Monday, March 31, 2008

Yvonne the Model

Yvonne’s hairdresser invited her to model for a photo shoot yesterday. She’s been advised to find an agent in LA…so we had to come all the way to Vienna to launch her modeling career. Of course, she thinks it’s a brainless profession and has no interest, but we’ll see if she changes her mind…

The formidable weather suddenly turned gorgeous. One doesn’t take the sun for granted here as we do in California. On Sunday, there were all manner of children, dogs, lovers, elderly couples, strolling, basking on benches, and picnicking in the Stadtpark---a kind of miniature Central Park, with a Biergarten, a pond with ducks, songbirds, and statues of Schiller and Schubert watching it all. Flanked on one end by a Hilton Hotel and the other by the Intercontinental, it’s a lovely refuge, with the Vienna River---a tributary of the Danube Canal---running through the center.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

"nô pintcha - don't stop"

Last night the club Porgy & Bess hosted a stream of performers from England, Germany, Australia, Chicago and elsewhere in one of several "Solidarity" events around Europe this spring. Known as "nô pintcha - don't stop", the concerts form a collective effort to keep the Konfrontationen annual summer festival in Nickelsdorf---a mainstay event of the free jazz world, since 1976---alive. The man in the white shirt in the photo, the phenomenal vocalist Phil Minton, flew from London to contribute. He is leading (cajoling, scaring, seducing, etc.) a 40-voice pick-up choir in a 35-minute directed improvisation---invigorating, electric, and full of unexpected detours. (I was invited to join the choir but offered instead, with Phil's blessing, to document, so segments of this choir extravaganza, with sound, should eventually find their way to YouTube.) The spontaneous collective decision by all the vocalists to surround Phil in a kind of ritual 40-person mega-hug, after the performance ended, was beautiful to witness, and a kind of metaphor for the activism that has energized musicians and audiences to find a way to keep this festival going. Hans Falb, the host with the most (owner of the extensive facilities in Nickelsdorf providing food, drink, picnic tables, rehearsal spaces, art and sculptures, concession stands with hard-to-find recordings and books), is the animated guy in the upper right corner of the photo (back row). You can read an interview with him, giving some history of the festival, and explaining the current situation, here.

The other stellar performers, appearing in various configurations, included the indefatigable and enormously gifted Georg Graewe, playing three different sets; the inventive young singer, Almut Kühne; my favorite drummer always and forever, Paul Lovens; the astonishing Australian bass player Clayton Thomas, who lives in Berlin; and the magnificent cut-throat Ken Vandermark. Having performed in Nickelsdorf myself a couple of summers ago, it is one marathon experience and serious hang, not to be missed, a place where practically every free jazz improvising musician has performed. The full house last night at Porgy & Bess was a testament to the enthusiastic reception for this music---may it find a stable and generous new home and continue its vibrant, collaborative avenues in the coming years.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Red and White (not the Austrian Flag)

Yvonne with red umbrella, on a snowy day heading back to the apartment. Today I skyped with Douglas and Yuval---my esteemed collaborators for Crescent City---unpacked the keyboard controller, and enjoyed the slightly warmer (more like, less cold) weather. Much of the afternoon devoted to internet complications. Since there is no internet service provided in this apartment (although its prime location, spaciousness, and stunning art make up for that), I had to purchase a Vodafone system, and now pay for all the data that I use. One gig costs 20 Euros. But hey, you can connect anywhere…including the trains. Like everything else, we are being more conservative, not staying online unless we have to, and avoiding mega downloads – like the one TV show Yvonne downloaded, wolfing down around 500 meg and suddenly, poof, we're offline.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


An unforgettable evening, five hours and fifteen minutes, with intermissions, seeing one of the epitomes of opera at the Wiener Staatsoper tonight. Superb singing of all the major roles in Wagner's Parsifal, especially the strong and passionate rendition of Amfortas, sung by Falk Struckmann. But the conductor, Christian Thielemann, drew the loudest roar from the audience at the end, with many curtain calls and a bouquet tossed onstage for him. He elicited consistent clarity and warmth from the orchestra, with elegant effortlessness and economy, almost never even cuing the singers. The set and staging were consistenly inventive and hovered at times on the verge of kitsch, which was very cool. In Act II, where Parsifal encounters and ultimately resists the seductions of the flower girls, a disco ball twirls overhead. The spear that will ultimately heal Amfortas, a glowing Star Wars - like object in this production, could have been an unfortunate cliché, but the direction was sensitive and convincing enough to steer clear of such an obvious association.

