms CD, although I think it might have been for my foreign accent as much as my knowledge of Brahms.

The Brahms Museum is near the site of the house in which he was born, which burned to the ground in WWII. There’s also an E.T.A. Hoffman Museum in Hamburg, commemorating the composer and author who inspired Jacques Offenbach’s opera, The Tales of Hoffmann. That and the massive art museum, the Kunsthalle, must be for next time. I asked my taxi driver if he knew the Beatles Platz, where there’s a statue in their memory. He was not German, and thought I was interested in meeting “nice women.” The statue is on the edge of one of the most notorious red light districts in the world, the Reeperbahn. John Lennon said “I was born in Liverpool but I grew up in Hamburg.” Malcom Gladwell, who wrote Outliers claims the Beatles became geniuses in part because they honed their craft through thousands of hours of rehearsals here in Hamburg.

Brahms' piano at the Brahms Museum

Brahms' piano at the Brahms Museum

Brahms' piano at the Brahms Museum

The Telemann Museum is one of the newest additions to the Hamburg cultural scene. I recorded a tour with the museum’s Vorsitzender (chairman), Erich Braun-Egidius, who was one of the kindest people I have ever met in my travels with the Pittsburgh Symphony. After the tour, he told me that he’d been in management with Volkswagen most of his life. One day decided he wanted to follow his heart, and help to open the Telemann Museum. His son is studying in Boston and has toured the American history trail which brought him near Pittsburgh. Eleven years old at the end of WWII, Herr Braum-Egidius was extremely positive about Americans, and said he thinks George H. W. Bush is under-appreciated for his role in encouraging Germany’s reunification. He explained the fine points of the history of the Alsace-Lorraine where my grandfather Ortner’s father was born. We discussed in detail Telemann’s love of plants and gardening, and his list of flowers in Latin. It’s always stunning to me how some people will go out of their way to help a stranger.

Michael Pegher outside the Laeiszhalle

Michael Pegher outside the Laeiszhalle

Michael Pegher of the Oldenburgisches Staatstheater, outside the Laeiszhalle

Markus Frei, a journalist who is working on an article for Die Welt about the Pittsburgh Symphony, told me his article was delayed by the death of the German comic Loriot, a cross between Peter Sellars and Victor Borge whose sophisticated routines often had a classical music twist, with a chamber music ensemble rehearsing, or a conductor swatting insects, choreographed so that he conducted Coriolan with the Berlin Philharmonic as he attempted to kill the bug. Loriot never made it big it in the US, but he’s an enormous figure here. As I write, Radio Bremen TV is running the special, Erinnerungen an Loriot (Memories of Loriot).

I have lots more to say about the concert tonight in this beautiful century-old hall with a Brahms Platz  and modern monuments out front. It’s named for one of the great shipping figures in this port city. More tomorrow, as we head for Vilnius and the Pittsburgh Symphony’s debut concert in Lithuania. Manfred Honeck’s 12-year-old son, Simion, is traveling his Dad on this trip –what a guy –with a calm and concentration well beyond his years.

Aug 26 2011

Wiesbaden Rheingau Musik Festival

 

CDs for sale at the Kurhaus

CDs for sale at the Kurhaus

CDs for sale at the Kurhaus

Composer Wolfgang Rihm took a bow after the European premiere of his concerto Lichtes Spiel with violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter. The first concert on this tour also featured Anne-Sophie in the familiar Mendelssohn Concerto. Heading back to the hotel on the bus the comments centered on, “How does she do it?,” and “Isn’t it amazing that she can find something new to say in such a familiar piece?”

The Pittsburgh Symphony and Manfred Honeck’s Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 5 was for sale in the lobby along with the PSO’s new Mahler Third. Lots of Mutter fans sifted through her many recordings. Principal Second Violinist Jennifer Ross told me she was looking out at a very elegant, dressed-up audience. They politely held their applause until Manfred lowered his arms after the Tchaikovsky Fifth, then asked for two encores. It was a big sound in this 1,400 seat hall.

Rheingau Festival Director Michael Hermann warms up the crowd

Rheingau Festival Director Michael Hermann warms up the crowd

Rheingau Musik Festival Director Michael Hermann welcomes the PSO

New Principal Flutist Lorna McGhee played the big solo in the Intermezzo from Bizet’s Carmen, and Principal Clarinetist Michael Rusinek added a lick from the Tchaikovsky Fifth to his solo in the middle of the Galop from Khachaturian’s Masquerade Suite.

Rheingau Festival Intendant Michael Hermann gave warm introductory remarks in German and drew some laughter. Pittsburgh Symphony CEO Larry Tamburri told me he’s glad the tour is underway.

