Friday, February 1, 2013

Concert Culture in Europe

I thought it would be fun to reflect on how attending a live concert in Europe is different from here in the states. The first difference was one I noticed before we even stepped foot inside a venue, and that was that liver performances were advertised on billboards, on buses and in the metro stations like movies are advertised here at home. I thought that was really cool and I think it showed that more people go to live performances, which I noticed at the concerts. One maybe obvious difference is that the venues are insanely beautiful and have amazing acoustics. Being in a fancy building like the Musikverein or the Staatsoper really changed the experience for me. Another thing I found to be interesting was at some places, you were required to check your coat, and in that case it was free. I had never checked my coat here at home, I always thought that was something only rich old people did (why pay someone to hod your coat?!). Also, at every concert we attended, if you wanted a program you had to pay for it. Once you were actually in your seat (or standing in the back of the Musikverein to hear the Vienna Philharmonic!) there are a few more differences. One that I loved but caught me off guard the first time I experienced it was that in between movements, members of the audience cough or clear their throats like they have been waiting the whole time but they didn't want to be disruptive. Another thing is that European audiences clap FOREVER. Some of the conductors come out to bow six or seven times! We also noticed that nobody really stands for an ovation, even if the performance was fantastic. Maybe they just show their appreciation by clapping for an eternity.

The gorgeous Musikverein with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra 

The Staatsoper, waiting to see Der Rosenkavalier

One of the many spots in the Staatsoper where you can drink champagne and be classy.
And just like I promised, I'm blogging out of order.
I wanted to write about this one because some of the events had me blogging during the day before I could get to my computer.

Monday Jan 14
>Lippizaner Horse training session, Albertina, St. Stephen's Cathedral, Mahler Orchestra, Phönixhof<

Poor Katie was sick so she sat this one out. It felt weird going through this day without her. I was worried.

Lippizaner Horse Training Session
Were we going to ride them, pet them, see them, smell them, watch them? What?
I actually didn't know what to expect. I didn't know that what we saw for the first 5 minutes would sum up what we sat through for about an hour. It was neat to imagine being in the painting we saw at the palace. If I recall correctly, there were no female riders at the training session, not that I expected them. Thanks to us the horses are more easily identifiable. Go see them for yourself: Snowflake, Toothpaste, Eggshell - and my favorite, Foamy. Three guesses why I named him that. I guess it was a bit...too much for him, eh? Eh??
No photos allowed so you get this. Fuzzy horses in a fuzzy house. Too funny.
After the horses we went to the Albertina.
Special thank to Mary for allowing me to go to this.

My first thought upon entering: I feel like a yuppy.
I thought of my childhood. My first impression of art museums - a gathering of snobs. I always saw them in the movies standing there in front of famous works trying to make sense of it. As I kid I thought that was stupid. I still don't quite understand it and yet I became one of those people that day.


        We started off with statues. I was actually looking forward to seeing all the statues on this trip in general. I have used pencil, colored pencil, ballpoint, printing (that thing where you carve a rubber stamp and roll paint on it), digital tools, acrylic and watercolor. I feel like I've done the basics with the exception of sculpture. I don't expect to be good or bad at it - but I have no idea because I've never tried. I was hoping to be inspired by the trip. The statues I saw didn't conjure any bout of genius in me but I do have a new found respect for statues. I've always thought they were amazing. I think I might be afraid to try it myself.
        I'm walking through the larger gallery at all these paintings. I am quick to ponder "Why are most of these famous?" Some of them are pretty to look at but really, where is the genius? For nearly all of these my face contorted with confusion, 'Who thinks this is good? Why is this in a museum?!'
What made these paintings so greatly appreciated? Was it simply technique or how it makes you feel? I never cared about the audience of my art. I never thought that my art would have an audience. In all honest, when I was little, I never consider what I was doing to be "art." Apologies for the lack of modesty but ever since I was 5 people told me I should be an artist. I scoffed every time. I think I may have made a subconscious effort to avoid becoming one because I thought the idea of being an artist was ridiculous. My art was for me, I never did it for anyone else. I did it because it helped me remember the world as I saw it. When my art got better, it meant I was seeing things clearer.

        So why were these paintings "amazing"? Did these artists always paint for others? It appears that all these paintings were sold at some point, maybe not always by the original artist though. Paintings can't be judged by the same standards since they all had different purposes. If we were judging by ones ability to capture an image I'd say I had some skill in that area. It seemed like some of these artists weren't too keen on that. But maybe they weren't trying to.
I asked Dr. Powell why these were famous and he told me what I was speculating already. "They were some of the first people to do it." What frustrated me was that I hadn't seen any art before I thought of doing some of the same things. I wondered how that was possible. Do artistic ideas just come to people? it can't always be borrowed ideas. Do artists just see the world differently before they are considered artists? Can anyone be an artist? Is an artistic eye inherent or acquired? Or both?  If only I was alive decades earlier perhaps my work would be on this wall. But now my work is compared to what's already been done.