Afterwards, walking through the underground to the U-Bahn line going to my apartment, I encountered one of the stars scattered throughout inner Vienna, set in concrete, like the ones in Hollywood---but the Vienna stars are for composers, like this one commemorating Alfred Schnittke. Surely there's one somewhere for György Ligeti...when I find it I'll post the photo of that star as well. Schnittke took over the professorship at the Hamburg Hochschule für Musik when Ligeti retired. They are two of my favorite composers.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Thundering in the Spring Snow

After much agonizing over the ticket price, reasonable if the dollar wasn't limping along, I decided to forfeit the survival tactics of frugality and surrender to the immersive bliss of Parsifal at the Staatsoper tomorrow. So I'm gearing up for a five hour marathon. Meanwhile, Yvonne was invited by her new hairdresser to model for a competition this weekend. She'll have professionally designed hair, makeup, the works, and maybe end up in a glossy European publication.

A surreal weather event most of this afternoon - hard driving snow, sometimes blowing horizontally, then thunder, sunshine for a few moments, and the gray wintery calm of Central Europe returns.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Tristan und Isolde at Wiener Staatsoper

How to gain admittance to the seemingly perpetually-sold-out Wiener Staatsoper? I hadn't planned on the effort today, but walking past the opera house this afternoon, I was approached by a guy, a scam artist, with tickets to sell. When the ticket-seller's partner in crime tried to pull a bait-and-switch (one offering inexpensive tickets to the sold-out opera, and his cohort interrupting to say that those tickets had just been sold and all they had to offer were the ones for twice as much), I made it clear that I wasn't interested...and suddenly the cheap 20-Euro tickets appeared again, this time with decent seats in a loge toward the stage. Voila, coveted seats in one of the grandest opera houses in the world.

At intermission, several people were capturing the lush neo-Romantic interior, built in the 1860's, with their cameras, and I joined in the fun with my cell phone camera, aimed toward the ceiling.

Since I was able to hear Act I only (hoping to go back for another performance to see it all), I'll save detailed comments for later. The strings were in top form, but the brass suffered from chronic intonation problems. The set was remarkable, a fusion of minimalist black and white punctuated with bleeding orange and red when T&I drank the love potion. The enormous sliding and interlocking panels, vaguely reminiscent of Japanese architecture and alluding to video screens, with a surface skin that was simultaneously scrim-like and shiny like the newer Macs (if you opt for the glossy appearance on the screen), was utterly beguiling. The stark black and white design of the lighting, set, and clothing, echoing that of the set, completed the terrific visual contrast to the ultra-romanticism of the music. Costumes were somewhat clichéd---a kind of busty black hoop-skirt for Brangäne, trench coat for Tristan, long bushy train of black gauzy fabric for Isolde to manipulate. Expertly conducted by Leif Segerstam.

Easter Sunday in Vienna

Where else in the world but Vienna could the musical day of Easter begin with a charming rendition of a Haydn Mass, and end with a roiling quartet featuring Peter Brötzmann and Ken Vandermark at the jazz club Porgy and Bess? Easter in Vienna, with its gem-like shop-window eggs, rabbits of chocolate or straw with the requisite carrot, and celebrated from Friday through Monday with church concerts --- some as parts of services, some not --- ruled by Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Franz Schubert. This morning Yvonne and I attended High Mass at the Augustinerkirche at 11:00 AM, with Haydn’s timpani-infused Paukenmesse wafting through the arches, the buttery washes of strings and voices warming the chilly stones. Gratifying to actually comprehend the story of Christ’s resurrection as told in amplified Austrian-inflected German. My favorite moments: precisely at noon and 1:00 PM, when the church bells blasted their inharmonic tones into the air outside, colliding with Haydn’s music inside. Leading me to ponder why an Austrian (or European) Charles Ives never emerged, after centuries of similar ‘accidental’ dissonances.

Two useful bits: a Gothic church dating from the early 14th century, St. Augustine’s Loreto Chapel houses the preserved hearts of the imperial family, the Habsburgs. Anton Brückner, arriving in Vienna in 1868, composed his Third Mass on the rococo organ of this church.

Why we're living in Vienna: Yvonne as an exchange student attending the Rudolf Steiner-Schule Wien-Mauer, and I'm on sabbatical from CalArts, to write music, and play, and explore.