Earlier, I bumped into Principal Cellist Anne Martindale Williams and violinist Christopher Wu as they returned from a rehearsal of the Barber Adagio, planned for ceremonies marking the tenth anniversary of 9/11 in Berlin. Somehow, they wore matching orange outfits since great musicians must always be on the same wavelength.

Anne Martindale Williams and Chris Wu in harmonized colors

Anne Martindale Williams and Chris Wu in harmonized colors

Harmonized colors

I loved the Antiquariat Schallplatten vinyl record shop started by Manfred Eisele. He was very friendly, showing off the smallest record, which contains a Gitanes cigarette commercial; the extremely rare Beatles $32,000 “butcher” cover; and even Andre Previn’s A Different Kind of Blues album with Itzhak Perlman, recorded at Heinz Hall.

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Aug 26 2011

Meissen and Mendelssohn

Anne-Sophie Mutter

Anne-Sophie Mutter

Anne-Sophie Mutter rehearses with the PSO in Wiesbaden

I just came from the Pittsburgh Symphony’s rehearsal with Anne-Sophie Mutter, who was relaxed and magisterial in the morning session with Music Director Manfred Honeck. A reporter from one of the German national networks – 3sat, I believe – was on the scene asking about the fact that the Philadelphia Orchestra and Pittsburgh are touring at the same time. The European press want to know why Philadelphia is bankrupt and Pittsburgh solvent.

I spoke with the founder of the Rheingau Festival, Michael Hermann, who was extremely cheerful about having Pittsburgh back at the end of a very successful festival summer. Larry Tamburri, the orchestra’s President and CEO, seemed well rested. He told me they are grateful to the tour sponsors BNY Mellon, LANXESS Corporation, and the Hillman Endowment, among others, who are covering the roughly $2 million cost.

Meissen poster shows large cup size

Meissen poster shows large cup size

Meissen poster displays large cup size

Walking back to the hotel, I investigated a Meissen porcelain shop – the organization founded in 1710 in Germany. They seem to have updated their marketing efforts with a poster of a young woman who is inviting you to share a cup of tea while wearing her bathrobe. What’s in the tea leaves for the Pittsburgh Symphony? Stay tuned to this blog!

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Aug 25 2011

Schiller, Liszt, und Tagescocktail

Bahnhof

Bahnhof

Wiesbaden Bahnhof

I ran into double bass player Jeffrey Grubbs on my way to the train station. Jeffrey was just back from some light shopping. The train station, the Bahnhof, was great for bakeries. At Kamps Backstube I picked up a cheese pretzel and raspberry streusel. Immer Ofenfrisch! Von Hand Gemacht! (Always oven-fresh! Hand made!) The Payot bookstore featured at least five titles on the tenth anniversary of 9/11 such as Der Heilige Krieg (The Holy War),  11/9: Zehn Jahr Danach (9/11: Ten Years After) by Mathias Bröckers, and Nine Eleven by Elmar Theuessen. There were also books in German about Paul Allen, Helmut Schmitt, the latest from Bill Bryson, and Der Arabische Frühling (The Arabian Spring) by Jörg Armbruster.  Stern Magazine has a cover story on why Germans are getting bigger, “Echt Fett Warum die Deutschen immer dicker werden und wer daran schuld ist,” (Why the Germans are really fat and who is to blame.) Remind me to ask at Kamps Backstube.

Cheese pretzel

Cheese pretzel

Cheese pretzel

I love the German Saturn stores–a chain like Best Buy. In the CD department, Adele is #1. Someone I don’t know. Lady Gaga is big. So is a German rapper named  Samy Deluxe with a CD called Schwarz/Weiss, along with Kanye West and Jay Z. In the classical department, there was a 3-DVD set from BBC Video of Benjamin Britten as composer, pianist and conductor; Lang Lang’s latest release in honor of the Liszt bicentennial; and a multiple-disc set of Berlin Philharmonic recordings with a DVD of Simon Rattle conducting.

Then it was time for a stroll through the old part of town with the courthouse, or Rathaus, and church next door — the Marktkirche. A statue of Wilhelm I stands in front of the red brick church.

Marktkirche

Marktkirche

Marktkirche

The imposing Hessian State Theater has a wonderful statue of Friedrich Schiller, the German playwright and poet. At the Kurhaus, where the Pittsburgh Symphony rehearses in the morning, I just had to time to try the raspberries with cream. Two tiny chocolate bowls contain sugar and raspberry sauce, and next to a glass of raspberries you have the whipped cream. The daily cocktail was a concoction of Pimm’s Cup, tonic, and mint with a slice of orange. Refreshing!

The evening concert featured the young French orchestra Les Siecles, and the Maitrise de Caen – a youth choir that turned up in the final moments of Liszt’s Dante Symphony in honor of the composer’s 200th birthday.

