Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Just a quick note to let everyone know that the official Mozart Prague 2006 site has a page up dedicated to the Gala concert last Friday, with some pretty nice pics. (Unfortunately, I didn't make it into any of them):
Apparently, the Gala concert was part of a "24 hours Mozart" program, which was broadcast internationally and also included the festivities in Vienna and Salzburg, as well as the Berlin Philharmonic concert that happened here on Friday night. You can find the complete line up here:

Still working on getting the rest of my pics up online - there are literally hundreds! Look for a link later this week.

For all those NYers who didn't make it over to Europe last week, there are lots of local Mozart happenings over the next two weeks. The Met's final performance this season of Die Zauberflote is this Friday, and the Philharmonic is performing the Piano Concertos 17 and 20 this week, and the final three symphiones next week. You can expect to find me at some or all those events.

Thanks for all the wonderful comments everyone's had on my efforts here. Hope it doesn't sound too cheesy, but it was truly a labor of love.


Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Some final thoughts now that I'm back in New York:

Well, all good things most come to an end, and even though I had one of the most amazing experiences of my life these past ten days, it's good to be home. (It's certainly a lot warmer back here!)

There are so many memories from this trip they're all crashing together now, and I'm so glad that I could share some of them with all of you. If you haven't been to any of these cities yourself - by all means, go! (Though you might want to wait till May or June.)

I'll try to find a way to post some more pictures online, at which point I'll be sure to post the link on this blog. Hope you've all enjoyed what you've seen so far. Until my Next Trip,

P.S. In case you didn't see it, the Times' Anne Midgette wrote a piece in Sunday's paper about all the Mozart celebrations abroad. You can read it here: She was a bit off in some of her details, but a nice article in general.

And, if you want to check out what was happening in Salzburg during the same time I was hopping around the rest of Central Europe, you can check out Times critic James Oestreich's blog here: (I had considered stopping in Salzburg on my way from Munich to Vienna, but hey, you can't do it all.)

Monday, January 30, 2006

Guten Tag from Dresden!

Well, I´ll be on my way in about an hour, but that should be enough time for one last post. This is my second visit to Dresden: it was also the last stop on the trip Christine and I took four years ago, and I'm pleased to say that everything is exactly as I remembered it - which is to say, extremely beautiful. For those who don't know, Dresden was subjected to an Allied firebombing on Feb. 13, 1945, killing tens of thousands of people and destroying most historic sturctures.

After WWII, Dresden became part of East Germany, and the communists replaced most of the original buildings with cold, functional dwellings. They did rebuild several of the most notable structures, including the Zwinger Palace (above) and the Semperoper (right).

But one building that was conspicuously absent was the Frauenkirche - or Church of Our Lady - generally regarded as the finest Protestant church in all of Europe. When Christine and I were here, they had started to rebuild it, using most of the original stone. Last October, the reconstruction was finally completed, in time for Dresden's 800th Birthday celebrations this year. (The New York Philharmonic performed there last fall in a concert of re-dedication and peace.)

I I attended the high mass at 11am, and the experience is one I will never forget: an ensemble performed a Bach Sacred Cantata, and the organist played one of hie Fugues (Bach himself improvised on the organ of the original Frauenkirche on several occasions.) I think the pictures speak for themselves.

Mozart visited Dresden on several occasions, including one visit in 1789, shortly after on of his trips to Prague. He was well regarded by the Saxon court and local society, and performed several benefit concerts. (He also may have had an affair with one of his leading sopranos, Josepha Duschek, who happened to be in Dresden at the same time.) This year, it is the center of Germany's Mozart birthday celebrations, including performances of several of his operas at the historic Semperoper, which saw the premieres of many operas by Richard Wagner and Richard Strauss. After the bombing, the house was rebuilt in meticulous detail, right down to the extraordinary marble gallery on the second level.

I attended a performance of Cosi fan Tutte, which was easily as fine a performance as the other two Da Ponte operas I saw in Vienna. Unfortunately, the supertitles and program were both in German, so I just sat back and enjoyed the music from my seat in the second balcony. The orchestra - the world-famous Dresden Staatskapelle - played with power and precision under young conductor Rainer Muhlbach.
Well, it's time for me to go. There are plenty more pictures and mementos for me to share with everyone when I get back, but I'm afraid the memories will have to remain all mine.

