Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Mercoledi Musicale

One of the concerts I choose to give a miss this year at the Whitsun Festival was a piano recital by the young French pianist David Fray. Fray appeared on the music scene in 2004 winning the second grand prize at the Montreal International Piano Competition . He is a rather mannered player reminiscent of a long-haired Glen Gould – though he has voiced little admiration of Gould citing Wilhelm Kempff as his model. Unlike much of the performances scheduled last week he will not be concentrating on Rossini however he won’t be entirely neglecting the Man of the hour.

In 1820 Liszt transcribed La caritá (Charity), a short religious choral composition of Rossini’s, for piano. It was the last work of a triptych – I’ll let you figure out what the other two may have been called. Fray will be including it in his programme along with selections by Schubert, Bach and other works by Liszt.

I tried to upload a version by an Australian pianist who has recorded all the piano works of Liszt - 98 volumes - however YouTube banned it almost immediately despite the link to his website etc.  I will not name either the artist or the label because I was all set to give them free publicity .

Unfortunately the only piano version on YouTube is not a particularly good one but there are several lovely postings of the original choral piece (mostly by amateur choirs) and this one is particular favourite.

The soprano Jodie Devos was the second laureate in this year's Queen Elizabeth Competition in Brussels. Should you wish to hear a bit more of this young soprano, her performance at the finale of the Competition is available here.

June 17 - 1631: Mumtaz Mahal dies during childbirth. Her husband, Mughal emperor Shah Jahan I, will spend the next 17 years building her mausoleum, the Taj Mahal.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Lunedi Lunacy

As the theme the next few days will be the performances at the Pfingstfestspeile here's a few musical jokes to start the week.

June 16 -1961: Rudolf Nureyev defects from the Soviet Union.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Descent of the Holy Spirit

Heilig-Geist-Kirche (Church of the Holy Ghost) in Munich; the original building dates from the 14th century but it has undergone changes, renovation and after severe bomb damage in World War II restoration.

You could be forgiven for thinking these photos are outtakes from Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds or that a flock of errant doves had found their way out of Marienplatz and into Munich's Heilig-Geist-Kirche. But it turns out it was only the parish's way of celebrating the Feast of Pentecost (Pfingsten) and the descent of the Holy Spirit.

However it wasn't the only "modern" touch amidst the splendors of the Brothers Asam's rococo decorations; I was struck by the simple design of the very modern pulpit.  Though it is a stark contrast to much of the decorations, in my opinion it neither jars nor clashes with the ornate plaster, gilt and 17th century images.

The seated Christ figure surrounded by the grapes of the Eucharist seems to be relating a parable to the assemble congregation.  A dove, symbolizing the Holy Spirit, hovers above on the tester or canopy and God the Father and the Four Evangelists are on the back panel - the Trinity guiding and hopefully inspiring the preacher.

The Four Evangelists with their respective iconography reappear on the railing of the stairs leading into the pulpit.  Perhaps a reminder to a preacher as he climbed up to delivery his sermon of the source of his message.

The eagle of St John the Evangelist is said to represent the more spiritual aspect
of his gospel.  In it the Ascension and the divinity of Christ are emphasized.  It
was believed the eagle could fly into the sun without flinching from its brightness.

An angel gives divine inspiration to St Mathew, the first gospel writer.  His words
begin with the genealogy and birth of Jesus and emphasis his human nature.

The lion of St Mark has many meanings in Christian iconography.  It was believed
that lions were born dead and came to life in three days and that they slept with
their eyes open - ever watchful.  And of course they were the King of beasts.

As well as the Gospel attributed to him St Luke is said to be the author of the
Acts of the Apostles.  The bull represents sacrifice - the sacrifice of Jesus
and the sacrifice expected of all Christians.

I haven't been able to find out much about the history of this pulpit - who carved it and when it was dedicated nor can I identify the wood.  If anyone knows anything about it I'd be glad to have the information.

