Stadtcasino Basel

Published by on May 31, 2016

Basel’s Stadtcasino is one of the few spots on the tour where something other than the Euro is called for, but it isn’t a place where you can wager Swiss Francs. Here are three concert halls, including one named for Swiss composer Hans Huber, who wrote eight symphonies yet is almost completely unknown in the US.

I took the Baden-Württemberg railway from Lindau to Basel with just one switch in Friedrichshafen. Violist Randy Kelly, cellist Adam Liu, English hornist Harold Smoliar, Flutist Jennifer Conner, and Principal Trombonist Peter Sullivan all like the train for its more congenial atmosphere – although it was delayed about thirty minutes which seemed very not Swiss. The cell phone service was also very spotty on the border between Germany and Switzerland. Anna Singer and I discovered this just as the train rolled into a tunnel during a live tour report broadcast.

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Familie Honeck Homecoming

Published by on May 30, 2016

It was two wunderschönes days in Bregenz and Lindau – and for Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra Music Director Manfred Honeck, a return to the western Austrian region of Vorarlberg where he grew up. It is a magical part of the world. I had been told to expect a rural part of the country, but while it’s farmland, and green, it’s also very cosmopolitan. The borders of Austria, Switzerland, and Bavaria are just a few miles apart along the shore of the expansive Lake Constance. The region also borders tiny Liechtenstein. It is gorgeous.

The orchestra’s hotels could have been part of the set for Wes Anderson’s “Grand Budapest Hotel,” or “Die Zauberberg” by Thomas Mann. The Seegarten and the Bayrisches Hof are right next to each other, and have winding, connecting hallways that had everyone lost at some point. You can sit in the restaurant or out on the front porch facing the water. I walked a block to the main drag, the Maximilienstrasse, to buy a few SD cards. I’ve already filled the cards I brought. The Lutheran Church was beautiful, as was the Liebfraukirche.

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On the Beautiful Blue Danube

Published by on May 29, 2016

It’s daunting to think of how to describe the success of the Pittsburgh Symphony’s three-day residency at the Musikverein in Vienna. All three programs were wildly successful. Remember Rainer Honeck, Manfred’s brother? He is the lead concertmaster of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, and played the VPO’s 2016 Sommernachtskonzert, which you can see on WQED-TV 13 soon. Over 100,000 were said to be at the Schönbrunn Palace for that concert, given the same evening as a sold-out Pittsburgh Symphony performance at the Musikverein. Rainer played for several rehearsals, the Sommernachtskonzert, and attended a tribute to a colleague – but there he was backstage to greet his brother after the Sunday afternoon concert.

Violinist Leonidas Kavakos played a Bach encore after his Alban Berg concerto. He told me he’d never played the Berg here in the composer’s home town, even though he’s played many times at the Musikverein. I see there’s an exhibit locally that features a car that Berg owned. I’ll share it with you later, as soon as I can find it again in my absurd and heavy suitcase holdings.

I have been slow to add photos to the blog due to technical challenges. The Dell guy is coming to visit me in Lindau, which is a little like saying he’s coming to visit me in Butler. Lindau is not a huge place for specialized computer repair. I picked up a gizmo to help with my WiFi problems at the Media Markt (sort of like Best Buy) store in Vienna. They still have CDs. On the wall, they had a poster for a Deep Purple concert in Graz, Austria. Perhaps you remember their big ’70s hit, “Smoke On the Water.” There was a big retail display for Taylor Swift. If you’re in the market for some Ritchie Blackmore, you’ll find him and and other monsters of metal at MediaMarkt.

In Dresden, the management of the Albertinum asked for a brass ensemble to play a fanfare at intermission, so George Vosburgh organized a bit of Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben – the offstage music – which sounded great.

There are so many little details I want to tell you. I enjoyed consuming a bottle of Almdudler soda pop in the hotel yesterday. A sketch of guy and a girl who appear to be dancing in Austrian folk outfits is printed in white on the front of the clear bottle. Almdudler is known as the “national drink of Austria.” It combines grape and apple juices with herbal flavors. I also enjoyed a Bobby candy bar made in Salzburg.

