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Posts from the ‘Music’ Category

KEITH JARRETT: A MUSICAL GENIUS IN DESPERATE NEED OF A SNICKERS BAR

He walked onto stage and the applause swelled. I had never seen the Golden Hall of the Vienna Musikverein so jam-packed full of people. Every single one of the 1744 seats and 300 standing places was filled with the face of an adoring fan anxiously awaiting the warm greetings of a Musical Meister.

What we got was the ranting, reprimanding threat of a diva: “I will not play a single note until the two people who just took a photo leave this concert hall. If you’re sitting beside them, urge them to leave or I won’t play.” Like a toddler mid-tantrum, he stomped off the stage and the lights went back up.

A disturbed chatter arose from the crowd. The Viennese consensus? He’s nuts. And they weren’t referring to the photo-taker caper(s). Just enough time ticked by for us to begin to wonder what the Musikverein’s refund policy is on our not-too-cheap tickets when the artist throws a fit and refuses to perform. In the nick of time, a gentleman (hero?) in a dark t-shirt rose from the center of the audience, about 25 rows deep, from a section where tickets no doubt cost upwards of 120 € each, stood up, bumped his way past the stunned fellow concert-goers in his row and exited the auditorium with a shake of his head. Many of us harbored serious doubts whether the departed was the culprit but the ritual sacrifice being made, the self-chosen martyr offered up, the show could go on.

A man in a suit who we recognized from before Cellphone Gate as the gentleman who informed us that there’d be a live recording and we must refrain from extraneous noises reappeared on stage. In a more apologetic than admonishing tone, he reminded us of the “Künstler’s” need to concentrate. Finally Mr. Jarrett re-entered and I no longer know if anyone clapped at this point. Here and there I believe but the unbridled enthusiasm of his initial entrance was history. Why? Three reasons. First, stunned people can’t clap, they’re too shocked to move their hands (see photo of my stunned face included herein). Second, who could tell what might set him off again – perhaps clapping out of rhythm, for example. Third, we all just wanted to put the embarrassing moment behind us as quickly as possible and move on with things.

Mr. Jarrett sat before his grand piano and pounded the keys as if they too were personally involved in the photo-taking infraction. Disjointed chords of choppy scales torpedoed into the loges left and right. Irritated notes wrestled in an angry sea of quick, successive sounds.

Keith Jarrett Tickets to Vienna Musikverein, July 2016

Keith Jarrett Tickets to Vienna Musikverein, July 2016

He was angry. The music was angry. And I was angry.

But by the third piece, then there was light. Staccatos grew more and more interspersed with light, playful notes. By the fourth piece, I could bring myself to join the others and clap, now convinced that it would have been a grave mistake to march out of the hall with Mr. T-Shirt Man in a show of solidarity and a refusal to accept such treatment of us non-genius, musical-lover mortals (as a firm believer in the age-old advice: you are responsible for how you let others treat you). But the lesson was obvious: Keith Jarrett could clearly get away with mistreating his audience members because he truly is a musical genius. The epiphany made me sad for artists specifically and humankind in general.

For years Keith Jarrett’s Cologne Concert, Paris Concert and Vienna Concert from his 1991 appearance in the Vienna Opera House have been some of my most beloved, trusted accompaniments while writing. Sit down, crank it up and within 5 minutes you are in the “mood” and the words stream across the page like currents in a waterfall.

He isn’t hitting pre-prescribed notes. This is improvisation. He is sitting at his bench and coaxing the keys to come together in just the right manner to take his listeners on a magical journey of his making. His music elevates all present to a higher, better, otherworldly place.

By the end of his concert I enthusiastically joined the standing ovation. Not just one but three – or was it four? — encores. His final piece, a playful, soulful version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” seemed like the artist’s version of an apology of sorts. It was that moving. Then he said, “Thank you,” but couldn’t leave us for the night with happy, fuzzy feelings to accompany us home. No. He just had to add, “Now aren’t you glad you were strong? Aren’t you glad you were smart?”

To quote Homer Simpson: “D’Oh!” [slaps hand to forehead].