June 15 - 1520:  Pope Leo X threatens to excommunicate Martin Luther in the papal bull Exsurge Domine.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Salzburger Zeitung 2014 #2

June  5, 2014

Well the Pfingstfestspeile began in semi-earnest last night with La Cenerentola to a mostly full house - I notice that for next year's Festival the idea of starting on the Thursday of the holiday weekend has been jettisoned.  As happens here there was high fashion, silly fashion, casual fashion and the odd smell of mothballs and dry cleaning fluid that suggested a few articles of summer finery had been in storage over the long winter.  Of the production itself I am of several minds and will have to try and get them all together to a degree where I can write something of some intelligence.  Let me just say that my restraint when stage director Damiano Michieletto and his crew took their curtain call was beyond admirable!

After seeing what's on the menu (see items below) at Don Magnifico's Buffet (don't ask!) Laurent
wasn't too sure if he really wanted to go in.

Prince Ramiro's car seemed a bit dodgy even before it crashes through the front window of the
 Don's Buffet - again don't ask or I'll have to explain it to you. 

A late night diner at the Sketch Bar of the Hotel Bristol was a wonderful occasion to have a chat with Herr Leitner, the Manager and see our friend Dr M., who at 81 is still travelling the world for opera, ballet and theatre.  He had just arrived from Toronto via Munich and after the Festival is heading to London to see Natalia Osipova in a new ballet.  He's already planning for next year's Whitsun Festival - the man is a wonder.  And as always we were spoiled in the Sketch Bar by Gabor and Peter and the late night kitchen staff while Herr Leitner got us up to speed on the gossip around town and the music scene in Austria.

June 6, 2014

Today was the first of two music free days and an old friend of Madame J's is arriving from Switzerland for a brief visit later today.  The day started a bit late and continued at a leisurely pace - but that's why they call it vacation, right?

In 1822 Rossini and his, by then wife, Isabella Colbran left Napoli and moved to Vienna.  The move was not unexpected - his music had been wildly successful in the Austrian capital and his friend-partner (and Colbran's former lover) Domenico Barbaja was the impresario at the Theater am Kärntnertor.  It might be added that Barbaja seemed to be the impresario and casino operator at half the opera houses in Europe at that point.  Rossini conducted La Cenerentola and Zelmira there and Colbran sang the title role in the later.

In celebration of this rather tenuous connection with Austria - at one point a Festival publication tries to, without much success, link Mozart and Rossini - the De Ponte Institute has set up an exhibition:  Rossini-mania Wien 1822.  Publicized widely in the Festival programmes and prospectus it was still difficult to find - a small sign pointed to the Festival Administrative Building but once inside there was nothing to indicate that it was buried in the basement.

Consisting mostly of prints and scores it covered more than the Swan of Pesaro's period in Vienna.  His years in Naples, the visit to London and the last years in Paris were well represented in the numerous prints, playbills and fashion plates on display.  Many were familiar from publications and website devoted to Rossini but just as many were new - to me at least - and portrayed the singers, musicians, dancers and vips who performed, befriended, celebrated and feted the composer during his life time.

A general view of Vienna - 1819 by Jacob Alt.  Some of the landmarks are still visible today, others have been blocked by the urban sprawl of the late 19th and 20th centuries. It was only one of the fascinating cityscapes on display at the Rossini-mania Wien 1822.
Perhaps most interesting were the representations of Vienna, London and Paris in those early years of the 19th century.  Many landmarks were recognizable but as with all cities what had once been forest or parklands has long since been filled in by urban sprawl - even if it is late 19th - early 20th century urban sprawl.

One of the more intriguing lithographs on display indicates the orchestra seating at the Kärntnertor-Theater in 1821.  By today's standards it seems odd that the conductor is situated right at the stage rather than between the hall and the orchestra.  There are 26 seats, most of which would have been given over to violins and oddly there does not seem to be any space provided for a harpsichord or cembelo. Given that Rossini was wont to conduct from that instrument it is likely the arrangement was changed when he conducted his works there.

It was a fascinating exhibition but sadly so poorly advertised that there were very few people there.  It was almost representative of what seemed a slightly under-planed Festival.  However more about that later.

