[It is with the keenest pleasure that I welcome Charlie Cockey to these pages. This globetrotter’s emailings are too good not to share. Ed.]
[November 1998. Originally appeared in La Folia 1:4.]
Hello to one and all,
From the void, a groaning creak, the sound of some long unattended portal reluctantly lifting open, a voice long unheard (and where has he been, they wonder), and behold, here he is! Not fallen off the face of the earth, nor sunken into some anonymous quagmire beyond the beyond, just out and about (although, to be honest, only part of the time have I been beyond the reach of the cybernetic universe). Mainly in Munich and environs, but Italy as well, with a wonderful excursion to the nether reaches of the heel of Italy’s boot, where not only computers are a rarity, but one feels as if electricity itself were a new and curious luxury. More on this another time. Today I want to tell of another adventure, whose chain of serendipities rivals those of my plane trip over to Europe.
Back on the 8th of August my friend Daniela and I went to Salzburg, Austria for a great concert by the Ensemble Modern at the Salzburg Music Festival: Luigi Nono, Iannis Xenakis, Edgard Varese, Gallina Ustvolskaya, and Olga Neuwirth. The Varese (Integrales) and the Ustvolskaya (Concerto for Piano, String Orchestra, and Tympani) were the highlight of the evening (Though I had expected to enjoy Nono’s … sofferte onde serene… it proved an electro-acoustic amorphousness that somehow eluded me. However, Xenakis’ Rebonds A was a rousing piece for solo percussionist, which got the proceedings off with a real bang. Ouch, sorry). Neuwirth’s Hoolloomooloo took the prize of the evening’s craziest title.
While there, however, in an atypical burst of organization (no comments, please) we thought: hey, we’re coming to see Marianne Faithful singing Kurt Weill’s Die Sieben Todsunden (Seven Deadly Sins) on the 18th, so why don’t we get smart and buy our tickets in advance. So off we went to a ticket agency and bought ourselves a pair (their last!!) for 375 Austrian shillings each, including vorverkauf fee (over here you pay MORE to buy tickets in advance, sort of like Ticketron ubiquitous), then went back to the concert, and otherwise merrily on our way.
Cut to Tuesday, 18 August. The day of the much anticipated Weill concert. The complete program, performed by the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra under the baton of the redoubtable Dennis Russell Davies, included as well Weill’s 2nd Symphony, a Concerto for Orchestra, Op 4, by Gottfried von Einem (with a wonderful Adagio), and Kleine Symphony (Little Symphony), Op 2, by Hans Eisler. The Eisler has, as its third movement, a magnificently dolorous three part “Invention,” for violins (unison), trumpet, and trombone, the latter two with jazz mutes, so that each note they play comes out with that wonderful old-fashioned “Wah Wah.” A great device, which mixes the nearly sepulchral musical theme with the almost comical “wah wah waaah’s” of the two brass instruments. All played pianissimo throughout. Great bit.
We drove to Salzburg, found a restaurant near the Mozarteum, where our tickets said our concert was taking place, and settled in to a relaxed dinner at a wonderful Austrian Wirtshof a bit towards the edge of town, in the same general region as the Mozarteum. Then, back in the car, and, miracle of miracles, found street parking all but right around the corner from the Mozarteum, which is on the other side of the river from the Alte Stadt.
Over here programs are not included with your ticket. If you want to know what’s being performed, you need to buy one. To be fair, these are exemplary, if not flat out laudatory productions, often fully produced, perfect bound books. Once inside the Mozarteum lobby (but still outside the ticket checkpoint), I decided I wanted to at least take a peek at the sequence of the program, if not buy a program (which, of course you just KNOW I was going to do, anyway), so I went over and asked the program seller if I could just take a quick peek.
“Sure,” she said, and I began leafing through the book. Monteverdi. Monteverdi. Jordi Savall. Monteverdi.
“Ummm,” said I, “I think you’re selling the wrong program here.”
“No,” she said, “that’s the concert here tonight.”
“But we have tickets for Marianne Faithful doing Kurt Weill, and the tickets say it’s here at the Mozarteum.”
