Wednesday, July 28, 2010
July 28, 2010
The next morning (my birthday! I’m not saying how old!!), we were up early to catch a train to Bologna. We had just heard the previous evening by e-mail that we had indeed secured an appointment with Fernanda Giulini, director of the fabulous Giulini collection of historical pianos, for 6 pm that evening – at the Villa Medici , in Briosco, north of Milan. So, we had decided at rather the last minute to book a car rental from Bologna, since our hotel was in Mantua and it was clear the Italian train system was not going to get us to Briosco by 6 pm. (Apparently Mantua was sidestepped in the 19th century by the growing Italian train system; you can get to Mantua by train, but allow a few hours). Lucky me, I got to drive the whole way, since we could only afford a manual shift and I’m the only one who (sort of) can drive manual. We drove first to Mantua, finding our hotel after some difficulty – if only they would actually put a sign on the street, it would help so much!! – and then set off for the Villa Medici. We made it there by 5:50, only minutes away from our appointed time. (Dongsok is faint with excitement by this moment, you must realize). The Villa is surrounded by imposing walls and after some searching we find an unlikely looking gate with an intercom. After some moments, we are greeted by a nice man who says they weren’t expecting us. What??! Phone conversations. It seemed Mrs Giulini expected us at 6 pm in her OFFICE in Milan. (We had not realized that a portion of the collection – the harpsichords, mostly – are in Milan at the offices of her Italian fashion company.) Horrors! Big, big English-to-Italian e-mail misunderstanding. However, more phone conversation ensues, and soon Pasquale, our greeter, tells us that Mrs. Giulini is making a big exception, and he will show us the collection. What a nice man! He took us into the Villa, where room after fabulous room contained pianos, from early pianos by Walter, Schantz, and Graf to more modern late 19th century examples (which we politely admired but except for the Erard on which I could not resist playing a few bars of Chopin, passed by). And surprise, there were also three fantastic organs, two 4’ ones and one small 8’ organ; I really liked all three of them. There were three Schantzes, all slightly different; two Walters, one very much like our Walter copy; and two Grafs, one identical to the lovely Graf owned by Brooke Allen, who loaned it to Montclair State University (where I teach) for the past year. The Grafs were amazingly easy to play; it confirmed my suspicion that Mr. Allen’s Graf needs “playing in”, having been just newly restored two years ago, and infrequently played so far.
After an hour and a half, we were at the end of our tour; Dongsok purchased several of the books published by the foundation (and I thought we were slowly emptying our suitcases of heavy CDs – only to replace them with really books!) and we said our goodbye to Pasquale, who had chatted with me in fractured French-Italian throughout the tour. (We both kept switching languages in an attempt to be mutually understood! My brain was aching. It’s always surprising to me how I seem to remember more French than I think I should, since most of my musical life is Italian.) Some food, then a long two-and-a-half hour journey back to Mantua. I really should get glasses suitable for night driving one of these days.
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
July 27, 2010
Saying goodbye to Giuseppe, we arrived by train in Rimini, the ultimate Italian resort town, I fear. After checking in to our hotel, our friend Enrico Gatti picked us up and we traveled to the hills outside of Rimini, where he and his wife Elena are renovating a historic farmhouse for their family. It seems the Italian authorities have so far taken three years to approve their architectural designs! My builder father would be appalled. Enrico cooked us a magnificent 3 course lunch, after which we played with the children, took a walk in the fields, and – oh yes! – played Enrico’s folding harpsichord. That’s a harpsichord that packs up for travel by breaking into three pieces rather like a jigsaw puzzle and ends up in a compact travel case with wheels. One of the best of this type that I’ve ever played! Enrico was also very happy about his new eighteenth-century violin, which he says means he can stop looking for the perfect violin, at least for now.
In the evening, we took a walk on the beach (amid thousands of empty beach chairs, very rigidly assigned during the day to your particular hotel), ate pizza, and drank Italian wine.
Monday, July 26, 2010
The next morning, we set out in Giuseppe’s car to visit other Italian organs. Unfortunately we were unable to show Dongsok the fantastic 16th century organ in Trevi that I performed on last December, because the church where it is located is now a museum, and like many museums, was closed on Mondays. Sad, because I really love that organ and would have liked to play it again. We went on to Foligno, where Andrea was working on his latest restoration. The Foligno organ (from 1749) was quite exceptional. A small earlier organ was incorporated into a newly built organ (functioning as a sort of “echo” organ, since the pipes are located behind the keydesk & totally blocked) – so it was a rare two-manual Italian organ. Wonderful sounds, and since it was a later instrument, some interesting reed stops. The second manual makes some interesting repertoire possibilities: Andrea begged me to play Mozart on this organ the next time I come to Italy! Hm. An intriguing thought! After lunch, Giuseppe, Dongsok & I traveled to Serra San Quirico, where we saw two restored organs; one from 1676, exceptionally beautiful case and also a stunningly beautiful small church, with a typically beautiful double principal 8. We met the local priest, who then took us to another church with an 19th century organ, also very nice. (He then treated us to aperitifs at the local bar, where everyone in the town seemed to stop by to greet him.) A long day and many organs, but what pleasure.