Auf wiedersehen!

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Dobre Jitno one last time from Prague!

I think I've nearly run out of superlatives at this point, so I'll just let the pictures speak for themselves. First stop yesterday was Villa Bertramka, where Mozart stayed during his visits to Prague. The house is now a museum, full of memorabilia associated with his visits, including theater bills from the operas and two fortepianos he played on. There was a TV crew there filming the exhibits for the local news.

There's a bust of Mozart in the garden out back, where they have concerts during the summer. The sun was just coming up over the ridge when I got there.

I spent the afternoon in Stare Mesto (Old Town), visiting the Old Town Square like every other tourist that comes to Prague. I went up the tower of the Old Town Hall (built in the late 1300's), and got a couple of great pictures over the rooftops.

I had time for a late pizza and a walk around some of the quieter cobblestone streets, and with the sun setting behind the spires, it was one of the most beautiful sights. I've ever experienced. (Though it'll have to be just a memory since my camera batteries ran out of juice.)

I had just enought time to run back to the hotel and change into my evening clothes before hopping the metro back to Old Town for the gala concert at the Estates Theater. The theater is small and shaped like an elongated horeshoe. (It's served as the stand-in for the Vienna Opera House in Milos Forman's Amadeus) My seat was in the first row of the top balcony, which was still closer than most loge seats in U.S. houses. There was a TV camera hanging from a crane in the box closest to the stage, broadcasting the concert on national Czech television.

The concert program was all works associated with Mozart's stays in Prague: the overture to Don Giovanni, the Clarinet Concerto, which had it's premiere here, and the Symphony No. 39 in D Major - otherwise known as the "Prague" Symphony. The soloist in the Clarinet Concerto was a superb young Israeli named Sharon Kam. Manfred Honeck conducted the Czech Philharmonic again, and while the acoustics lacked the radiance of the Rudolfinum, the performance was magnificent.

The concert was performed without an intermission, and the whole thing lasted little more than an hour. Suffice to say, I felt a bit cheated after all I've seen here and in Vienna. But, as I left the balcony and descended the stairs, I saw that food trays filled with hors d'ouvres had been laid out, and there were open bars on three floors serving beer, wine, and Bohemian Pils, the Czech sparkling wine. I grabbed a plate and a glass of wine, and found myself overlooking the central lounge when a local TV celebrity made a series of announcements. With her were various board members of both the Czech Philharmonic and the National Theater, which runs the Estates Theater.

One of them announced that there was a cake made of marzipan and dried fruit, and asked Ms. Kam to cut the first slice. When I got up close, I saw that it was in the shape of a piano. Suddenly, I realized: I was at Mozart's 250th birthday party! I was overwhelmed: the Czech are nothing if not generous.

I stayed for nearly two hours, long enough to get to meet both Maestro Honeck and Ms. Kam, who were gracious enough to sign my program. (For those of you who've been to my apartment, you'll know that it'll eventually be up on the wall.) I also met a univeristy student who chatted with me about Czech hockey and how noone likes Vaclav Klaus, who succeeded Vaclav Havel in 2002 as President. I told him it was just like how noone likes George Bush in New York and most other U.S. cities, which he thought was funny.

I sat in the second tier for a good twenty minutes, in the box directly next to the one where the Czech Kings once sat (the Czech Lion was above the box), soaking in the atmosphere and history of the house. It is the only theater in Europe that has been preserved in it's original 18th century state, and is exactly the way Mozart saw it when he conducted there. One of those moments when you need to pinch yourself just to make sure you're not dreaming the whole thing.

Time to move on now. I'm sad to leave Prague, but it's been such a full time here, I'm not at all disappointed. Next post will be from Dresden, which means switching back to German and getting rid of the rest of my Crowns before I leave.


Friday, January 27, 2006

Dobre Jitrro!