The concert was recorded live. Mr. Jarrett’s hyper-sensitive (compulsive?) tendencies made me wonder why he does live recordings. Wouldn’t a studio recording be easier to control all variables possible when you pack 2000 people in a room? It’s a contradiction, I suppose. The man who demands such utmost control and obedience of an audience of thousands chooses live recordings and improvisation.

At the same time, after intermission, it wasn’t an apology, don’t get me wrong, but perhaps a justification. Kind of. Mr. Jarrett said that all the picture-taking makes him feel like a caged animal. He also added: “People who think they can interfere with processes is what’s f—ed up the world today.” I get that. But what’s really f—ed up the world is a general lack of empathy. And when thousands of people from all over the world, all walks of life who could be mid-living all the tragedies and challenges life can throw at you, re-arrange their day-to-day existence, coordinate and pretty themselves up to join together at a certain time and place to spend precious, never-to-be-re-gained hours of their life, just to hear you play your music, to join you on a journey to a higher place blindly following nothing more than the next musical note – that is something rather extraordinary and the opposite of f—ed up. And if you give that a bitter after-taste (or before- and after-taste), then shame on you.

There is a synergy between an audience and artist that no studio can give. A synergy in a Golden Hall that has been home to such beauty and artistry of some of history’s and the world’s best talents for over 140 years. A synergy that lingers beyond the 2 seconds the notes are held suspended, a synergy that transcends space and time and I think you must know that, Mr. Jarrett, which is why you record live. So chill. You’re playing jazz, the chillest tunes of them all. Appreciate the joining together to experience a precious parenthesis in time.

I’d like to end with a bit of advice for future concerts:

* to potential Keith Jarrett concert-goers: go, the music will be amazing, but for God’s (Keith Jarrett’s and the concert’s) sakes, keep that trigger finger off the camera icon.

* to Mr. Jarrett: get a grip, chill and have some empathy. If the audience peeves you off, do like Bob Dylan did when he gave a concert in Burg Clam – don’t acknowledge the audience at all. Not one word. Not “Hello” “How are you” or “Thanks.” If they’re like me, sure, they’ll feel snubbed but better snubbed than down-right insulted.

* to concert organizers, you saints, you:

  1.  if tales from a Berlin concert are to be believed, be sure to have the piano tuned before the concert;
  2.  hang up plenty of signs politely advising that the diva “artist” requires utmost concentration and concert-goers who cannot refrain from taking photos kindly will be asked to leave
  3.  give that musical genius a Snickers bar. Or two. Or three. (supposedly they’re good at humanizing divas). And who knows? Maybe there’s a commercial spot in his future and you can turn lemons into lemonade.

Anger advice: It’s better to distract than vent because getting it out can intensify the emotion. Go figure.

I love the podcast the Hidden Brain and this is a fascinating take on what makes Keith Jarrett’s Cologne Concert so phenomenal (though I doubt Keith would agree):
NPR Podcast, Hidden Brain: In Praise of Mess: Why Disorder May Be Good For Us

 

 

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VIEVINUM – VINE LOUSE FOR A DAY

I am not a wine connoisseur. I’m just not. I will admit though that when I once went to a wine social in the US and the “glasses” were plastic cups, I opted for the water instead but I am no wine snob. I like wine. I drink wine. I have no idea what officially makes a good wine, I just know when I drink it, that either enjoy it or I don’t. But my obvious lack of wine 101 hasn’t stopped me from attending VieVinum (http://www.vievinum.com/) in the Vienna Hofburg for the past three years. After all, I might not know a thing about wine, but I do know you don’t serve it in a plastic cup (unless you’re backpacking in the wild). And I happen to agree with the old Viennese song that maybe there’s a little vine louse in all of us.

Steiermark Chamber at the VieVinum in the Vienna Hofburg

Steiermark Wines Chamber at the VieVinum in the Vienna Hofburg

In Austria in the beginning of June  you can let that inner vine louse go wild when hundreds of wine growers come to the Vienna Hofburg to present their best drops of nectar for three glorious days. Your 40 € ticket gets you access to room after room of local and international wineries. Lady Luck shone upon me this year and I won two tickets so I got to spend the afternoon sipping wines on someone else’s tab (thank you, Metropole!).

