Sunday, September 16, 2012

Trash-talk overheard back"stage" at the dog show:  "Your dog's fur has so many mats, the fleas are doing yoga!"

Friday, May 25, 2012

What's new with Thabo?

Thabo apparently has been in limbo for some time in Pittsburgh, or perhaps at the Pittsburgh Zoo's huge facility a couple hours away.  There was also some apparent political difficulty with announcing the acquisition at the time of his arrival.  Anyway, here's some news from the Post-Gazette from the end of March, 2012:

In Defense of Animals doesn't like the whole Thabo business:

But I guess that's their job.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Dresden to Pittsburgh

This young bull elephant, like me, is moving from Dresden to Pittsburgh's Highland Park neighborhood this month. Thabo attacked his keepers last year, injuring one of them severely, and needs a new home. The Pittsburgh Zoo down the street from Wellesley Rd. offered to take him, as they have a good herd of bull elephants, plenty of room, and, I guess, more courageous keepers. So he's being shipped in a giant crate later this month. Thabo, five, was born and raised in the Dresden Zoo, a result of artificial insemination (glad I wasn't there).

Such a cutie!
little Thabo-Umasai (his full name)
The Sächsische Zeitung in Dresden did an interview with me shortly before my departure, with the hook that both of us were soon leaving for Pittsburgh. They also asked me a lot of questions about what I have been doing in Dresden musically, and took pictures of me in the Professor's office, and in front of it with bassoon. We'll see what kind of article they come up with. Soon, I imagine.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Neighborhood connections: Hellerau-Plauen


Hellerau and Plauen are neighborhoods in two opposite corners of Dresden which I visited in my last week here. I am writing this in the airport awaiting my flight back to the US. I chose to go there because the brochures about them put out by the local transit authority made them sound interesting. They were.

The brochures describe walking routes around the neighborhoods, pointing out interesting sights. The point is that by taking public transportation around Dresden, one can see really interesting stuff. I, of course, rode my bike, and found connections between the two places that were most interesting (to me), and probably not often noticed.
Hellerau row houses...

...and gardens.
Weisseritz gorge at Felsenkellerei brewery.

I visited them in alphabetical order. Plauen is a planned garden community, designed at the beginning of the beginning of the twentieth century after the model of English garden towns. It was intended to offer workers and others a place to live away from the noise and pollution of the city, and is in a peaceful, wooded area. The many distinctive row houses are tiny, but all are connected with small garden plots. Apple trees abound.  Near the edge of the community, the planners placed a public well and a linden tree, something that the brochure says is typical of small towns.

The designers also included provisions for artistic life. There is a large hall which was to serve as a performance space for dance and music, and Émile Jaques-Dalcroze was brought from Switzerland to lead a music and dance school. The hall now houses the European Center for the Arts, a festival of modern dance, music, and art. It was initially a hotbed of the avant-garde, but World War I soon stopped all further cultural life and development before it could really establish itself. In the Communist times, the hall and surrounding buildings housed Soviet soldiers and their gym.

The next day, I travelled to the Dresden area of Plauen. It was an industrial area with large millworks and a brewery, situated on the Weisseritz, a tributary to the Elbe. The Weisseritz goes through a spectacular gorge there, and the Felsenkellerei aged their beers in cool cellars dug into the rock. The brochure walk goes through woods and along the river and up the ridge and back into the town. In the town area of Plauen, the businessman Bienert, who ran the industry here, had a fountain built in honor of the German poet Wolfgang Müller (above). Probably because Bienert made his fortune primarily in milling, and the poet's name means "miller," and he wrote romantic poetry about millers.

Wolfgang Müller lived in the early nineteenth-century and is known now primarily because he wrote two cycles of poetry that Franz Schubert immortalized with his musical settings, Die schöne Müllerin and Die Winterreise. The fountain in Plauen shows the young miller hiking, with a quote from the first poem of Die schöne Müllerin at his feet: "Wandering is the miller's delight." And under that, you can see a millwheel.

The connection to Hellerau is seen in the first photo above: Die Winterreise's fifth song is called "The Linden Tree," and starts "At the fountain near the gate stands a linden tree." So Schubert and Müller unwittingly tie together these two Dresden neighborhoods, which didn't or barely existed when they wrote the songs. Nice performances on youtube for "The Linden Tree" with Schreier and Eschenbach:
and "Wandering" with Pears and Britten:

It has rained four days straight in Dresden, including the day of my departure. It was very sad to leave, but the bad weather made it easier. Maybe it was crying. But I'm going home.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Wrapping up.