....There's a picture that looked like the rippy bits thing from Spongebob. Good job.
Rippy bits...?
"I don't know, I just thought it looked funny."
        I was walking through the Albertina looking for an answer to 'what were they thinking?' It could just be that they were unafraid to illustrate strange and confusing things. Some of these paintings looked the way I think. Some of these artists were masters of colors or masters of breaking traditional methods. Masters of improper design. I found them positively childlike with their artistic bravery.  Displaying manifestations of their abstract thought publicly for everyone to see and judge freely. Was there always a message with these works? Or maybe sometimes they would say, "I don't know, I just thought it looked funny." What was my message in my art? I don't know that I was ever trying to say anything through my art. I was always testing techniques or just appeasing the urge to move my hand over paper... some might call that doodling. Some call my doodles art. Are any of these framed pieces doodles?

        There was one painting that caught my eye because it appeared the artist was going for an overall geometric layout. Upon closer inspection, you can see the windows on the building in the distance are done horribly (in my opinion). What gives? Was this artist bad at windows? Did they do that on purpose? Was he pressed for time? Did he really not care either way? Did it look right to him? Did he not think anyone would look at it that closely? Was this one of those pieces he did just to test something? Was it always intended to be a finished product on display? All I know is, if I were doing this painting I wouldn't get to the windows and half-ass it like that. Seriously, what is up with these windows
............   :|    Do not ask my opinion on this artist.

        Fun thought: All of the weird abstract things could be exactly as some of these artists saw the world. Those paintings represent was they considered normal, nothing abstract about it. We are confused and intrigued because it makes no sense to us but what if the artists just shook their heads and said, "What? What's so weird about it?" Broken minds can produce broken thoughts and images.

All this really boiled down to "What makes this artistic?"
        I think it's debatable what qualifies as art. I think it should be arguable because sometimes that's just what art is. From a very young age I was a firm believer that there is no good or bad art. Art just 'is.' Some things just appeal to certain people. For every work there has to be at least one person that appreciates it even if that's the artist himself. I have always believed that as long as your art looks the way you wanted it to, then it's art nonetheless. 'Does it do it's job' basically. Is it an accurate manifestation of the artists feelings? Then yes, of course it's art. Does it make you think? Then sure, it's art. Does it tie the room together? Yes, it's art. Does anything not qualify as art? Actually...not really. The idea of creation in general can be consider an art.
        My bigger question - the one that entered my mind immediately as I saw these paintings, the question that took me a while to form with the right words: So what am I doing wrong? Why am I not famous too? After spending too much time at the Albertina, I think real answer is...."nothing."
22 years of fighting it, I'm ready to embrace it. I am an artist. 

St. Stephen's Cathedral
        Breathtaking Gothic architecture, oh my word. This cathedral really drove home to idea that America is in it's adolescence. We typically marvel at new pristine buildings, chic extraordinary designs, in America. I recalled one of our guides saying that there isn't much history in America of this caliber. We think it's great when something is 80-100 years old. St. Stephen's Cathedral dates back to the 14th and 15th centuries. Now THAT is amazing. I thought it was funny how there are single statues in town centers yet there are dozens of statues all in one concentrated area in this cathedral. People go to museums just to see things like this but here they are out in the open. This whole cathedral is a museum of art. There is art everywhere and some just for decoration! How long did it take to make all these things?? Someone put their heart and soul into every single one of these statues and paintings.

       I googled St. Stephen's and got a (Rick Steves, haha) youtube video. He talked about the colorful tiles that are symbolically owned by the residents who make donations to the cathedral. I wondered what it would have been like if I saw the cathedral in warm sunny weather and I realized I much preferred the experience being bitten by January frost - soaking feet and all. The snow gave it a different flavor of beautiful. I wouldn't trade it for anything.

         I had no idea what I was getting into. How many steps?? Some said 370, others said 354 or something. Either way that's a lot of steps in one whack. Yes, Dr. Powell smoked us. He plowed his way to the top. I had to take breaks. I used to have a fear of heights but it's subsided since I was a kid. However, when we were nearly to the top, we took a doorway leading to a narrow connecting bridge, and I did feel a little wobbly.
Photo credit to....Foster child?
Mahler Orchestra!
        So cool! I'm running out of steam for this blog post. those of you still with me are probably running out of patience. I'll wrap this one up.While the Vienna Philharmonic is a sharp group, the Mahler Orchestra was full of motion, emotion, and charm. Quite captivating. I wish I could have seen the conductor from where i was sitting, I heard some interesting things about his ...technique. I loved the way the orchestra moved. I liked watching them almost as much as I liked listening to them.


