Oct 24 2012

Miró, Miró on the Wall

Published by at 7:46 pm under PSO 2012 European Tour

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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