I must also mention that all three cities – Leonessa, Foligno, and Serra San Quirico – were located amidst some breathtaking scenery. I had no idea this area of central Italy was quite so mountainous; I had spent plenty of time previously exploring hill towns like Orvieto and other Tuscan & Umbrian cities, but these areas in Lazio, Abruzzo and Marche had stunning vistas. And the colors of the landscapes in Italy is unlike anywhere else I’ve been, just like Willem-Jan had said they were.
Sunday, July 25, 2010
Saturday, July 24, 2010
July 22-24, 2010 Thursday morning we take a local train to Sion, Switzerland where the venerable concert organizer, Mr Maurice Wenger meets us at the train station. His English is not so good & my French is pretty vile, but we manage to make ourselves understood. We are staying with my friend Irma Zenklusen, the sister of Ernst Bucher, an amateur organist and ARTEK fan who I’ve known for 12 years since my St. Francis days, I have stayed with Irma once before, the first time I visited Sion, and she is a lovely host. She cooked and fed us with great attention, and (scandalously) we all enjoyed a bottle of dessert wine each evening! What a kind and lovely woman, with many children and grandchildren that she would visit in the Alps immediately after our visit.
We are picked up and driven to the Valere Basilica by Madame Veronique Dupuis, one of three organists of the Basilica. She turns out to be a woman after my own heart, interested in historical organs and early music, raising 2 children with her husband, and managing (superbly) the concerts for Mr. Wenger who is largely retired now. She also does not speak much English, so I get a lot of practice in my French trying to converse with her. I think maybe she understood most of what I said!
The Basilica is on top of a small mountain at the edge of the small city of Sion. We parked about midway up, which is as far as one can drive (Veronique’s driving up and down the winding, rocky road is amazing!) and walked the rest of the way. The organ is incredible: a small "bird’s nest" case perched high on the back wall, reached by a winding stone stair at the side (lit by fairy-lights). At the top of the stairs, one enters a sort of attic behind the back wall of the church where the bellows are located. These have been recently re-restored, and are now capable of being hand-pumped as well as the usual motor to provide wind. Dongsok & I tried both methods, eventually deciding that he would be better off pulling stops than pumping for an hour. Also, Veronique showed him how to make a "tremulant" by hand, by gently shaking one of the bellows as I played. With some practice, he gets it just right, and the effect is a bit like an Italian voce humana: beautiful.
The organ is small but oh-so-wonderful. All of the pieces I had chosen work perfectly, and the keyboard is again light and responsive. There are 9 stops; Veronique showed us the 4 stops which made up the medieval Blokwerk in the oldest part of the organ. The sound is amazingly loud and aggressive; Dongsok, standing to turn pages, said he might need earplugs if I played any really long pieces. (I only use the Blokwerk for the short first piece, the Kotter Kochersperger Spanioler). The organ is really a 4-foot organ; all the Renaissance pieces I would normally play on an 8’ stop are best just with a 4’ stop, of which there is a beautiful flute and a principal. The piece I normally play at 4’ works fine on just the 2’. The lone 8’ flute somehow catapults us into the 17th century, and I avoided it except for the later repertoire on my program (for this program, the late repertoire was the four sixteenth-century pieces by Gabrieli, Storace, Scheidemann, and Sweelinck. Anything later than about 1650 would be pretty strange to play, I think, though the tuning is sadly not quarter-comma meantone but a compromise baroque temperament). The lone 19th century stop, a 16’ for the pedal, I ignored except for the last note of the final piece.
I am in heaven. I have been playing the really early organ repertoire of the 15th & 16th centuries for many years now, but I feel like my life has been waiting to get to this exact point at this very moment. The music and the organ are a perfect match. Not only that, the concert paid a real fee, and Mr. Wenger treated me as the honored artist, with a special luncheon party, a dressing room (of sorts), an elegant reception following the concert, in short the same treatment as colleagues like Gustav Leonhardt who had performed on the series in the past. America seemed very far away.
Dongsok and I found time in between practicing to tour the castle exhibits, visit a historical house in the center of Sion, and also to climb the neighboring little mountain on top of which was the ruined, romantic-looking castle of Valere. The 15th and 16th centuries feel very close in this town.
I was sad to play the final notes of the recital; it meant my time with this organ had come to an end. At the reception, Mr. Wenger gave a toast praising the concert, and saying that he hoped I would return (YES YES YES). That’s a first. Later we heard from Ernst Bucher, who traveled from Kreuzlingen to attend the concert, that Mr. Wenger had been very pleased indeed, saying that I had played repertoire really well-suited to the instrument, and had not played too loudly throughout as many organists apparently tend to do on that organ. It seems that I will be invited to return in five years. One last surprise: Dongsok was given a small fee for stop-pulling and page-turning (which was greater than my performer fee for either of the next two concerts!).