Om nom
 Cafe Phönixhof
        I was grumpy and hungry. I stomped around to a few cafes and finally landed on this one by random. Maura and Marissa, bless their hearts, accompanied me after the Mahler Orchestra's performance. I loved this place. Loved it so much we went back at least 3 more times. I'm too tired to try and spell some stuff I ate there...but i was delicious. I loved the environment. I have to go back. Maura, Marissa, and I all ended up there the first night together before we were room mates. It's like the Phönixhof brought us together :)

I forgot to mention in the last blog post how I thought it was odd that the Vienna Philharmonic outside stand players turned pages instead of the inside players as usual. At all of the other performances we went to the inside players turned pages.
After seeing many famous composers graves we went to see the Barber of Seville. This particular production was set in a more modern time. I have never seen the original version so I can't compare the two settings. The soprano Rosina had a beautiful voice. The whole opera was quite debauch but humorous. The next morning we went to the Haus Der Musik. There was a part of the museum where you could conduct a virtual orchestra. While I was conducting this group of school children came in and had me conduct a song for them. It was very difficult because the sensor didn't pick up the beats correctly. There were many rooms that had interesting information ad artifacts for famous composers. I especially enjoyed that when I walked into Beethoven's section, the second movement of his seventh symphony was playing. It is one of my favorite musical pieces. There was also a violin from Strauss' time which was absolutely beautiful. At one part there was a case with many famous conductors baton. That night we saw the Szymanowskil string quarter perform in the Mozartsaal. All the members of the quarter were so in tune with each other. I have never seen a quartet play so well. The Szymanowski is a very difficult piece, and they made it look effortless. There was a point at which the first violinist was playing parallel fifth false harmonics. I normally don't like modern pieces but I really enjoyed the overtones in the piece. I am a big fan of Dvorak and absolutely loved their interpretation of it. The first violinist was extremely good, not that the others weren't good. He had a unique bow hold though. I am not sure how he could play so well with his bow hold.

On the way to Bratislava, Slovakia we stopped at Esterhazy palace. We got to see Haydn's mausoleum where his two heads are. He is the only composer to have a mausoleum. That night in Bratislava we went to Reduta Hall to see the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra perform. They performed Saegusa's Requiem for Earthquake Disaster, Mozart's fifth violin concerto, Berlioz' Symphonie Fantastique. The violinist who performed the violin concerto was very good, but I did not necessarily like the way he performed the piece. He is from Hungary an he played less light than Mozart is usually played. The second movement was absolutely beautiful though. The next day we got a walking tour of Bratislava. It is such a cute little city, if you can even call it city. It was nice to finally stay in a hotel, and a very nice one at that. We went to see the opera Krutnava by the Slovak composer Suchon. Not knowing much about the composer I didn't know what to expect of the opera, but I ended up really liking it. It had an emotional plot line, the performers were talented, and it was only two hours. That pretty much ended our musical tour in Bratislava. On Sunday we went to a Catholic Mass in the town. The people there were very nice, and the organist was talented, but the church choir was out of tune at times. I enjoyed it none the less, even though it was really cold in the church. Later that day I went with some of the other girls in the class to get a fish pedicure. The fish ate dead skin off of our feet. It was so tickly at first, but my feet felt amazing after wards. I then went ice skating, in Europe!

On the way to Prague we stopped in a small town in the Czech Republic that dates back to the renaissance era. It looked like a movie set it was so perfect and cute. In Prague we went on a walking tour in the old town. St. Vitus Cathedral is no doubt the most beautiful piece of architecture I saw on the trip. The original part of the cathedral was built in the thirteenth century and has a gothic style. More was added to the cathedral later and was built in the gothic style as well. We got to see the changing of the guards where the president works on the hill up by the cathedral. Then we walked to the Charles bridge which is the oldest bridge in Prague. It also dates back to the thirteenth century. It was an experience of a lifetime to have walked over the Vltava river on an 800 year old bridge. In one of the main squares there is a clock that is 602 years old and still works. That night we attended a piano recital that was played on an 18th century piano-forte. The performers played beautifully. Although I enjoyed every opera we went to, I liked Madame Butterfly the best. It is so sad and the performers were amazing musicians. I don't cry often, but I teared up at the end. I also teared up the next day when we toured the Jewish quarter. In a synagogue there are 80,000 names of Czech Jewish men, women, and children who were killed in world war two. In the upper part of the synagogue there were art works by Jewish children during this time. Out of the ten thousand that did art during this time, only 200 survived. Some of the art pieces are graphic and sad. No child should have to experience that. That night we went on a dinner cruise on the Vltava river. I absolutely loved that they played Smetena's Moldau while we cruised down that very river. On the last night we attended a folk dinner were there was traditional Czech dancing and folk music. There was a trio with a dulcimer, a violin, and a bass.

