Tuesday, January 25, 2011
Thursday, January 20, 2011
Sunday, January 16, 2011
My time in Berlin was coming to an end, but before returning to the US, I had one more day of new sites ahead of me. At the suggestion of Symphonic Choir Board of Directors President Peter Fellegy, and with the help of Kathleen Custer at the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, I had been invited to meet Krzysztof Urbanski, ISO Music Director Designate, in Bamberg, Germany today. Maestro Urbanski is conducting the Bamberg Symphony concerts this weekend, so he had traveled there from his current home city of Warsaw.
Leaving Berlin shortly before 8 am, I took the ICE train for a four hour ride south and a bit east, arriving in the small city of Bamberg around noon. Stowing my bags in the lockers at the station, I hailed a cab, and arrived at the concert hall during the musicians’ break. As I got situated in the concert hall, I had a chance to meet the principal viola player for the orchestra, an American woman from Spokane. A graduate of Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, she moved to Vienna and has been in Europe for over 20 years, playing in several fine orchestras. We talked about Krzysztof, and she reported that the orchestra had been very impressed with his work.
Rehearsal began, the Lutoslawski Cello Concerto, an aggressive and modern work. It was great to hear the soloist, Clemens Hagen, and the orchestra pull the piece together from what may have been their first reading. I enjoyed watching Krzysztof work very much. Clearly in command of this challenging material, his rehearsal style was direct and effective, moving quickly and always serving as a sensitive accompanist to the soloist.
One favorite moment: the work begins, after an extended cello cadenza, with jolts of very fast, short, sharply repeated notes from different brass instruments, one after the other. They began, trombone played its notes, then it was the trumpet’s turn—“tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat”. Without dropping a beat, Krzysztof called out “it’s just FIVE notes please.” Giggles and smiles all around.
At rehearsal’s end, I re-introduced myself (we had met at the ISO’s public announcement of Kryzsztof’s appointment last fall) and we headed to lunch. Neither one of us knew exactly where to go, but with a little luck, and the help of a friendly cab driver, we ended up in a cozy restaurant in the heart of the “old city.” Our tasty lunch…beef for him and “Schnitzel im Bamberger Art” for me, accompanied by beer of course…was delicious, and a perfect way for us to become acquainted.
We had great conversation, talking about favorite pieces and composers (he’s a champion of Polish composers, naturally), our various paths to music (he didn’t attend music school until age 12, very late in the European system), musical backgrounds, etc. One thing I am always curious to know is how conductors study their scores…such an individual thing, and since that task is a never-ending one, I’m always looking for helpful hints. Krzysztof works from a piano to learn his scores, doesn’t listen to recordings until after he’s made his own interpretive decisions, and marks his own parts with articulations and bowings (his wife, Joanna, helps him with that for now, but I have a feeling he’ll be hiring a scribe/copyist soon, in order to keep up with his fast burgeoning career).
He was eager to hear about the Symphonic Choir, so we talked about our typical seasons (8-10 different productions annually, about half of those with the Orchestra), number of singers (roster of 140-160 typically, all volunteer) and our board. Among the things that make me most proud of the ISC is the enthusiasm and flexibility our singers show. Though I rehearse the singers to within an inch of their lives, they are always willing to try it a different way when an orchestra conductor requests it. So I tried to give him a little sense of what to look forward to as we work together in the coming seasons.
Maestro Urbanski is young…just 28 years old. However he has an impressive resume of experience and work already, conducting in Houston, Chicago and Indy, and in numerous cities around the world. One-on-one, he is naturally at ease, quick to laugh, and very gracious. I felt lucky to spend such quality time with him, and know that my singers, and the musical community in Indy, will become his fans and supporters in short order.
2 HEADING HOME, AND WHAT'S NEXT FOR THE BLOG
After lunch, another train ride, this time back to Frankfurt, then flight home next morning.
As I reflect upon the last ten days, I'm left with two "big ideas."
1) I am very lucky. To get to travel, to see and experience places, people and culture, to get to study and play music like this...I am humbly grateful for these opportunities.
And, 2) In this trip, I have encountered the extremes of humanity...from the glorious miracle of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach to the unthinkable nightmare of the holocaust. Though separated by 200 years, I realize the juxtaposition of these events underscores the timeless universality of the MASS IN B MINOR. Its closing moments contain a message that is both fervent plea and hopeful assurance: Dona nobis pacem.
Somehow, Bach knew we'd need to hear that in 2011.
