About Life in Flow:Flow in Life

Sunday, December 11, 2011


When you order coffee in a cafe in Vienna, it comes in a china cup on a small silver platter, along with a small glass of water. The water is to counteract the dehydration the coffee causes. During our week in Vienna, we drank quite a few cups of melange, coffee with foamy steamed milk. It's a much different experience than getting a latte at Starbucks!

We were in Vienna Thanksgiving week visiting our daughter Jamie, who is now finishing up a semester abroad, studying music in this very musical city. Our trip was filled with music, as well as great food and drink (including lots of coffee), and some art and shopping.

We arrived on Sunday. Jamie had bought tickets for all of us to a concert of the Concertgebouw Orchestra that evening at the Musikverein, so after checking in and changing into nicer clothes, we went off to have some strudel before the concert.The Musikverein is a beautiful hall. It is like stepping into the 18th century, with ornate gold decorations everywhere. It is a rectangular, or shoebox hall, and almost none of the seats is covered by higher floors. We sat on the second level, right above the orchestra. Unfortunately, we could only see half the orchestra and none of the horns, but the sound was incredible.   Quite a few musicians call it the best hall in the world. The program included a Saint-Saens Piano Concerto performed by Pierre Laurent Aimee and the Petrouchka Suite by Stravinsky. It was a great concert. The Concertgebouw is wonderful, it was musical and exciting. Another very cool thing about concerts at the Musikverein, and the opera house as well, we discovered, is that they have small meals available at intermission. Since we hadn't eaten dinner (only strudel!) we bought a couple of small, elegant sandwiches and drinks.
The Concertgebouw horn section!

Every morning we would take the U-Bahn from our hotel to Karlsplatz and come up by the Opera House. At the bottom of the stairs before you exit up to the street is the Opera Toilet, which plays the Blue Danube 24 hours a day.

Vienna's Naschmarkt
Monday we did some normal tourist things, like visiting the Albertina art museum and the naschmarkt, an outdoor market of mostly food. There are lots of falafels in Vienna, especially at the naschmarkt. There are also all kinds of fruits and vegetables that we don't have in Illinois. I saw fruits that I had only seen in China, such as dragon fruit, called pitahaya here.   That evening, Jamie and her friends Ross and Ryan took us via the U-Bahn to the 16th District to have dinner at a Turkish restaurant. Dinner was delicious and the conversation interesting, about music, living in Vienna, learning German, and future plans. All three-- Jamie, Ryan and Ross -- are students at Indiana University and all of them have their own blogs about their experiences in Vienna. You can find them at http://jamieinwien.blogspot.com/, http://rosswertjes.wordpress.com/, and http://diefstudiesabroad.wordpress.com/.

On Tuesday we were able to attend part of a Vienna Philharmonic rehearsal at the Concert House. It is not as beautiful as the Musikverein (or the Opera House) but was still an attractive building with sweeping staircases and lots of red velvet. The piece they were rehearsing was the premiere of a work for percussion soloist and orchestra. We were all sorry not hear something more familiar, but the soloist was really impressive.
Concert House

Did I mention that the entire week it was really cold in Vienna? We were outside for a significant part of every day, walking to get places and visiting outdoor markets. The Viennese walk everywhere and even with lots of beer, wine, schnitzel and pastries we saw almost no overweight people. We stopped at an Adventmarkt near the Opera House on Tuesday evening and the three of us ate delicious pancakes filled with chocolate and banana while browsing the stalls. 
At the Adventmarkt
Later that evening we stopped by Jamie's apartment and then went to dinner up the street at a vegan pub. I was very excited to have seitan schnitzel! I also had the smoothest beer I have ever tasted -- a dunkle, which is a dark beer. Later in the week I ordered another dunkle, an Ottakringer, which was also very good but not a smooth and almost sweet as the one this night. The pub itself was a small dark establishment decorated with old radios.

Wednesday was filled with exciting musical events. We visited the Stephansdom, an amazing Gothic church. It's the church where Wolfgang Mozart married Constanze.
Inside Stephansdom
Jamie went off to do some school-related thing, and we agreed to meet her at noon at the Opera House so we could meet her horn teacher and sit in on her lesson. We got there before her and went inside to sit in a small alcove. While we were sitting there and talking to each other, a tall, white-haired man came out from the backstage area and stopped to put on his gloves and scarf. Hearing us talk, he said, "Americans! I thought you were the usual autograph hounds who wait here." After we told him why we were there, he explained that he is a pianist with the Opera and has been living in Europe for 40 years. A very interesting person.