I had the time of my life on this trip learning about western musical culture where the music itself was composed and premiered. Thank you to everyone on the trip for making it so enjoyable as well!


Okay. I do not even know how to describe how much I love Prague. It is beautiful, peaceful yet bustling, and full of history and culture just like Vienna.

On our way to Prague we got a taste of the beauty that was in store for us. Above is Telc, a little town restored to its 14th century charm. We stopped here for lunch midway to Prague and it was well work the stop. 
Frozen lake and some natural beauty outside of Telc. Maybe you can tell how cold it was?
Our first encounter with Prague was at night. Check out the enchanting Old Town Square at night. It is seriously better than Disneyland. 
My first Czech meal. DELICIOUS goulash with bacon dumplings. I can't even describe how tasty this meal was. 
Here is some of the crew walking through the village on the outskirts of Prague castle. So cozy, quaint, historic and delightful. 
A view of Prague from the castle on the hill. How gorgeous is THAT in the snow? 
Ducks swimming under the 14th century Charles Bridge. 
The beauty of Old Town Square during the day. Equally as beautiful as it is at night. 
Art Nouveau glass overhang by Alfonse Mucha, an important aspect of Czech culture as the Art Nouveau movement was begun by Czech nationalist Mucha during the late 1800s. 
Delicious cappuccino in Prague. I enjoyed this delicacy in a completely Art Nouveau cafe - all original furnishings. We weren't supposed to take pictures of the furnishings, unfortunately...let me just tell you it was gorgeous and you need to go to Prague and check it out for yourself. 
Here are some of my friends lost in Prague. Prague is probably the best place in the world to get lost in and explore. 
The amazing Charles Bridge and the "New" Town of Prague. "New" meaning 14th century. "Old" meaning pre-14th century. Pretty amazing. 
The old Jewish cemetery in use until 1787. I've never seen anything like it before in my life! Exploring the Jewish quarter of Prague was a moving and interesting experience. We went to the synagogues that are full of Jewish culture and history - from the beginnings of the Jewish population in Prague dating back to the 13th century to the upheaval of the Jewish people during the Nazi regime. 
Cuties in Prague. 
Awesome van in the snow on our way to the John Lennon Wall. 
Dr. Powell in front of the John Lennon Wall. This wall was a symbol of freedom and revolution for the Czech people during the communist regime. After 1989, when the regime ended, this wall became a permanent part of Prague and a reminder of the people's fight for democracy. A really neat thing about the timing of our trip to Prague - we were there during their first presidential election where the people got to vote. Previously, the president has only been selected by the Czech parliament. This was a very exciting and monumental time for the Czech people. It made me truly appreciate my right to vote, something a lot of people in the US take for granted sometimes, myself included.
Karla, me, John Lennon, and Katie
Katie and Karla at U Fleku, a yummy traditional Czech restaurant on the outskirts of Prague. We ate a delicious meal there while an accordion-playing man serenaded us.
On Charles Bridge...sunset over Prague on our last evening. 

After all of this...we had to go home. I'm still not over it. I think it will take me a long time to absorb everything I experienced. I am so grateful for this opportunity and I hope to go back to all these places one day. 

- Mary 


After several intensely awesome days in Vienna, it was time to move on to explore Slovakia and it's capital, Bratislava.

Let me first talk about some of the delicious, calorie-laden food Slovakia has to offer.
Check out this spaetzle. It was amazing. Slathered in cheese sauce and topped with crispy fried onions, this is exactly what I needed after a freezing cold day. 
Potato pancakes. Unlike anything I had ever had before. Eva, our guide, told us they were a Slovakian/Czech specialty so of course, as a food lover, I had to try them. I expected they would be like hash browns but they were actually more like a pancake. A delicious, potato-y pancake with hints of garlic, cream and completely worth-it calories. Can I just say how much I love Europe? 

A couple moments from our sunny but freezing guided walking tour through Bratislava. Bratislava is a city full of rich political history - both good and bad - from the Habsburgs to the communist regime to its current state of democracy. 

An example of the neat architecture in Bratislava. That black dot to the left of the first window on the yellow building is a cannonball left from Napoleon's army during a siege back in the day. 
Inside the newly restored Slovak Philharmonic Hall. The Slovakians are extremely proud of the restoration. It is truly a beautiful building. The concert we saw in the hall was equally beautiful. A very well executed performance. 
Some yummy and interesting tea I had at Kaffe Mayer in Bratislava. 
Here is Karla in front of the "blue" Danube river in winter. Also of note - the trees behind Karla made up the former Iron Curtain, the edge of the communist arm during their regime. Happily, the Iron Curtain is no more, and this forest is open to bikers and nature enthusiasts year-round. 
Here I am in the same location :) 

Now, onto Prague!