I had to say “Es tut mir leid” to the usher at the Musikverein when he noticed I was taking pictures from Paltz Eins, Reihe Eins. Wish I had a nickel for every time that has happened! You may have noticed listeners standing in the balconies to get a better look at the stage during the Vienna New Year’s Day concert telecasts. They were doing that yesterday. It was a 3:30 pm concert, so sunlight was streaming in the windows as the PSO played an encore by Schubert and another by Prokofieff. Maestro Honeck held his arms in the air for what seemed like 90 seconds after Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony. Big, big applause.

Off to Bregenz by plane in 15 minutes.

Berlin Video Dresden Museum Theresienstadt 48 hours

Published by on May 24, 2016

Two more wildly successful days have flown by in Deutschland for the Pittsburgh Symphony. The tour party is still talking about the fantastic evening in Berlin with the webcast. Everyone I met could not have been nicer or more helpful in pulling together the backstage camera position. I had a wonderful makeup artist Jeanne Groellmann. She needed to dab me a lot with the warmth in the hall and the hike from the hotel needing speed. Magdalena Zieba-Schwind gave me the 5-4-3-2-1 countdown and kept things moving with good cheer and warmth. The Head of the Video Department Katherina Bruner met us in the lobby to guide us up to the control room for a production meeting. George Nducha served as video supervisor. Hannah Dorn guided us through the early stages of figuring out what to do. Almost everyone had perfect English. Erik Koschnik helped run the prompter. Thomas Kutschker, Martin Baer and Boris Fromageot followed the maestro and special events in the hall like the encores including It’s A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood from Michael Rusinek and Berliner Luft with Noah Bendix Balgley.. Alexander Lueck, Christopher Rowe were also wonderful. Creative Producer Christoph Franke was backstage at the end of the evening he seemed delighted with how the concert had gone.



There was such a super charged feeling of sharing something special and working together to bring the best possible experience to music lovers. Because the Digital Concert Hall at the Berlin Philharmonie is one of a kind they could have employed a take it or leave it attidtude but they worked way beyond expectations to make it the best and laughed about it too. I’m sure they may have had some trepidation about a stranger showing up at the last minute with a lengthy script but they handled in stride. Highest rating! It was fun to watch the backstage activity. I spent a few minutes with Principal Harp Gretchen van Hoesen who rushed out onstage for the Tchaikovsky Sleeping Beauty encore. Our director must have been surprised by the Terrible Towel wich even won a mention in the rave review from the Taggesspiegel critic.

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Berlin Dresden Terezin

Published by on May 24, 2016

Watch this space. We’re on our way to Terezin or Theresienstadt in just a few minutes. Last night in Dresden at the Albertinum was swarm but beautiful. Much more to come.

Forbidden Bremen

Published by on May 22, 2016

Daniil Trifonov and the PSO at Die Glocke

Thunderous applause greeted the Pittsburgh Symphony after their concert at Die Glocke in Bremen, Germany. I sat next to a fan who stomped his feet along with everyone else in the 1,400 seat hall. The wood floor surface amplified the stomping along with the cheers. Pianist Daniil Trifonov charmed with his Rachmaninoff Second Concerto, benefiting from an especially sonorous new Steinway. His hair flew in the air and he stabbed at the keyboard with his characteristic intensity. Trifonov could make a piano in an old wild west bar thrill. He played the last of a set of Nikolai Medtner’s Forgotten Melodies with exquisite tone.

It was hot on stage in the tight space. Every seat was filled. The sound was big and bright. The third movement of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 always feels like an ending, and there was some applause. Manfred Honeck included two encores. First came the Panorama from Act 2 of Tchaikovsky’s “Sleeping Beauty” and then the Khachaturian Galop from the “Masquerade Suite,” in which Principal Clarinet Michael Rusinek quoted a tune from the first movement of the Tchaikovsky sixth as part of his florid cadenza. That Tchaikovsky theme had been played earlier by Mrs. Rusinek, PSO Principal Bassoonist Nancy Goeres.

