FRANKFURT, Germany -- It's early morning in Germany and the hotel's Wi-Fi service is getting progressively weaker as Pittsburgh Symphony musicians check their email. PSO members are getting packed for Stuttgart, our next stop on tour.
The orchestra's day off in Paris had a practical purpose, allowing instruments (well over 100 trunks) to be trucked to our first venue in Germany, the musicians following the next day by fast train. The last four concerts on the tour, in Cologne, Frankfurt, Stuttgart and Luxembourg, are less than 200 miles apart, so the orchestra was able to make their final appearances on successive nights.
The first of these concerts was Wednesday night in Cologne, home of the marvelous cathedral whose spires and flying buttresses have inspired literature, art and music. Robert Schumann painted a vivid musical picture of the building coming majestically into view in his "Rhenish" Symphony. The Philharmonie, where the PSO performed, is just around the corner from the great church, and at concerts a recording of the brass chorale from Schumann's work is played to call listeners to their seats.
The program (virtually the same in all final tour appearances) began with Steven Stucky's "Silent Spring," followed by violinist Nikolaj Znaider's well-received performance of the Sibelius Concerto. The concert finished with the Dvorak "From the New World" Symphony, and three encores for the appreciative audience.
The last encore, Khachaturian's "Galop" from "Masquerade," is a wacky piece full of seemingly wrong notes and lumpy rhythms. Its clarinet cadenza gives the orchestra a chance to wink at the audience. Clarinetists Michael Rusinek and Ron Samuels spend tour time discovering tunes associated with the cities we visit and inserting them into this cadenza along with quotes from the evening's repertoire. Our audiences love this, and the orchestra does, too. Cologne's encore, the day after U.S. elections, also included "Hail to the Chief"!
The orchestra was greeted backstage by Philharmonie staff bearing trays of the local Kolsch pilsner for us. It's a wonderful custom here, and we enjoyed a delicious draught after the hot stage. A stroll back to the hotel through quiet cobblestone streets and a check of the message board ended the night. Then suitcases out by 10:30 a.m, and we're on a bus to Frankfurt at 12:30 p.m.
We repeated the Cologne program here in Frankfurt in the Alte Oper to a cheerful and enthusiastic audience. After his performance of the Sibelius concerto, Mr. Znaider added interest to our evening by joining the first violin section on the second half of the program, playing the Dvorak symphony and encores with us. Maestro Honeck surprised him by insisting he take a solo bow, which he did with some embarrassment but to the audience's delight.
The next 72 hours will encompass 10 hours of bus travel, a rehearsal, two concerts, and 12 hours of air travel. Many of us will only open our suitcases to add to the increasing laundry bags there and to stow away our scissors and nail clippers before we go through airport security for the trip home.
As always, it is exhilarating to be on tour, representing Pittsburgh and playing for audiences around the world. But the sweetest part is bursting through the Fort Pitt Tunnel and seeing our city again and coming home to our loyal audiences.
Stephanie Tretick is a Pittsburgh Symphony violist and frequent contributor to the Post-Gazette on its tours.