You stopped processing at the 40 € ticket. Okay, 40 € may be a steep entrance fee price but this isn’t an Epcot Center make-it-look-real-and-pretend-you’re-there façade and doesn’t even cost you a fraction of the price. This is it. The real thing. A once-a-year event. You can spend an entire afternoon (heck, an entire day if you’re so inclined) meandering through the opulent chambers of the former emperor’s palace while nipping on unlimited wines served by growers in Lederhosen and Dirndls. And the ambiance’s completely chilled. Remember all the times you promised yourself you would work to live and not live to work? This is those times – the living, the memory-making. Go for it! And let’s face it, by the third grower, you will no longer be worrying about the steep ticket price, you’ll be looking to the next table, the next bottle, and the next smooth, chilled Veltliner.

Wine Trolley

No. I didn’t get drunk enough to buy this baby but it was tempting even before the first drink – imagine the hissy fit this would cause the US TSA and how eager those guys would be to confiscate it.

My top picks for the afternoon (besides that handy carry on featured on the left):

The surprise of the afternoon was a selection of three red wines from Württemberger Weinberg Werk (www.weinbergwerk.de) – I skipped the first bottle on display and went straight for the Meisterwerk, which was very good but Lebenswerk was even better. In fact, it was so good that all three Austrians who I was making my rounds with praised the smooth, tasty red wine – and for Austrians to freely praise Germans for their wine requires either that the Austrians are drunk (they weren’t, I swear) or for the wine to be that good (it was).

Next, of course, was the Steiermark room. All good Austrians go to the Steiermark for great wine (and wonderful thermal spas) but where to start? We stood in the middle of the grand room, glasses empty, eyeballing all the possibilities and that’s when – like Eve in the garden of paradise – I turned to see the snake wrapped around the bottle. And with a name like Hirschmugl (Domaene am Seggauberg, Seggauberg, Steiermark – http://www.hirschmugl-domaene.at/) how could a girl resist? I convinced a group that didn’t need too much convincing that maybe the snake was on to something. And we were not disappointed. We particularly enjoyed the Muscaris and Sauvignon Blanc. Don’t judge them by their website – I think they are so busy making great wines, they don’t have time to list all their wines. The Sauvignon Blanc smells so lovely – really such an amazing aroma that in an instant I knew what all the sniffing’s about at those stuffy wine events. And if you are interested in a good excuse to do an outing to the Steiermark (as if one needs an excuse), on Saturday, 11 June from 11 am – 6 pm in Leibnitz, Hischmugl will be opening their wine shop and offering a presentation of their 2015 wines.

Vesper, a Grüner Veltliner from the Hohenwarth winery Setzer (www.weingut-setzer.at) was also great. Just the name itself invokes images of labyrinthine, cobblestone lanes in European hamlets, and a lone, romantic table for two on a wine terrace overlooking the vineyards in the warmth of the setting afternoon sun. And at 6.60 € a bottle, you can start saving up for that Vespa to get you there.

Another wine I really liked was the 2011 Grand Cuvée from the winery Reichardt (www.weingut-reichardt.at) called Supreme. It definitely lives up to its name and at 11.50 € a bottle, you can take a bottle along when invited for dinner without looking like a cheapskate (unless you have very uppity friends who can’t appreciate a good bottle of 11.50 € wine which means you should probably decline the dinner invitation and drink it yourself while searching for a new set of friends).