Public art--Kollwitz portrait after her self-portraits.
As I get ready to leave Dresden in a couple days, one last bit of Kollwitz. Just about two blocks from me is the street that runs along the Elbe, called Käthe-Kollwitz-Ufer, or Käthe Kollwitz Embankment. In a posting last May, I wrote of Kollwitz's Dresden connection. Street namings are another aspect of that. The Käthe-Kollwitz-Ufer is the biggest one.

More pictures from this street.  The local electrical utility, Drewag, has a number of small transformer stations (I think they are) all over the city, and they are painted in a huge variety of ways, often in trompe-l'oeil style. Here's the one down the street. Incredibly well done. And no, the building is not made of bricks.

In another lifetime, I would go around the town seeking out and photographing all such stations.  They're all over, and quite wonderful.

a "prince" of a bike.
Sad news: I just sold my bicycle in preparation for leaving. I had bought it used soon after I got here, and it served me incredibly well. I practically lived on it. Rode it on average 7 days a week. Perfect for the cobblestones and often holey streets of Dresden. Sold it for cheap to my next-door neighbor, who bought it for his 15-yr-old son. I now have a real appreciation for mountain bikes, which I had previously disdained.

As for this blog, I do plan to add a little more to it after I get home Monday night. (Perhaps long after.) I would like to say a little more about the musical projects I have been working on in Dresden, which are ongoing. There is plenty more for me to do that I can handle online from Pittsburgh.

Der Freischütz by Weber

Saxon Switzerland
Composer Carl Maria von Weber was born in northwestern Germany not far from the Danish border. He spent the last ten years of his short life in southeastern Germany not far from the Czech border, as the Music Director of the Court Opera in Dresden. He lived in a house on the Elbe a bit upstream from the city, and is known to have enjoyed hiking in the Elbe Sandstone Mountains a little further up. These mountains, long ago dubbed the "Saxon Switzerland," are full of dramatic high cliffs with deep gorges. While composing his most famous opera, Der Freischütz, Weber found inspiration here for the Wolf's Glen scene during which the two characters cast the magic bullets at midnight, accompanied by all the horrors of hell. (See my May 23 posting for two of the ingredients for the magic bullets--the eyes!)

Backdrop to the Felsenbühne.
In the middle of this area, a natural bowl was turned into an open-air theater in the 1930s, called the "Felsenbühne," approximately Cliff Stage. I'm sure the primary inspiration for opening such a theater was the Wolf's Glen scene from Freischütz. It was made for that. And indeed, the opera is one of the most often-performed pieces at the Felsenbühne.

View toward upstage, where the bullets were cast (under the frame).
So last Sunday, I went. It was truly a spectacular experience. The production was quite true to the intentions of the composer and librettist--unlike most European opera productions these days. But here, how could you do otherwise? The biggest directorial conceit was to use picture frames of all sizes throughout the production. A picture falling from the wall figures in the plot of the opera. Unfortunately, I forgot my camera, so I had to make due with the lousy camera on my cell phone with its grimy lens.

The State Theaters of Saxony, which have productions across the state, run the Felsenbühne. Their orchestra plays, and the singers and production workers are employed by the State Theaters as well. Quite competently done, excellent wind playing in the orchestra, and the soloists were very good (but not great). It's certainly a tough venue to play. It threatened rain the whole time, and I learned that if it starts to rain, they stop the production for a few minutes (I guess to put on raincoats, etc.), and then continue. It didn't start.

The tuba is smokin'!
The state government of Saxony recently decided to save money by dissolving the orchestra of the State Theaters and folding it in with another orchestra (which is already the result of other dissolutions). In May, there was a big demonstration in front of the Parliament building downtown, and I was there. Lots of music, and speeches of course. The last I heard, the final decision was made to dissolve. But for some reason, there is hope for finding another solution. In any case, a lot of musicians' jobs are on the line, as not all can be saved by joining with another orchestra.

Back to the Felsenbühne. The show was a total thrill, seeing it performed right there where it happened.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

VW ad

This post sponsored by Volkswagen:

Subtitles available.

(I don't mind plugging them, since they have a major new factory here in Dresden, and they support the arts here bigtime.)