“Well, I’m sorry, but this is the Jordi Savall concert.” With a sudden sinking feeling, edged oh ever so slightly with omigod panic (I mean, if ever any show at the festival is going to be totally sold out, it has to be this Faithful/Weill concert), we dashed over to the ticket booth, and were informed by the lady there that we definitely held the proper tickets for the Savall show, and not the Weill, which, yes, was tonight, but not at the Mozarteum. Across town at the Felsenreitschule. At which point the amazing Daniela took over, explaining in rapid-fire German our situation, and that the ticket vendor had obviously given us the wrong tickets and what were we to do? The booth lady, looking at the tickets, recognized from the sticker with the adjusted ticket price (the vorverkauf fee added on) who had sold us the ticket, ushered us INTO the ticket booth, found the telephone number for them, and gave Daniela the phone to use.
Remember now, this is at 7:30 in the evening, on a Tuesday night. But, (another miracle, and hang on, there are tons more to come) she got an answer. There were people still in the office. Daniela reiterated our dilemma.
“Do you have a receipt with you?”
“No, of course not! My friend is here from America, and we drove here tonight from Munich. And we have only the tickets your company gave us, which are the wrong tickets.”
“Well, who gave you these tickets?” Again, remember, we bought these tickets 10 days before. But (here comes another miracle!) Daniela, without a moment’s hesitation, began to describe in detail the woman who had given us these (wrong) tickets. “Ah,” said the voice on the phone, “that would be Frau Prosim (NB: I only use this name as an approximation; I’m not at all sure what it really is), the owner.” (Yet another miracle. I mean, if you have a problem, who better to deal with than the person at the top; neither can the buck be passed, but this is the person with the ultimate authority to accommodate beyond the norm. But wait. This is Tuesday night, and, as an owner of a business, I can tell you this is not the time to expect an owner to be on the premises). “Hold just a second,” said the voice, “I’ll put her on the phone” (Yep, another miracle.)
When Frau Prosim got on the phone, Daniela once again detailed our plight. Frau Prosim was most upset that she had pulled such a horrible gaff. I’m not sure, but I think she even remembered us. She told us she had ONE ticket for the show on hand, but, she said, there was nothing she could do about the tickets we had already bought. All this time there had been an older couple hanging about outside the ticket booth, looking very supplicatory and desperate, so I stepped out and spoke with them, and yes, they were desperate to see the Savall concert, which was totally ausverkauft (sold out). “Wenn sie einen Augenblick warten können, glaube ich daß ich ein Paar zu verkaufen habe,” said I (if you can wait a second, I think I have a pair to sell you). I verified we needed to do this, and sold them to the deliriously grateful couple.
“Okay,” said Fr Prosim on the phone, “if you can meet me right away in front of the Felsenreitschule (the correct venue for the Weill), we’ll see whether the Abendkasse has anything.”
Okay, picture this. Daniela and I, all up in our finery, are one one side of the river, and the Felsenreitschule is on the other side and all the way through the Alte Stadt, nestled INTO the base of the mountain (more on this anon). And, it is raining. Hard. So here we go, with only five minutes before curtain, RUNNING across this side of Salzburg, across the bridge, and through the Alte Stadt, poor Daniela in HEELS!!
We arrived, Daniela and Fr Prosim immediately recognize each other, and we go in to the Abendkasse. They have ONE TICKET. It is 800 OS (Austrian Shillings). “Give me 700 shillings,” (the original cost of our previously purchased tickets) says Fr P, which I quickly hand over, and then get this she adds 100 OS of her own, and buys the sole remaining available ticket in the entire world for this show, and hands it to us, and then starts to hand us the other ticket. At which point we see that it is for 2500 OS!!!
“Oh no!” cries Daniela, “we can’t afford that!”