One winery I actively sought out was Antinori (Tuscany, Italy, https://www.vinorama.at/Weingueter/Marchesi-Antinori-Firenze/) and I found the Dirndl-donning server in the Falstaff room. As a podcast junkie I could tell you a million tidbits about a million-and-one topics so when 60 Minutes’ beloved journalist, Morley Safer, passed away and they re-broadcast his favorite segment about an Italian wine (http://www.cbsnews.com/news/60-minutes-toasts-morley-safer/), my curiosity was piqued. This family has been in the wine-making business for 6 centuries(!) and now three sisters are at the forefront of the operations. The wines presented at the VieVinum were apparently newly acquired wines and they didn’t disappoint. Of course, the classic Chianti tasted like the rolling, green hills of Tuscany in a bottle but the one I thoroughly enjoyed as a perfect, light, summer wine was the Vivia, La Mortelle, 2015 (https://www.vinorama.at/Weine/Alle-Weine/Vivia-Maremma-Toscana-IGT-oxid.html). And an extra goody for those living in or visiting Vienna – the family also has an amazing Italian restaurant in the lane directly across from St. Stephan’s cathedral (http://www.cantinetta-antinori.com/en/vienna/cantinetta-antinori-di-vienna). When I dined there once, the food and atmosphere were so inviting, that I think our little group did like the Italians, lost track of time and ended up staying until closing (no slapping down the check with the after-dinner espresso in these places).

I may have missed some of the best wines at the VieVinum. But frankly, I don’t think so. I’ve noted the ones I enjoyed and I’ll be sure to somehow acquire some bottles for home (they all said to send them an email). And every time I drink a Sauvignon Blanc from Hischmugl or a Vivia from Antinori, I’ll remember our afternoon at the VieVinum and the wine will taste all the better for the memory – not just of a beautiful afternoon with good friends but of the wine makers and that twinkle they get when talking about their wines, the history, the barrels, the soil. You listen, swirl the wine in your glass, inhale the fine aroma, and no sooner have you savored the fine texture, and unique flavor, that you find yourself turning to the winemaker with a “Wow ! That’s great stuff.” Immediately you see it – for them this is more than a hobby, more than a product, a business, a way of life – it’s their Lebenswerk, and when done well, a Meisterwerk.

And a special treat for you – a Viennese classic to accompany your Achterl – Hans Moser singing about his former and future life as a grapevine louse.

I weiß ned was des is,
i trink so gern a Flascherl Wein.
Da muass goar ka bsondrer Anlass oda Sunntog sein…

I’m not sure what it is, I really like to drink a little bottle of wine, And it doesn’t even have to be  a Sunday or a special time… I must have been a vine louse in a former life… And when I die I want to be born again as a vine louse…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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THINGS TO DO IN VIENNA – WALTZ

Austrians are required to master two skills in life – ski­ing and waltzing. More than 400 balls take place each year in Vienna, and these balls are host to more than 300,000 guests. Balls are sponsored by occupational groups, trade unions, universities, and interest groups — if you’ve got an interest, Vienna’s got the ball.

With Vienna’s long-time love for balls, it’s not surprising that the man responsible for the popularity of the waltz and known during his lifetime as the “The Waltz King,” Johann Strauss II, lived in Vienna. Thankfully, young Johann rebelled against his father’s demands that he become a banker and went on to compose over 500 waltzes, polkas, and quadrilles during his lifetime. At 60 beats per minute, the Viennese Waltz is one of the fastest types of traditional ballroom dance music.

But fast or slow, dancing can be a challenge for those of us who grew up outside Waltzland. Probably during his stint in Vienna, Mark Twain remarked, “Work like you don’t need the money. Love like you’ve never been hurt. Dance like nobody is watching.” In other words, take heart and join those Austrians on the dance floor. Even if you don’t know how to 1-2-3, 1-2-3 you can still have a great time with the right attitude. But even Austrians won’t turn a blind eye to one thing that can’t be overlooked for the waltz—and that’s a missing dance partner. Fortunately there’s a fix to that problem as well.

Hallway at Kaffeesiederball during Midnight Show

Hallway at Kaffeesiederball outside main ballroom during the midnight show performance

Taxi Dancer to the rescue! For an hourly fee, you can hire your own personal Fred Astaire or Ginger Rogers to help you dance the night away. What first appeared in dance halls in the United States during the early 20th century has gained a revival in Vienna’s ballrooms where the male population can be as depressingly dance-lazy as everywhere else. The Taxi Dancing Darlings are bound by strict codes of behavior but available for all kinds of dance functions. In fact, some of the taxi dancer agen­cies’ best customers are retirement home residents.

