Feb 05 2008

The Beautiful Blue Danube

Published by at 2:56 am under PSO 2008 European Tour

Vienna's KonzerthausThe message light was blinking on the phone when I got back to the room. Everyone in the Symphony received a message that the Super Bowl would be projected on a big screen in the lobby of the Intercontinental Hotel. It was fun to watch Das Super Bowl in a German broadcast beginning at midnight. There were still a dozen faithful after halftime at 2:30 am, even though the bartender had gone home. Tom Petty’s halftime show went out without interruption.

This all happened after the Pittsburgh Symphony’s debut at Vienna’s Konzerthaus. This is a glittering room with crystal chandeliers, and a red-and-white color scheme bringing the feel of Heinz Hall. There were six gray marble columns and choir seats behind the stage. Manfred Honeck sat in the balcony at audience right, next to his wife.

Some folks in the group that came early had made it to the Vienna Staatsoper the night before, hearing Donizetti’s The Elixir of Love with a cast and conductor that no one could name. Standing room was 3.50 euros under the Emperor’s box with okay sound but in a really tight space. There are more standing room spots for 2 euros. Not bad, considering what everything costs in Vienna. There was an unusual Chinese New Year concert at the Musikverein. Later, the Lower Austrian Radio Orchestra gave a 4:00 pm concert. Resident conductor Daniel Meyer and Mrs. Meyer, Mary Persin, said they heard the youngest member of the Järvi family, Kristjan, conduct the Sibelius Concerto. Mary will be back in Pittsburgh with her Biava String Quartet next season for the Chamber Music Society in a special multi-part series of concerts featuring some new works.

Secession Beethoven friezeI walked to the Viennese art museum, the Secession, a building in white stone with a shimmering gold globe on the roof.. The name Secession was given to the turn of the century group of artists including Egon Schiele, Gustav Klimt and Adolf Loos. The Secession featured a series of video installations (I put the brochure with the artists names someplace!) dealing with themes such as 9/11, and the briefcase that carries the codes for nuclear attack. In the basement, the Secession has the room dedicated to the Beethoven frieze which covers the upper region of four walls. Gustav Klimt in 1902 took for inspiration the Beethoven Ninth Symphony as conducted by Richard Wagner.

Adolf Loos designed the Museum Café, just across the street, over 100 years ago. I stopped for the suppentopf with carrots, beef, angel hair noodles and delicate parsley sprinkled on top. The coffee was mélange—with schlagobers—whipped cream.

TorteI walked to the Musikverein, which we see every January 1 on the New Year’s Day Concert from Vienna, this year conducted by Georges Pretre. Kurt Masur and Seiji Ozawa are conducting concerts soon, as is Erwin Ortner, who surely must be a distant relation of my grandfather, Elmer Ortner.

It was a perfect day for walking, with blue sky but cold in a stiff wind. I proceeded to the Savoy Café where Leonard Bernstein was a regular, but they were closed. The Savoy is in the Vienna neighborhood known as the Naschmarkt, a little like our Strip District. Closed Sundays.

Beethoven statueVienna is a city of massive stone buildings and monuments. In the Schiller Platz, I enjoyed the tribute to the writer who provided Beethoven with the words for his Ode to Joy, and just a few steps away the Denkmal for Franz Werfel, one of Alma Mahler’s husbands.

Then to the Staatsoper, where there is a nice CD store, Arcadia. I bought Herbert von Karajan’s unusual CD of European National Anthems which I can share with you as a CD of the Week soon. The staff wa playing the New Year’s Concert on a big flat-panel TV for shoppers. The cashier told me her favorite café is Grienstiedl near the Hofburg, which was my next destination. The Hofburg is the city within a city that was home for the Hapsburg Emperors. Hapsburgerstrasse leads into the front door. You could spend a week looking at the Hofburg buildings. I walked past the Spanish Riding School where the Lippizaner horses learn their tricks, the Imperial Apartments, the library and much more, on stones that Beethoven and Schubert would have trodden.

CarriageGrienstiedl is on the Michaelerplatz just as you enter the Hofburg, where the horse-drawn carriages roll by. It was packed, but I lurked near a couple that appeared ready to go and lucked out. Okay, I’ll try not to regale you with more about food, but I have to mention the griesseschmarren. Semolina pancakes in square chunks with raisins and powdered sugar and plum sauce to put on top. I love the café scene because you can get something so amazing for under ten dollars. The pastry case was full of Sachertorte and cream cheese topfenstrudel which you receive warm with vanilla sauce, if you like. Apfelstrudel also gets the vanilla extra.

Here, I had a chance to look at the Vienna papers, Die Zeitung and the Wiener Presse. Both had considerable coverage of the Opera Ball, just a few days ago, with the proceeds benfitting Die Polizei. Terri Hatcher, the Desperate Hausfrau was there—she was also seen at Manfred Honeck’s concert with the Vienna Symphony on Friday night—and the Ex-Frau of Mick Jagger, Bianca Jagger, wearing a floor length gold brocade gown with big fluffy black collar, added to the glamour. Politicians, stars and musicians go to the ball. Anna Netrebko and Jose Carreras were there this year. This is the high ball season in Vienna. There are dozens until the parties go quiet during Lent.

CafeI took a look at the Sacher Tortes in the Hotel Sacher next to the Staatsoper.. The café was packed. In the lobby there are signed photos from many of the famous guests, including Oscar Strauss of operetta fame.

From Greinstiedl and the Hofburg, I moved into the heart of town for the pedestrian strolling and shopping streets near St. Stephen’s Cathedral. Everything is closed on Sunday, but I window-shopped in the Buch stores. Manfred Honeck told me he was reading the 700-page biography of conductor Carlos Kleiber, who died last year. I saw it in all the book stores. Barack Obama: Der Schwarze Kennedy by Christoph von Marschall. The Tom Cruise Book Der Star und Die Scientology, Eliette von Karajan, the widow of conductor Herbert von Karajan, has a new book, Mein Leben und Seine Seite, a book on the effect of the Nazis on religion in Germany. Hitler’s Mythische Religion: Theologische Denklingen und NS Ideologie, a book about Schoenberg and Madeline Albright’s new book Amerika du Kannst Es Besser Was ein gutter President Tun und Was Er Lassen Sollte. All of these interesting books had window spots.

I wrapped up the Vienna walking tour at St Stephen’s Cathedral. With the light dimming at 5:30, the interior was dark—giving the memorial candles an extra drama.

To be truthful, I didn’t see much of the Blue Danube but there was a little tributary of the Danube, a small canal, near the hotel. The Stadtpark was directly across, with a statue of Johann Strauss playing his violin, shining in gold leaf and surrounded by carved white stone.

Jim at Johann Strauss memorial