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The Musik Begins

Published by on May 21, 2016


And they’re off – with the cheers for Last night’s concert in Hanover now history. The Kuppelsaal, named for its round cupola shape – like a mini Royal Albert Hall, although not so mini with 3,700 seats. It’s been remodeled since the Pittsburgh Symphony’s last visit. Formerly brown and beige, it’s now white and blue. In the center of the ceiling is a large black circle with jagged edges like you might expect for an alien landing station. Above the top balcony, in white and gold, are all the signs of the zodiac: Aquarius, Aries, Sagittarius, etc. Large white columns in a circle rise from the third balcony. Chandeliers, white acoustical “clouds,” and thin silver cylindrical light fixtures hang from the ceiling. There is one row of audience behind the orchestra. Conductor and soloists emerge from a door behind the orchestra and walk around to the front. Dark woodwork surrounds the stage. It was a full house with only a few empty seats at the very back of the top balcony.
There was a relaxed atmosphere as a very well-dressed crowd stood in long lines to purchase flutes of Prosecco at intermission. The flutes were also lined up on a table to speed up service. Why doesn’t every concert hall do it this way?

There was some applause after each movement of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No 4. Manfred Honeck smiled during the pauses. The acoustics are dry, but clear. The Tchaikovsky was powerful with the PSO’s terrific winds and brass. The strings were especially silky at the beginning of the second movement. The oboe’s solo was gently phrased, and the beautiful theme repeated ever more gently. Tympanist Ed Stephan provided some thrills on the first and second half.

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Freitag Sonnenschein

Published by on May 20, 2016

Hannover Center for Bechstein pianos

I’m headed over to Manfred Honeck’s hotel for a short interview marking the start of the tour. It’s a mild sunny Friday with sun. A business conference is taking place in the hotel. I am in the “overflow” hotel with Maestro Andres Franco and the PSO staff. The conference is all businesses who sell to the companies doing home infrastructure–radon detection, heating and Internet of Things stuff. I think it would be obscure to me if it was in English.

Last night I took a few minutes to walk around the area. Just down Hinuberstrasse where I’m in the hotel is the Hannover Center for Bechstein pianos. I thought of pianist Henry Spinelli who is a big Bechstein fan. He owns one, and Chatham University has one,  but you don’t see them all that often. They also had some digital pianos made by Casio and Roland.

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Published by on May 18, 2016


Hanover is the old stomping ground of King George I, the King of Great Britain and America until the American Revolution changed everything. Did you know that King George was a Hanoverian? Famous Hanover connections include Waterloo (there’s a Waterloo Platz in Hanover) and Wellington, Continental Tires, and Deutsche Grammophon records. Dating back to the middle ages, the Hanseatic League cities including Hanover were essential to trade, shipping and finance. A Hansa was a convoy. Hanover, Germany’s 13th largest city, is in lower Saxony, south of Bremen and Hamburg. In America, we spell the city’s name with one “n”: in Germany it has two, “Hannover.” The River Leine runs through town, and was used by ancient convoys to convey their raw materials and treasure.

The Pittsburgh Symphony will trade in musical treasure, Tchaikovsky and percussion instruments, on Friday when they open their tour with Martin Gruebinger playing the Percussion Concerto by Bruno Hartl.

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On the Road Wieder

Published by on May 16, 2016

Against all the odds, defying financial logic, with jaw dropping virtuosity, great good humor, Steel City grit, resolve, fearless avoidance of men in black hats, and lots and lots of schlagobers – the Pittsburgh Symphony is off on a 14-concert, four-city tour to four European nations: Germany, Austria, Belgium, and Switzerland.

PSO travel tote bag from 1973

Manfred Honeck and the PSO depart Tuesday, May 17 for Hanover, Germany where President Obama joined German Chancellor Angela Merkel to open one of the world’s largest trade shows – the Hannover Messe on April 24.. From Hanover, it’s on to the northern cities of Bremen and Berlin. In the home of the Berlin Philharmonic – the Philharmonie – the Pittsburghers will send a worldwide webcast through the Berlin Philharmonic Digital Concert Hall. It will be relayed live via satellite to the big screen at Heinz Hall for the (free!) enjoyment of fans in Western Pennsylvania.

Usually, there isn’t a host for Berlin Philharmonic webcasts. But this time, your devoted correspondent will provide play-by-play with Manfred Honeck, CEO Melia Tourangeau , and orchestra members Alison Fujito, violin; James Nova, trombone; and James Rodgers, contrabassoon. They’ll join me for interviews during the stage changes and intermission. I’m hoping you can sneak a few M&M’s past the ushers, because you won’t want to miss a minute of it.

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