My friend and I do a Lifeball selfie

My friend and I at the Lifeball which is sadly postponed a year this season

So no excuses. Put on your dance shoes, and 1-2-3, 1-2-3 the night away.

Post of this year’s ball calendar coming soon…

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MOZART, THE FREE MASONS AND THE MAGIC FLUTE (PART II)

Music is the most potent instrument in education because rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of the soul.   – Plato

Print This Post On September 30, 1791, two years after the French Revolution, The Magic Flute premiered in Vienna. To work on what would be his last and one of his most celebrated pieces, Mozart temporarily moved in with Emanuel Schikaneder, the man who penned the libretto of The Magic Flute and also happened to be a fellow member of “Zur Wohltätigkeit,” Mozart’s masonic lodge. The opera opened to much acclaim but less than a month and a half after its debut, Mozart suffered a painful and mysterious death, and confided in his loved ones his conviction that he had been poisoned (see last week’s post: Mozart, the Free Masons and A Mysterious Death).

Theories of Mozart’s death are as numerous and varied as the Gulasch in Vienna’s Gulaschmuseum. One proposes that the timing of Mozart’s death (so soon after the premiere of The Magic Flute) was no coincidence.

Indeed, since its origin, The Magic Flute, like episodes of South Park, has led a double life. For the unordained, the opera relates the age-old tale of the hero’s journey: a hero reluctantly answers the call to adventure and leaves the world he knows to undergo trials and overcome challenges to earn his reward and return home a new (and better) person. For those in-the-know The Magic Flute amounts to a 1791 shout-out to the composer and writer’s masonic brethren.

Below are just a couple characteristics of the opera that have provided fuel to the fire of speculation.

The goal of the free masons and Tamino in the opera is to overcome that which ruins the spirit of man (perverted thought, uncurbed emotions and destructive actions) in order to ascend the stairs of the one Lodge – the Universe – to attain universal oneness.

Unification of opposing forces of the universe to achieve oneness: On the one side you have the dark evil Queen of the Night who also represents in addition darkness/Isis/Booz/feminine/moon/fire/evil/chaos and on the other you have Sarastro who represents light/Osiris/Jakin/masculine/sun/water/good/order. You can go deep into philosophy, psychology and spirituality here and simply say it’s like Yin and Yang, good cannot exist without evil, there can be no Sonnie without Cher — you get the picture.

The steps of a Freemason: Entered Apprentice (youth), Fellow Craft (manhood), Master Builder (old age) – we see similar representations of Tamino as he undergoes his journey in the opera.

The Masonic Triangle (you know the one – look at the back of your 1 dollar bill)  reflected in the many groupings of three in the opera:

Three boys: In the Magic Three, three young boys offer Papageno and Tamino guidance on their journey. They demand of Tamino three traits: steadfastness, patience and secrecy – three golden rules of the free masons. They are thought to symbolize the two deacons and the master of ceremonies of a lodge who likewise accompany new masonic apprentices on their symbolic journey during which they must face the trials of two of the four basic elements: fire and water. Symbolically they may also represent a person’s inner voice of reason.

ba

ba

Three temples appear on stage in the Magic Flute: The “Temple of Wisdom”, the “Temple of Reason” and the “Temple of Nature” similar to three of the pillars of belief of the free masons – the other two: strength and beauty. The Temple of Wisdom (Solomon’s Temple) should symbolize the temple of humanity, in which all people are “brothers” who should unite in a higher spirituality. (Beethoven was a mason too which — if you read the lyrics of Ode to Joy explains the brotherhood concept pretty well).

The three chords in E-flat major in the overture and grand final:  Mozart had written quite a few numbers for the masonic lodges and liked to use E-flat, which has three flats arranged in triangular form (the “Masonic Trinity” sheet music style). Since then, the E-flat has often been referred to as the Masonic key.

Three musical knocks throughout the opera represented by wind instruments (beginning of second part of overture).

Characters in the Opera

Tamino: The initiate who is willing to undergo the trials set forth in order to achieve a higher state of being is thought to symbolize a masonic initiate.