Tagescocktail

Tagescocktail

Tagescocktail

Francois-Xavier Roth conducted. The first half of the concert featured Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto played by a 23-year-old pianist from Russia, Denis Kozhukhin, who won a 15,000 Euro prize presented by the Rheingau Festival and its sponsor, the Hessian Lotto.

I’m just now turning off the TV, and I notice the German ads for McDonald’s which declare “Ich Liebe Es” (I’m Lovin’ It) in reference to the Milchshakes and McFlurrys.

Aug 24 2011

Rheingau Musik Festival

Friedrich Ebert Allee in Wiesbaden

Friedrich Ebert Allee in Wiesbaden

Friedrich Ebert Allee in Wiesbaden

Wiesbaden is on the Rhine River in the grape-growing region. Concertgoers will see a bunch of grapes pictured on every ticket to the festival. While I haven’t noticed any vineyards near the hotel, I took a walk of about a mile to the Kurhaus where the Pittsburgh Symphony will play their first concert on Friday night. It’s a lively part of town with elegant shops such as Cartier and Meissen China, restaurants, and a beautiful city park with a pond, fountain and ducks. A sudden thunderstorm dropped some rain but left the air soft and warm under a blue sky. The Rheingau Music Festival here, which started in June, has over 150 events. Pittsburgh will be next to last, before the Bamberg Symphony plays Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde, (The Song of the Earth) to end the summer.

There’s still a literary festival in September with a special focus on Thomas Mann, and events in the Advent Festival which get underway with a Bach Trumpet Gala on September 12. This evening was typical for the festival with a concert by the Bach Collegium of Japan presenting the St. Matthew Passion at the Kloster Eberbach Monastery and a recital at the Schloss Johannisberg featuring violinist Isabelle van Keulen and pianist Ronald Brautigam.

Kurhaus

Kurhaus

Kurhaus

The Kurhaus had a full house for the Tchaikovsky Orchestra of Moscow led by Vladimir Fedoseyev playing a Glazunov Concert Waltz and Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto with soloist Patricia Kopatchinskaya. She amazed me with her acrobatic forward lurches and a great encore by a Venezuelan composer Jorge Sanchez Chiong. The orchestra played three encores: Georgi Sviridov’s Waltz, and two Tchaikovsky favorites, Trepak from The Nutcracker and the Spanish Dance from Swan Lake, that brought a great roar from the audience though it didn’t get them to their feet. The first movement of the Tchaikovsky, with its spectacular coda, fooled the audience into applause and even fooled the operator of the house lights who brought them up during the movement break. The concert was being recorded for Deutschlandfunk TV.

I loved the scene in the elegant lobby with hundreds of champagne flutes lined up on white tablecloths. Lanson rosé champagne and Prosecco flowed freely. I sampled a concoction of apricot brandy, aperol, tonic water, and Prosecco garnished with a floating slice of orange–$8 euros. Makes the intermission fizz! Plus a Laugenbrezel pretzel for one Euro thirty.  We’ve got to have this in Pittsburgh!

Ceiling of the Kurhaus, Wiesbaden

Ceiling of the Kurhaus, Wiesbaden

Ceiling of the Kurhaus, Wiesbaden

I bought two CDs from the soloist: her Beethoven Concerto and a collection of solo pieces that includes her encore with its popping pizzicato and instrument slapping as well as Dinicu’s Hora Staccato. Coming soon to the QED Morning Show.

The hall is gorgeous. Its walls are lined with green marble columns and white marble gods and goddesses against gold leaf. The ceiling is robin’s-egg blue with various scenes painted scenes on it, and Latin words telling the history of the hall in tall letters around the edge of the concert hall–I could just see IPSO PRASENTE IMPERATORE ANNO P CHR N MCMVII FVNDITVS.

The arrangement of the musicians on stage was very different with basses along the back wall and the brass on the left with the percussion at the right. We think of the Russian orchestras as rough-edged, but this was very sophisticated, quiet, and refined playing, slow and creamy at the start of the Tchaikovsky — building to a furious finish.

My hotel room in Wiesbaden

My hotel room in Wiesbaden

My hotel room in Wiesbaden

Pittsburgh will bring its special sophistication into a great venue. There may be some few who remember the last visit in 1992 with Lorin Maazel not long after the festival began in 1987.

The PSO will play Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 in honor of the festival theme — Mahler’s death 100 years ago, just a few months after the composer performed in Pittsburgh’s then-new Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall on tour with his New York Philharmonic.

On the way back to my hotel, I noticed the traffic signals indicate that it’s time for pedestrians and bicycles to cross.

Principal French Horn Bill Caballero kidded me that my room is better than that of the Principal Horn so here is the proof. Check out his comments as Audio-on-Demand at wqed.org/fm/.

 

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