2 NEXT UP ON THE BLOG
As promised some posts ago, I'll continue putting up information I find interesting or enlightening pertaining to the MASS IN B MINOR as I prepare for our April performances. Stuff I'm reading, stuff we're working on in rehearsal, stuff my students uncover, interviews with our performers, that sort of thing.
But next time I thought I'd answer a question some of our singers and choir fans have been asking me, namely what recording do I recommend for those wanting to get better acquainted with this magnificent work? I think I own close to a dozen different recordings, and there are way more than that out there. Everything from huge orchestras and monstrous choirs to chamber ensembles and one singer per part. We'll think about the differences between one approach or the other, and hopefully point you toward something you might enjoy.
Till then, thanks again for reading, commenting, sharing with friends.
Saturday, January 15, 2011
1 HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL AND MUSEUM
Wishing to make a further dent in our list, we started our day early, taking the U-bahn and arriving at the downtown Holocaust Memorial before 10 am (well, early by “Vacation Standard Time” I guess). Installed in 2005, the memorial is a composite of over 2,000 rectangular stone monoliths, arranged in neat rows upon an undulating plaza. The stones have no carving or plaques, nor are there any signs to speak of. Instead, the memorial is blankly quiet, as if to invite the visitor’s inquiry and personal reflection.
I had all kinds of images in mind as I walked through the memorial…the lines of barracks buildings I’ve seen in concentration camp photos, columns of headstones in a cemetary, and of course the many victims whose names are yet unknown to us.
Also part of the Memorial is an underground museum, beneath the field of stones. In a striking moment of architectural inspiration, the
museum ceiling is cast as an echo of the above ground stone topography, as if the monoliths above had been pushed up from the space below. The iconic visual device helps keep those whom we honor close to mind.
In addition to presenting some of the facts of the holocaust, the museum helps its visitors understand the tragedy at a personal level, by dedicating two large rooms to historical pictures of families, reproductions of letters, telegrams and deportation orders and information about their fates, if known. Though the facts are devastating to contemplate, we found these presentations did their work in a manner that was effective and honorable.
Across the street from the memorial is large city park, Tiergarten (“Animal Garden,” since the city zoo is contained in it). Among the many monuments it contains are the Goethe Monument and a new Memorial to Homosexual Victims of the Holocaust. The plaque next to it reads, in part: For many years, the homosexual victims of National Socialism were not included in public commemorations—neither in the Federal Republic of Germany nor in the German Democratic Republic….With this memorial, the Federal Republic of Germany intends to honor the victims of persecution and murder, to keep alive the memory of this injustice, and to create a lasting symbol of opposition to enmity, intolerance and the exclusion of gay men and lesbians. The starkly plain construction of this Memorial recalls the design of the Holocaust Memorial just across the street. Through the small opening in the side, one views a looped video image of two men embracing, recorded at the actual site in the park where the monument stands.
Our next goal was the Pergamon Museum, located on a sliver of island in the River Spree. Walking through the Brandeburg Gate and down the grand promenade, we passed the US Embassy, the Opera House and a very glitzy Mercedes dealership!
The “Museum Island” contains Berlin’s largest collections of fine art, in several classical buildings. Adjacent is the Berlin Cathedral.
The Pergamon Museum houses two significant archeological finds from Turkey: the Pergamon Altar (a nearly 400' long frieze) and the Market Gate of Miletus. The enormity of these two installations is breathtaking.
Also located in the Pergamon is the Ishtar Gate, from the wall that ringed the ancient city of Babylon. Excavated in the 1930's, the gate is 47' high and 100' feet wide. Jon and I liked the shiny animal reliefs installed among the bright blue bricks.
As we approached the checkpoint, we had a chance to view numerous signs along the sidewalk, complete with actual historical pictures. These panels told the story of the wall, from its installation in
Following a double row of bricks embedded in the pavement to trace the wall’s former course,
we made our way to the “Topographie des Terrors,” a museum at the site of the former Nazi police headquarters. There, a section of the wall has been left standing.
Displayed inside the museum are photographs and historical documents preserving the history of the SA and SS, and the inhuman treatment of so many. The excellent presentation, though profoundly sobering in its content, was well organized and rich.
A short walk to Potsdammer Platz brought us to a large, upscale shopping center. Viewing the soaring glass atriums, escalators and department stores, it was difficult to imagine the transformation that has occurred in the last (barely) 20 years.
After a tasty stop at a café for a mid-afternoon meal, we found a great ice cream stand, selling various Italian style gelato flavors. I had a mix of chocolate with tiramisu (complete with actual lady fingers mixed in with the ice cream) and Jon bravely sampled the chili-pepper flavored chocolate…as spicy as any Thai dish we’ve had in a while!