Jan 30 2008

Amsterdam and Mayor Ravenstahl Love the PSO

Published by at 12:13 pm under PSO 2008 European Tour

Concertgebouw at nightOver 800 concerts take place each year at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. A morning concert on the schedule meant the Pittsburgh Symphony needed to rehearse at the Old Stock Exchange, near the train station at the edge of the red light district.

Amsterdam canalIn the afternoon, the Pittsburgh toured the city with its lively atmosphere of trams, bicycles and canals. You really do need to be careful where and how you cross the street. Thousands of bicycles are found in the canals every year, tossed there by petty thieves who grab a cycle and then ditch it.

Pittsburgh expatriate flutist Albert Manders came from his home in Haarlem for the Pittsburgh concert. He played in QED’s Carolyn Byham Studio last year with the Aeolian Winds, and at Bach, Beethoven and Brunch two summers ago. His Mom, Jean, is an FM Angel and his parents are music lovers, too. Albert guided me to the oldest house and bar in the city, known as the Monkey. You can take the tram for free after any concert at the Concertgebouw—four hours before and four hours after—just show your ticket. Port Authority take note! The tram stops right in front of the Concertgebouw. We should never have taken up our trolley tracks in Pittsburgh!

At the train station, we asked a group of tram drivers for directions to Zeedijk Street. With a laugh, they pointed and suggested, “Keep your money in your wallet and your (#$%**) in your pants.” Yes, we were in the infamous Red Light District. The Dutch have been praised in some circles for their progressive social policies and their tolerance. Some drug users participate in licensed needle programs, and prostitution is licensed and controlled to a small part of town. The ladies appear in windows with fluorescent lights on either side. They’re usually not wearing much. In reality, many women are imported from Eastern Europe or Russia and live in near-poverty. A very sad situation. The new Mayor has said he wants to clean up the red light district and the “coffee shops” with legalized marijuana. It’s hard to imagine closing down something that has been for so long been part of the Amsterdam lore, but it seems like the time is right.

Mariss' doorAlbert mentioned reading in the paper last week that Mariss Jansons had appeared before the Dutch Minister of Culture to appeal for three million additional euros for the Concertgebouw on top of its €500 million subsidy. There is a move afoot to cut the arts budget in Amsterdam and in many places across Europe. It’s interesting to think about Mariss and his unhappiness with the American way of supporting culture again finding himself on the hot seat. I’m quoting Albert’s figures, but I believe those numbers are close.

Outside the stage entrance at the Concertgebouw, a large poster for Mariss Jansons’s world tour listed the dates. Asia is on the plan along with the US—Mariss was in Los Angeles while the Pittsburgh was in his hall. After New York, Mariss is off to Lisbon. This is a lot of flying for a guy who doesn’t do well with jet lag.

artist's cafeThe Concertgebouw has a delightful artists’ cafeteria downstairs, where the crew and musicians gather. Violinist Peter Snitkovsky and Principal Percussion John Soroka played backgammon. I visited the shop. Mariss and Concertgebouw have made lots of CDs which you can buy from Arkiv Music at wqed.org. I made a note to pick up the Concertgebouw Brass release and the new Mahler First Symphony. During intermission, there are lots of coffee drinkers and a champagne bar. The tickets for the Pittsburgh were mostly €85 , but 45 minutes before the concert students can get rush tickets for €7.50.

The (or Het in Dutch) Concertgebouw is a gorgeous building inside and out. Immaculately maintained with red velvet seats, high white ceiling, walnut organ case and pipes and seating behind the Orchestra. The conductors and soloist walk down a long set of stairs at the audience right to take their bows.

Leonidas Kavakos was amazing in the Brahms Violin Concerto. Andy Druckenbrod leaned over to whisper that he had some reservations about Kavakos’ tone. I disagreed. Very sweet and stylish. Kavakos is tall and thin with a long black Franz Liszt like Abba-style jacket and short black hair. He hops with a bouncy energy on the beat. It garnered an instant standing ovation. Then a Bach adagio from the Suite for Solo Violin in A minor as an encore sounding almost like something from another century—modern and ethereal. Very quiet in the hall. At the end of the Bach he held the final note for what seemed like a minute, holding on to the total silence and mystery. Then he lowered his bow and the Concertgebouw went nuts.

They loved the Brahms Fourth Symphony on the second half, and Pittsburgh won another standing ovation. Marek Janowski chose the third movement of the Brahms Third as an encore. Here were the amazing sound of Principal Horn William Caballero, Principal Clarinet Michael Rusinek, Principal Bassoon Nancy Goeres and Principal Oboe Cynthia Koledo de Almeida, in the resonant sound of the Concertgebouw. I heard wonderful details from all over, especially the winds. Damian Bursill Hall’s flute was delicious (even though he’s nursing a cold) and out of the blue would burble a clarinet phrase that I couldn’t remember hearing in other concert halls. Wow. The over all sound is big, warm, rich and resonant with a warm glow of reverberence.

Luke and Erin RavenstahlMayor Ravenstahl and his wife Erin were in the row directly behind me. After, I asked them what they thought. “Pittsburgh should be proud! We’ve had a great day and loved our first visit to Europe.” Today, they’re off to France where the mayor will talk to more business leaders.

The mood at The Monkey was very jovial. Heineken on tap along with several others. Casual and relaxed with businessmen wearing ties conversing in the strange guttural sound of Dutch. An amazing old wooden staircase winds up to the second floor. Old bottles and collectibles line every inch of space. All the other buildings on the street are brick.

paintingThere’s an oil painting in the style of the Dutch Old Masters high on the wall and a gorilla holding a hand written sign that says “you slept at the Monkey” in Dutch. The Zeedijk Street is quiet at this end, not far from the train and the Victoria Hotel. The red light district is very tacky with a late night air of danger lurking, tacky shops, Sex Museum, and coffee shops where plumes of marijuana smoke emerge when a door opens.

It was after midnight and I had missed the last tram, so I found a cab at the Train Station and returned to the Okura Hotel, winding back and forth in the narrow streets.

This morning we left in the drizzle for Cologne. Smooth Dutch and German highways.

At the rest stop, there was a very clean cafeteria operation, news stand, postcard and prepackaged snack shop. The restroom was spotless. It required €0.50 coins in a machine. There was an attendant in a white coat to point you in the right direction.

Carnival crowdWe arrived ahead of schedule in Cologne just in in time for Carnival. I don’t know if we’ll see the action, but nowhere in the world is there a party like the one Cologne throws just before Lent begins. It’s bigger than New Orleans’, with costumes and in-the-street festivity. Cologne Cathedral is just a few blocks away with its twin spires, said to be the only thing left standing by Allied World War II bombers as a visual marker for the pilots. Everything else was leveled. The WDR, West Deutsche Rundfunk (radio) is just down the street. They regularly broadcast live music and make local recordings, just as you hear on the air at Classical QED 89.3 daily.