The entrance to the Haus für Mozart and Felsenreitschule features a colourful mural highlighting the first performance of Hugo von Hofmannsthal's Jedermann at the Festival on 22 August 1920. The architect and stage designer Clemens Holzmeister is seen at the left holding plans for what was to become the first Festspeilhaus. 
After a nice lunch at the Goldener Hirsch Laurent and I headed over to the Festspeilhaus for a tour.  In all the years we have been going to the Festival we've never been through the houses that make up the complex set against and deep inside the Mönchsberg. Unfortunately the Grosses Festspeilhaus was closed for rehearsals for the next day's concerts but we still went through the Haus für Mozart and - my own favourite venue - the Felsenreitschule.  That included a visit backstage to see the workings of Paolo Fantin's sets for Cenerentola - though thankfully the labyrinth of chairs that cluttered Don Magnifico's Buffet were absent.

Don Magnifico's Buffet minus the chairs that were moved, piled on tables, thrown, upended and occasionally - just occasionally - used to sit on.  We also saw the multitude of cables that bore it heaven word when the scene changed to ...
.... Prince Ramiro's party at the Palace Disco.  Do they still actually do the frug - except in operatic productions where they are trying to show decadence and high living?

At Don Magnifico's they serve up all manner of appetizing - from a distance - goodies. 
I must say that even up close a good deal of it looks very realistic.
But the real surprise came at the Felsenreitschule (Rock Riding School).  The great arched boxes  carved into the sides of the old stone quarry in 1693 have been hidden by a set being built for Charlotte Salomon - a modern opera being presented at this year's summer festival.  Only the side boxes were clearly visible;  I mentioned what a shame it was and several people, including the guide, agreed. 

Only the side boxes of the Felsenreitschule were the only portion of this wonderful space that clearly visible - the stage itself was taken up with a unit set for a production for the summer festival.

The stage of the Felsenreitschule was a mass of suspended flats, unfinished lumber and carpenters tools.  The sets for the upcoming opera were being constructed in place.
But  more surprising than the decision to hide this architectural marvel, was the revalation that the entire front section of seating had disappeared.  Or at least appeared to have.  The sloped floor and seats are on hydraulic arms that are cantilevered and can swing the seating units up out of the way to allow equipment to be brought in.  It also serves as a scenery dock and storage area.

The first nine rows of the centre sections of seats in the Felsenreitschule are on hydraulic arms.  This allows them to be lifted out of the way.  The day we visited the area served as storage space for the chairs that would be used at the gala dinner on Sunday evening in the Karl-Böhm-Saal.

The Karl-Böhm-Saal serves as the refreshment hall for both the Haus für Mozart and the Felsenreitschule.  Originally created to serve as the winter riding school by Prince-Archbishop Guidobald Graf von Thun it was the scene of tournaments and military training in the 17th century.  This year it was also the site of a gala dinner prepared by Elena Arzak, one of Europe's more noted chefs.  Needless to say that as it was being held in honour of Rossini the famous Tournedos of that name were on the menu.

The beautiful Karl-Böhm-Saal serves as the intermission foyer and crush bar for the Haus für Mozart
and the Felsenreitschule.  It was built in 1662 as the winter riding school and restored by Clemens
Holzmeister and again with the major renovations of 1960/70.

The balcony and staircases were added by Holzmeister in the style of the original period when further work was done in 1999.
The Karl-Böhm-Saal serves as the refreshment hall for both the Haus für Mozart and the Felsenreitschule.  Originally created to serve as the winter riding school by Prince-Archbishop Guidobald Graf von Thun it was the scene of tournaments and military training in the 17th century.  This year it was also the site of a gala dinner prepared by Elena Arzak, one of Europe's more noted chefs.  Needless to say that as it was being held in honour of Rossini the famous Tournedos of that name were on the menu.

The fire firescreen fronting the great fireplace built into the rock of the Mönchsberg was also created by Holzmeister to symbolize the history of the room - ecclesiastical, military and artistic.
The Festival venues are used primarily during the Easter, Whitsun and Summer Festivals and lay largely empty during the rest of the year.  He made a point of mentioning that it was the Festival that gave the city much of its status and, its very apparent, wealth.

A few facts the guide revealed concerning the Festival made us very aware of its importance to the city of Salzburg:

  • The Festival employees 226 people year round but that figure jumps to over 6000 during the summer months.  
  • The budget is around 60 million euros with ticket revenue covering about of third of that amount.  
  • Its been estimated that the Festival brings in tax revenues equal to three times what it receives in public subsidies.  
  • In 2011 it was estimated that the Festival generated some 276 million euros in business revenues for the district.  