After the concert, we make our way to the station, where we catch an 8:15 pm train to Milan, connecting to the night train to Rome. I had asked Mr. Bucher to book this train for me; fortunately, he said "if you must perform again the following day, you must go first class." The Swiss train to Milan, in first class, was a revelation after all the trains we had taken previously. Dongsok and I looked at each other and said, "why haven’t we been taking first class trains all along!" Of course, the Italian overnight first-class compartment was not up to the Swiss standards. In this case, I was extremely grateful to have the highest level because if this was the highest level, what would be less? We slept well, though; I always enjoy sleeping on a night train, and we had our very own compartment, which was fun.
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Today is another travel day – we take the Thalys train through Paris to Geneva, Switzerland. A long day of switching trains; Paris is just a half hour at the train terminal, no chance to see much and anyways we’re dragging too much luggage with us, even after leaving one suitcase in Holland. We arrive in Geneva late afternoon and find our hotel, after which we meet with my friend Fabrice, who takes us to see a historical copy Renaissance organ in a Geneva suburb. Interesting – split sharps & meantone, so one can really play all the Frescobaldi pieces. We also see another organ, managing to pull the stop we notice only too late the organist has said "ne toucher pas!" – disconnecting the tracker stop pull; after a few anxious moments, we manage to reconnect the tracker, breathe a sigh of relief, and decide we’ve seen enough! The temperature inside the small churches is sweltering – not much ventilation – so we call it a day & enjoy a lovely meal with Fabrice we feel we well deserved after a long day of travel. (Studiously avoiding even THINKING about the exchange rate with Swiss francs! Geneva makes NYC look like a real bargain.)
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Monday, July 19, 2010
Willem-Jan and Leny accompanied us in the morning to the church in Noordbroeck, about 40 minutes southeast of Zeerijp. My friend Peter Westerbrink, organist there, met us and let us in to play the church’s fabulous Schnitger organ. This instrument, which is one of the most famous Schnitger organs surviving, is to be the location of my next CD. My appointment was to spend 3 hours there trying out various pieces to find which repertoire I would record. I had some music from the generation just past Scheidemann (Tunder, Weckmann), some Bach, some Krebs, some Boehm, Leyding, some other random things. Tunder & Weckmann: no. I missed meantone tuning too much, and the Noordbroeck organ’s division of stops between great organ and positiv just seemed not quite right. Bruhns, Bach, Leyding, Boehm...ahhhhh....I still will have to decide eventually which Bach to play, not an easy decision; maybe the E minor Prelude & Fugue...My biggest worry had been the pedal board. In previous visits, I had found the pedals difficult to negotiate. Much larger compass than the Zeerijp/17th century type organ, but nothing like anything modern I’d find in the US either. If I could not manage the pedals, I would have to choose repertoire very carefully. But, no worries: Peter Westerbrink had told me "three hours practice, and you will be fine". He was right. I could manage anything by the time I left. That was encouraging!
After the organ visit, we had a picnic lunch, then caught the train in Zuidbroeck, saying goodbye to Willem-Jan and Leny, such good friends. We will miss Willem’s informative commentary (he’s a retired history professor) on all aspects of local Dutch history and church history – as well as the wonderful stories of his youth! He told us some hair-raising stories about living through World War II – stories of humanity on the part of both Dutch and Germans as well as some of the inhumanity that was a sad part of the local history.
Our train journey was a bit lighter load, having left our largest suitcase behind with 100 CDs for the Zeerijp church to sell in its gift shop. Still...not as light a load as one would like. Three trains and a tram later, we arrived in Antwerp at the home of our friends Ellen Delahanty and Geert van Gele.
Sunday, July 18, 2010
Thursday, July 15, 2010
Our Dutch friends, Willem-Jan and Leny, met us in Loppersum and we drove to their house in Zeerijp, where we enjoyed a lovely stay with them for the next 3 days. The best part: we left all the hot weather of New York City behind us. Holland was cool; occasionally a sprinkle of rain, sometimes some bright sun, but always comfortable.
Saturday, July 10, 2010
The UPS man stopped my husband outside on the sidewalk. "I’ve got a BIG delivery for you." Oh yes, he wasn’t kidding...ten giant 100-count cartons of CDs, a small mountain of a pile in the entry of our apartment. (Those who have visited the Toth-Shin residence know that the entry room functions as a garage, storing stray harpsichords & pianos, seats from our car, boxes of items coming to/from our storage place, miscellaneous flotsam from 3 children.) Finally here: my newest CD, organ music, mostly from the Renaissance, played on two historic Dutch organs. Just in time, since in a few days, my husband and I were to set off on a four-week journey to play concerts and visit historic keyboards in six different European countries. (How many CDs fit into a 23-kilo weight limit suitcase??)