And, Happy 250th Birthday, Mozart! Here are some pics from Vienna - enjoy! (Sorry about the vertical shots, but I don't know the word for "rotate clockwise" in Czech.)

The Figaro House, where Mozart wrote The Marriage of Figaro, among other works:

The Mozart Monument in Vienna, outside the Hofburg:

And, from here in Prague, the Estates Theater, where Mozart conducted the premiere of Don Giovanni (and the location of tonight's gala concert with the Czech Philharmonic)
Off to Villa Bertramka now, where Mozart stayed during each of his visits here. Finally, a nice day - hope to share those pics with you tomorrow.



Thursday, January 26, 2006

Dobry Den da Praha!

It's Thursday morning here, cloudy and not quite as cold as it's been: only -10 Celsius. Hey, everything's relative, right?

Prague is an extraordinarily beautiful place, the only major European city with most of it's major bulidings still intact after WWII. I took this picture early yesterday morning, just before the clouds became really thick. Thanks to the swan for the obligatory pose...

I arrived here Tuesday night, after stopping off in Brno to visit the city where Leos Janacek lived and worked most of his life. For those not familiar with Janacek, the man had a pretty colorful life. He married his first wife when he was in his 20s and she was 15. He was born in the mid 1800's, but didn't really hit his stride as a composer until he was in his 60's, when he carried on a passionate (yet platonic) affair with a woman in her 20's. He's probably best known for the Sinfonietta, the Glatolitic Mass, and his operas Jenufa, The Cunning Little Vixen, and Katya Kabanova. I only had a couple of hours in Brno, but that was enough to walk up to the Organ School where he taught composition, and the little house they built for him in the back, which is exactly as he left it.

Yesterday was spent visiting the main historical sights: the Charles Bridge, the Prague Castle, St. Vitus Cathedral, and the Church of St. Nicholas in Old Town, where Mozart improvised on the organ in 1787, and where the Reqiuem was performed a week after his death in 1791, which filled not only the church but the huge square outside.

Mozart loved Prague - he once exclaimed "Prague understands me!" - and visited here on several occasions. The Marriage of Figaro, which closed after only nine performances in Vienna, was a huge success here, to the point where the city was said to have gone "Figaro-mad" in late 1786. Mozart arrived in January 1787 to see for himself, and after about a week, he decided to make a few extra bucks by writing and conducting what became known as the "Prague" Symphony. (According to one account, he performed his own encore, improvising at the piano for the better part of an hour.) By the time he left a week later, he had a commission in hand to write a new opera for the Czech National Theater.

That opera turned out to be Don Giovanni, for which he returned to conduct the premiere in October, 1787. (Apparently, he wasn't quite done when he got here: he ended up writing the entire overture the night before the first performance, handing pages to the copyists as soon as he finished them.) It, too, became a huge success here, much more so than when it was premiered the following year in Vienna.

He made one more visit during the last year of his life, when he premiered the Clarinet Concerto and his opera, La clemenza di Tito, written for the installation of Emperor Leopold II. After the premiere, he fell sick with what would become his final illness. After his death, performances of his operas and symphonies continued to be performed in Prague to sellout crowds, and cemented his reputation throughout Europe.

This deep affection for Mozart has persisted to the present day, to the degree that the entire city is now engaged in a "Mozart Praha 2006" festival. I attended the first of two Mozart performances I'll be attending here last night: a concert by the Czech Philharmomic in the Rudolfinum of the "Jupiter" Symphony and the Requiem. I paid the equivalent of $25 for a seat in the 8th row of the orchestra, and was repaid with one of the most extraordinary musical experiences of my life.

The conductor, Austrian Manfred Honeck, decided to arrange a full-scale memorial to Mozart, interspersing the Requiem with Gregorian Chant, readings from Revelations, and Mozart's own Masonic Funeral Music, Laudate Dominum, and Ave Verum Corpus. Honeck ended the Requiem abruptly, at the precise moment Mozart left it unfinished, eight bars into the Lacrimosa. The effect was stunning, and the audience showed their appreciation with a unanimous standing ovation (see below).