The afternoon was capped off by finding a table on the loge of Café Tomaselli overlooking the Alter Markt and choosing from their extensive eis menu.

A view from the loge at Tomaselli and a choice between an eis-caffe and a mocha frappe - what more could a gnome of vacation ask for?

Music, drama, history, a great setting and good (and fattening) food - that's why they call it vacation.  Right?

June 14 - 1789: Whiskey distilled from maize is first produced by American clergyman the Rev Elijah Craig. It is named Bourbon because Rev Craig lived in Bourbon County, Kentucky.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Salzubrger Zeitung 2014 - #1


So we've settled in to the Hotel Wolf-Dietrich and already made a visit to the Cafe Bazaar for lunch, a trip to Schubert to stock up on shirts (for some unknown reason the neck size on my older dress shirts has shrunk!) and sample the wares at Enoteca Settemila very pleasant little wine bar on the much rejuvenated Bergstrasse.  After the rather filling fare at Bazaar we had decided that a lighter meal would be in order for the evening and owner Rafalel suggested a few local wines that would go with the Tuscan meats, cheeses and bruschetta that his partner (business and life) Nina had prepared.  Food, wine and conversation flowed and we solved not a few world problems before heading back for a good night's sleep.

Juan discovers that there is more to Salzburg than Mozart and Music - there's Sweets and Shopping!

The Festspeile begins in earnest today as did sightseeing (yes I know we've been here countless times but there is always something new to see) and some serious shopping.  On returning from lunch I received an e-mail from the good people at the Box Office advising that due to illness  Elina Garanča, Krassimira Stoyanova and Piotr Beczala had all cancelled their appearances for Sunday's Stabat Mater.  However Sonia Ganassi, Maria Agresta and Lawrence Brownlee had all agreed to step in.  That's not bad "step-ins" as step-ins go!

La Ceci to Joelle,Laurent and Willym:  All together now - I'm forever blowing bubbles!

Tonight its my favourite Rossini opera La Cenerentola with our Cecilia, Javier Camarena and Nicola Alaimo.  So its time to tidy up, put on that Tiroler pink tie that I don't have the nerve to wear anyplace else and head to the Haus für Mozart.

June 5 - 1956: Elvis Presley introduces his new single, "Hound Dog", on The Milton Berle Show, scandalizing the audience with his suggestive hip movements.

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Monday, June 02, 2014

Lunedi Lunacy

The Germans Play Monopoly

For more existential wit and wisdom go to:

June 2 - 1835: P. T. Barnum and his circus start their first tour of the United States.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Our New Travel Buddy

I mentioned yesterday that we had a friend of long standing travelling with us for this trip to Germany and Austria.  However I neglected to mention that we have another new travel buddy with us for this jaunt.  In the past two years on all our trips - together and independently - we've been joined by Sidd (see Travels with Sidd) .  Some of you may remember that Sidd found a long lost cousin in Stockholm as well as a Santa in pink at Pink in London, had dinner with famous opera singers and braved the turbulent high seas on our last cruise.  Well currently Sidd is off challenging the altitude in Mexico City so another of Lara's Travelling Gnome clan is joining us on this trip.

I'd like to introduce you to Juan:

Juan thought he'd read up on the two countries he'd be visiting - he didn't realize that Simon Winder's books would be so heavy!  Why together they must weigh at least 3 lbs - that's a lot of book for a gnome to plow through!
Juan is relatively new to travel - he's first trip, with one of the gang from work, was to Cuba which is where he got his name.  Apparently one of his favourite Bacardi cocktails was shaken up by a one-armed bartender called Juan who worked in the hotel in Havana.  On that first trip he mixed work and pleasure - Juan the gnome not Juan the bartender - but this time around its all pleasure.  And he thought is was real nice of Vicki to include "the gnome" in her bon voyage card.

You may notice that Juan is a bird lover and he'll find lots of birds to feed in the Mirabel Gardens and other parks in Salzburg.  Though of course if he wants birds to feed we'll have to take him to Piazza San Marco in Venice -  well maybe next time.

Welcome aboard Juan - hopefully we'll have some laughs, some wine,  some great food and a few adventures along the way.

June 1 - 1495: Friar John Cor records the first known batch of Scotch whisky.