After Jamie and her teacher, Wolfgang Vlatar, met us, Wolfgang took us on a brief backstage tour of the hall. We went into the orchestra pit and looked out at the hall and up onto the stage. It is another absolutely beautiful building. We continued on to the horn locker room, where Jamie usually had her lessons. Viennese horn players all play a different kind of horn than horn players everywhere else play. It is called, logically enough, a Vienna horn, or Wiener horn. Here is Wolfgang's horn:

Jamie played her regular double horn while in Vienna, though she had a chance to try Wolfgang's, as did I! At the end of her lesson, he asked if I had ever played one (no) and would I like to (yes!). It is smaller than a standard double horn and is a single F horn, with the double piston valves you can see in the photo. It is not easy to play! Jamie said, "Play Heldenleben, it's so easy on this horn." Yikes! Not only hadn't I played in a week or so, but I hadn't played Heldenleben in years, and I'm playing in front of a member of the Vienna Philharmonic!
Opening of Ein Heldenleben, 1st horn
It was interesting. The horn doesn't respond the way a double horn does and Heldenleben is not easy on either horn. Wolfgang is an outstanding teacher; Jamie is so lucky to have had this opportunity. He is very musical, hears everything, and engaged with Jamie in a laid-back conversational manner, suggesting ideas, asking her to think about her choices.

After the lesson, Wolfgang took us to one of his favorite restaurants, Drei Hackers. Jamie, Dean and Wolfgang had schnitzel, while I had a vegetarian entree that Wolfgang said was typically Viennese. Here it is. It is spinach, potatoes and egg. You can also see the schnitzel!

We had a great time talking about music and musicians. We all had palatschinken, an Austrian pancake a little like a crepe, filled with apricot jam, for dessert. We kept on talking and finally ordered coffee. Dean and I had tickets for Tannhauser that evening, but Jamie did not buy a ticket for herself because she had a rehearsal at 6, when the performance started. Wolfgang offered to let her sit in the pit if she would change into all black, to fit in with the orchestra members. So after three hours we split up, Jamie going to her apartment to change, and we returning to our hotel, also to change.

It was very clear to us that the Viennese take their music seriously. Wolfgang told us there is a 12-year waiting list for subscriptions to the Vienna Philharmonic! The Staatsoper presents an opera about 363 days a year, and stages 50 to 60 different opera each year. Tannhauser, as well as the Concertgebouw, seemed to be completely sold out. At Tannhauser, when the overture began a woman behind us was still talking, pretty loudly. Six or eight other people immediately went "ssst!" to stop her. They are serious about music! The sets for Tannhauser were pretty minimal, which is possible because they mount so many opera and have so many in rotation at a time. The minimal sets were effective and maybe even highlighted the singing because you weren't distracted by elaborate backgrounds. It was a very good performance. Matthias Goerne, who we had heard at Ravinia in recital, had a leading role and was wonderful.

In the opera house, taken from our seats
Inside the opera house

After the opera, we met up with Jamie and Wolfgang again and went to the Sky Bar, at the top of a building on the Kärntner Straße. Kärntner Straße is a great street for shopping, sort of like Michigan avenue in Chicago. The Sky Bar overlooks Stephansdom, which is lit at night.
The view from the Sky Bar
A perfect day!

A highlight of Thursday was breakfast! Dean, Jamie and I hunted down a Georgian restaurant recommended by Wolfgang in the 2nd District, not too far from our hotel. We had delicious fruit and yogurt with muesli. A good portion of Thursday was spent being lost and not being able to find what we were looking for, a very tiring, frustrating experience. However, we ended with another dinner at Drei Hackers, which was a good way to end the day.

Our last musical experience of the trip was Friday morning, when Jamie had another lesson with Wolfgang. Again, we were so impressed with his musical ideas and the way he worked with Jamie. Then Jamie said good-bye and went to catch a train to go on a ski trip with her school group. Dean and I had wanted to visit the Zentralfriedhof, a cemetery where many illustrious musicians are buried. However, the streetcar system proved to be too confusing and we ended up visiting the Christkindlmarkt at the Rathaus instead. We had visited the cemetery the last time we were in Vienna, though it would have been nice to see it again. The Rathaus was entertaining, and the Christkindlmarkt was really large with lots of vendors.

The following day we flew back to Chicago. Jamie is now back in the States, but wants to go back to Vienna for more study someday. I can see why. It's a wonderful city.

The Musikverein

Monday, December 5, 2011

I knew them when...

Several years ago -- maybe eight? -- I had Kyle Jannak-Huang as a kindergarten student. Even then he and his brother were accomplished pianists. Now look!

Jannak-Huang (piano) / Mozart, Beethoven, Ravel, Stravinsky, Chopin, Liszt - InstantEncore