Honeck will return with the Philharmonic on Friday, to play a special concert at the historic Estates Theater, where Mozart conducted the premiere of Don Giovanni in 1787. The concert is completely sold out, but I have a ticket in the top balcony, which I bough online several months ago. It's sure to be the event of the season here, or anywhere.

I'm off now to visit the home of the greatest of all Czech composers, Antonin Dvorak, who is buried in a cemetery not far from here. I'll be attending his opera Rusalka at the baroque Prague State Opera tonight, sitting in a box seat for about $30. That's almost cheaper than standing room at the Met!

I'll try to check in again before I leave on Saturday. For now, Na Sheldanou!


P.S. Thanks for all the comments. Interesting thoughts fron Mr. Dy-no-mite - perhaps you should submit your thesis to the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde and see what they have to say about it. And, for all you yinzers, they do wear Stiller jerseys at gamewatch bars in Vienna. Glad I'll be back in the States for the Big Game, though.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Guten Tag aus Wien!

In case you haven´t heard, it's been between -17 and -19 degrees Celsius here. Not sure what that works out to Fahrenheit, but it's prettzy damned cold. And, it's supposed to stay like this for the next several days. Oh well, guess you take your chances travelling in January...

Good thing there was plenty to do indoors here in Vienna. For anyone that's been here, they'll know that's a Major understatement. Vienna was the seat of the Holy Roman Empire for over 600 years, and the Kaisers spared no expense on making this city a great world capital.

It thus became a magnet for artists of all stripes, but most of all musicians. A list of the composers who lived and worked here reads like a who's who of classical music: Brahms, Beethoven, Bruckner, Gluck, Haydn, Schubert, Mahler, Strauss, Vivaldi, Wolf. And, of course, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Mozart arrived in 1781 for what was supposed to be a brief stay, and ended up remaining here for the rest of his life. It turned out to be perhaps the most productive decade any artist has had in recorded history. Mozart composed over 300 works here, including symphonies, concerti, chamber music of every stripe - and, most famously, the operas The Abduction from the Seraglio, Le Nozze di Figaro, Don Giovanni, Cosi fan Tutte, Die Zauberflöte, and La Clemenza di Tito.

Vienna is also, of course, where Mozart died, while composing his final work: the Requiem. He is buried in an unmarked grave in St. Mark's Cemetery, about two miles south of the center city (known here as the Ring). I didn't make it down there because of the cold, but I did light a candle for him in the Michaelerkirche, where the Reqiuem was first performed in a memorial service five days after Mozart's death.

I also visited his house on Domgasse, known as the Figarohaus because he composed Figaro there. It was closed for renovations, but is re-opening to the public this Friday - the 250th anniversary of his birth - as the Mozarthaus Vienna: a comprehensive museum devoted to the life and work of Mozart. Guess I'll have to go there during my next visit.

But the best memorial of all could be found in the evenings at the world-famous Vienna State Opera, which is devoting this entire week to performances of Mozart's operas. Everything is completely sold out, but I was still able to get standing room tickets for both Don Giovanni on Sunday and Le Nozze di Figaro last night. After being used paying $20 to stand in the back of the Met, far under the balcony, the Staatsoper is an uncommon treat: ionly 3.50 Euro to stand dead center in the back of the Parterre, with no overhang.

The orchestra musicians also play in the Vienna Philharmonic, and the soloists are commonly among the best in the world. Giovanni offered two of the greatest British singers today, Simon Keenlyside as the Don and Ian Bostridge as Ottavio, while Figaro had Bo Skovhus as Almaviva and the extraordinary John Relyea as Figaro, in his Vienna debut.

Of course, Vienna has much more to offer than just Mozart, but with my limited time I decided to concentrate on things I hadn't seen during my last visit, including Sunday mass at St. Stephen's Cathedral, Schubert's birth house, the Schatzkammer (which holds the crown jewels of the Holy Roman Empire), and the recently restored Albertina, which currently has an extraordinary exhibition of drawings by Egon Schiele.

I'm off to catch a train. Next post will be from Prague.

P.S. Corrections from my last post: Mozart only composed one opera in Munich, and it was spelled Idomeneo.