“Oh, no, don’t worry, You don’t have to pay for this one, I’m just giving it to you. I made this terrible mistake, and I want to make it right.“ (there are more details here, but if you want them, you have to ask me to elucidate)
So, at this point (and I’m afraid I’ve lost track of the number of miracles here) we have one ticket in the center of the 6th row, and one somewhere in the back row of the balcony. Fr P continues: “There is a man, Herr X, sitting in the seat beside the expensive ticket. Give him the ticket for the balcony, and tell him I said he should sit in that seat. That way the two of you can sit together.” We thank her profusely, and go in. But, late, we have to go stand in the back of the balcony. Well, actually, poor Daniela, having run all this way in heels, sits glistening on the floor, and, closing her eyes, slips into a reverie listening to the music. After the first number she goes downstairs to take the expensive seat and explain Fr P’s instructions, but, arriving as the music starts, and the seat being in the center of the row, sits instead in a discovered empty on the aisle.
At the Pause (intermission), asking each person as they depart the row whether they are Herr X, she discovers he is not there (my guess is he sold the ticket to somebody, the cad). However, and perhaps this is the biggest miracle of the entire chain, the man on the OTHER side of our ticket had bought tickets for two people, and had apparently been either stood up or at least otherwise abandoned, and HIS OTHER SEAT WAS THUS VACANT!! Which means that, for a mere 700 OS (roughly $55) we were now sitting in perhaps the very best seats in the house, 6th row dead center (seats which cost, with the Vorverkauf fee, just about $200 each!). And were about to see and hear Marianne Faithful (who, by the way, was making Salzburg history by being the very first “pop” singer ever invited to perform in the festival) and Kurt Weill.
Oh yes, one other miracle. While Daniela was sitting at the row’s end earlier, she saw the piano with an extra seat at the side of the stage, and, thinking that Marianne Faithful would be singing from the side of the piano, attempted to convince the fellow at her side to take our seats in the center of the row. The miracle is that he doesn’t like sitting there. There isn’t enough leg room, he says, and he refused the offer. Thank god, since, of course, Marianne Faithfull was center stage where she belongs.
Now. The Felsenreitschule: this is a wonderful room for music. It was originally the riding school for the Salzburg nobility (royalty? My history isn’t what it should be, I’m afraid), and was open aired. You can still see the stalls along the side, and the roof can be pulled back to allow light in or not, as desired. The hall is wide, but not terribly deep, and it is actually chiseled INTO THE MOUNTAIN, so that the stage is set into the rock. The acoustics are incredible. We stood in the very back, and I could hear everything, both clearly and with a fine presence and immediacy that would shame most (all?) scientifically structured halls. From row 6, which in most halls is too close for my taste, none of the clarity is lost, and the feeling for the spatial quality of the orchestra is very defined. This is also the hall where Messiaen’s St Francis is to be performed under Kent Nagano, and it should be pretty nigh overwhelming. [INSERT: It was. Both acoustically and as performance. As an emotional experience, however, it didn’t hold a candle to the astonishing concert performance of three of the tableaus the Berkeley Symphony, also under Kent Nagano, put on a couple of years back. Nothing may ever equal that experience for me.]
The performance, in brief, was wonderful. Marianne was, understandably, a bit nervous, and for the first portions at least, fairly stiff, almost losing the beat at one point (a quick, deer in the spotlight, panic glance to Davies, and she was back on track), but her voice is admirably suited to the material, and as the piece wore on and she settled more comfortably into the proceedings, it just got better and better. The performing highlight, however, was the Hudson Shadmenis quartet that sings the rôle of the family. They were just incredible, especially the basso, a long, lean character with a most astoundingly expressive face. He should be doing something at center stage himself! Wonderful voice, and just great facial movements.
After the concert, we head through Salzburg, and by the Fr P’s office to fulfill our final obligation (again, details upon request). Hearing music, we wander over to see what it is, and discover, in the center square, a video projection of Janacek’s opera From the House of the Dead (I found out subsequently they also showed The Excursions of Mr Broucek!!). However, standing in the rain at this point not being overly desirous, and also not wanting to overlay the music already in our heads, we headed back to the car and Munich.
And just how many miracles is that, anyway?
I leave Munich in the next few days to a week, and hence to Paris. If I can, I’ll send something from Paris, but if I don’t, you’ll understand, right?