Sarastro: (the Italian name for Zarathustra) The spiritual leader who resides in the seven circles of the sun -perhaps symbolic of the lodge Grand Master. Or perhaps Osiris (believed to be the personification of Truth) and the powers of the sun. In freemasonry seven represents the seven liberal arts and sciences (grammar, rhetoric, logic, geometry, arithmetic, music and astronomy) but also the seven planets (belief at the time).

Magic Flute Stage with Queen of the Night

Magic Flute Stage with Queen of the Night

Papageno: the character of Papageno is a bird catcher and someone satisfied by life’s simple pleasures. Rather than striving to reach a higher state of existence/awareness, Papageno would prefer to forgo hardship in order to indulge in earthly delights (women and wine). Nowadays, Homer Simpson would be the embodiment of Papageno. Many purport that masonic beliefs also based on principles and values from ancient Egypt. Indeed, the first set designers of the opera referred to drawings of Egyptian monuments. Interesting is therefore the similarity between Papageno, a creature with a man’s head, and a bird’s body, and the ancient Egyptian creature of Ba. Ba has been described as the spiritual part of human beings that survives death – that part that makes you who you are and unique from everyone else and the Egyptians believed rises from the corpse to embark on the journey into the afterlife. An explanation of how both theories would coincide is that perhaps only that part of a soul able to overcome secular desires for the sake of spirituality will exist beyond the earthly world.

Symbolic rituals/tasks

Rites of purification before entering the temple: thought to be symbolic of lodge rituals.

The journey of the initiate from the veil of the night (the Queen of the Night – Isis and the powers of the moon – represented in the number 5 and the star (five points)),  into the Sun Temple of Sarastro (represented by the number 3 and the triangle or pyramid) The ascension of an initiate from apprentice to fellow craft to master builder.

Environment/ Objects

The forest: perhaps a symbol of the unconscious and all its wilderness

Symbols of the free masons

Symbols of the free masons

Nature: animals tamed by the magic flute – harmony with nature – order from chaos

Magic flute: an instrument crafted from wood that turns into gold by the end of the opera (ancient Egyptians were thought to be master alchemists who held the secret for producing precious medals). Music holds the power to instill harmony and raise “man” to otherworldly states. The flute enchants nature and brings it under control.

White robe: At the end of the journey the initiate is given a white robe representing purity.

Historically the masons have upheld a strict code of confidentiality, in part, to survive. They didn’t want to suffer the bloody end of the Knights of Templar who got on the wrong side of the king. Many of the ideas promoted by the free masons (education over birth – meaning a commoner could be equal to a nobleman) were threatening to the established systems (like the nobility and the Roman Catholic Church). Even more so at the time of The Magic Flute since its debut immediately followed the French Revolution. In addition, the masons probably recognized early on that a secret handshake here and a discreet compass there had a cool factor that drew members. Every child with a clubhouse, gang with a pair of shoes, and military unit with a clandestine mission knows that the secret knock, shoestring color, or patch makes you “in” and when you are “in” you are not “out” and can be readily identified by fellow brothers as one of the gang and not a woeful wannabe.

Was Mozart’s work on The Magic Flute somehow connected to his death? The free masons are infamously strict about their code of secrecy and said to have graphic symbolic gestures which signify the painful death he who breaks the code of silence will suffer.

Did the interweaving of masonic symbols into The Magic Flute amount to a severe and fatal breach of confidentiality? Since Mozart’s body was buried in a mass grave in St. Marx Cemetery in Vienna, the world will probably never know for sure. What would seem to exonerate Mozart’s brothers from accusations of foul play is the fact that Mozart’s fellow collaborator in The Magic Flute, Emanuel Schikaneder, continued to live and perform another two decades before losing his marbles and dying impoverished in Vienna at the age of 61.

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The Magic Flute by W.A.Mozart. BBC/animation/ part1

  The Magic Flute by W.A. Mozart BBC / animation / part 2    Check out the dancing rhino – who can resist a dancing rhino? Gotta get me a magic flute to calm down spectators at heated soccer matches!

The Magic Flute by W.A. Mozart BBC / animation / part 3

 

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