Jun 02 2016

Brussels and Stuttgart

Published by at 6:48 pm under PSO 2016 European Tour

There was lots of kissing going on in the great square in Brussels, Belgium, known as the Grand Places. Passionate young couples, just lost in the moment, kissing at length on a rainy Wednesday afternoon. More than you’d see in Market Square, I’m sure. I walked with Paul Silver and his daughter Sarah, the amazing WQED-FM Musical Kid. Members of the orchestra said they saw soldiers in the square in front of the Sheraton Hotel. Two even chased down someone suspicious. The soldiers at the airport were in full regalia – green and brown camouflage outfits with large rifles at the ready. Three were at the door when we first walked in.

On our walk through Brussels, we wound past Gretry Street, named for the composer Andre Ernest Modeste Gretry, and past the front door of the Maurice Bejart Dance Theater – a company which has performed in Pittsburgh for the Dance Council. There was a fromagerie and lots of beer stores.

Beer is extra fizzy in Belgium. It’s very tasty, but can be very expensive – like the Belgian brews at the Sharp Edge. Some of the very yeasty lambic beers can only be found in Brussels, so it’s a beer mecca. Pittsburghers can find Lindemann’s Framboise beer at Giant Eagle (also expensive.) Lindemann’s fruit beers, in varieties flavored with raspberries, sour cherries, peaches, or black currants, disguise the extra-yeasty taste that you may find odd.

Some nice ladies asked us if we knew where Manneken Pis was. He’s the little guy, a statue who has become a city symbol by not waiting till out of sight to relieve himself. Rick Steves says it’s a bit cheesy as city icons go. There’s a restaurant Mannekan Pis and a lot of folks taking photos on his corner – like yours truly.

I spoke with Manfred Honeck briefly before the concert. He was alarmed that his luggage hadn’t arrived, but there he was in concert dress at the down beat, so it must have magically appeared. He also mentioned that he expected to see Austria’s representative to the European Union at the concert.

After playing Rachmaninof’s Piano Concerto No. 2, soloist Daniil Trifonov played one of his own pieces, a section of the Rachmaniana which he’d played in our live broadcast from Heinz Hall last fall.

It’s a nice touch that on entering the South Brussels Charleroi airport you pass words that mean “love” in many languages. They stand in thin white letters on metal sticks in a little garden arrangement. Very simple but lovely. Sad that terrorists have been blowing up their fellow humans here.

I do not know enough about the Eastern European countries, but I’d guess I saw a few distinguished Turkish family heads at the Brussels airport. One older man, who appeared as if he might be a Pasha, was wearing a long dark coat, like the Dryzabone raincoats popular in Australia. He was wearing a sort of turban, very puffy, in a circle around his forehead. His colleagues showed their respect by kissing it as they said goodbye.

In the Brussels airport, Daniil Trifonov sat down to play a piano in a walkway just outside a lounge. A sign invited passersby to “Play Me.” There was a stack of classical sheet music on top. After playing a bit of the Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2, Daniil played one of Liszt’s transcriptions of Bach. When I walked back to the hotel, there he was slipping out to get some fresh air by himself. He has the nicest smile when acknowledging the thunderous applause of an audience.

There was quite a long line at the airport security check-in, and very thorough examination of all. The Luxair charter flight from Luxembourg was smooth and very quiet. We flew aboard a new Boeing 737-800, whose ceiling accent lights changed color from robin’s egg blue to pink.

The Ensinger Company held a tour reception after the Stuttgart concert. They have operations making specialized plastic products in Germany and Washington, PA. Klaus Ensinger seemed delighted to have the Pittsburgh Symphony here. Manfred Honeck has lots of friends in Stuttgart, where he’s been in charge of the Opera and just last year brought in the New Year by leading the orchestra as guest conductor. I met Isabelle and Roland Reber. Roland is the CEO of Ensinger. Isabelle is from New York, and Roland from Germany. They introduced me to their friend Robert Wyne, who is a music teacher and jazz musician.

Mrs. Manfred Honeck, Chistiane Honeck, was at the reception in the adjoining Liederhalle bar, named “Die Note.” She set me straight on the Honeck relatives I’d met in Basel. It was Manfred’s sister Ilse and her husband Norbert, whose children are Sigrid and Claudio. I have trouble keeping my own family straight!

The day was overcast in Stuttgart, but not too hot for a short walk. I listened to AFN, the Armed Forces Network. Their radio station in Stuttgart was playing Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and the Beatles’ “Ticket to Ride” among lots of things I couldn’t identify. Then I switched to Klassik Radio. It was Kartoffelsuppe for lunch. The German beer I’ve seen more than any other is Radeberger.

Three hours on the bus to Munich in the morning with Anne-Sophie Mutter playing the Dvorak Cocnerto at the Gasteig.