PSO fills halls in Madrid, Vienna

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One of the busiest concert halls in the world has to be Madrid's L'Auditorio Nacional, booked daily with a steady stream of orchestras and recitalists. On both evenings the Pittsburgh Symphony performed there, we were greeted by the sound of another orchestra completing its own concert.

And there was no lack of audience, either. The hall was filled for both performances even though the concerts began at 10:35 p.m. and didn't finish until after midnight.

The first program in Madrid included Steven Stucky's "Silent Spring," the Sibelius Violin Concerto with soloist Nikolaj Znaider and the Dvorak Symphony "From the New World." The capacity audience was warmly enthusiastic and received encores by Mr. Znaider and the orchestra.

The next night's concert program was Mahler's Second Symphony, performed previously in Barcelona. Another late-night concert garnered curtain calls and bravos.

At breakfast on Sunday, the musicians discussed sleep strategies and the effect of late concerts on jet lag. Since European daylight saving time went into effect on Oct. 27, none of us knew what day or time it really was. All we knew was that we needed to take our luggage down to the lobby soon and that we would get on a plane to Austria.

After a long day of travel, we arrived at the hotel in Vienna, and many of us went directly to our rooms for a nap. We woke in the evening to a snowstorm. Orchestra fashion went directly from light jackets to puffy coats, scarves and boots.

Clothing is not the only weather adjustment an orchestra makes. Stringed instruments react to drier air and require humidifiers in their cases to restore moisture to the wooden plates. Oboes, English horns and bassoons especially require changes to their reeds. Our players reported many hours spent in the hotel room with their razor-sharp reed knives, scraping off tiny bits of cane here and there to achieve the right sound.

All the PSO concerts in Vienna are at the famous Musikverein. An acoustic and decorative marvel, it was built in 1870 and is rich with musical history. Brahms conducted here, and well-waxed pock marks in the stage risers speak of generations of cellists and bassists who have anchored their instruments here.

Before the PSO's rehearsal on Monday, the Musikverein's general director welcomed the orchestra, telling us that all four performances were selling out. Thomas Angyan also said that Austrian President Heinz Fischer would attend our concert that evening.

Mr. Stucky's "Silent Spring" began the concert, and was well-received; the composer stood to acknowledge the warm applause from his seat on the main floor of the auditorium. Second on the program was the Gershwin Piano Concerto in F, performed by Austrian Rudolf Buchbinder, who smiled throughout his performance and seemed thoroughly to enjoy himself. By its applause it appeared the audience did, too.

After intermission, the PSO played the Dvorak "New World" symphony, and rewarded the extended enthusiastic ovation with two encores: a Dvorak Slavonic Dance and the intermezzo from Bizet's First Suite from "Carmen."

The Austrian president did attend. He was described to us as "distinguished, wearing a red tie," but we spotted several such men!

In the hotel afterward, we met concertgoers who were still talking excitedly about the evening. Then into the elevator for the ride upstairs and to bed. Our elevator music tonight: Brahms' Third Symphony. We are definitely in Vienna!


Stephanie Tretick is a Pittsburgh Symphony violist and frequent contributor to the Post-Gazette on its tours.


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