Monday, January 31, 2011

past my bedtime

We have officially kicked off the Big-Birthday-Anniversary Celebration, extended version, with the Gonzalo Rubalcaba Trio. They played the Konzerthaus on Sunday night and it was a weird evening. The trio was breathtaking at times - the drummer, technically flawless, did not seem to be inhabiting the same rare space as piano and bass, whose players sighed and struck in symbiosis for two hours. Gonzalo sounded like Alban Berg had gone to Havana and partied until four in the morning, still playing at the club but getting all Mitteleuropaly homesick. Half the audience left in the course of the concert, which was just bizarre, since the playing was world-class and they are usually all about that here in Vienna. Were people expecting his dad? Was it just getting too late on a Sunday night? In any case it was strange, the best playing imaginable in that glorious gilded room, and people walking out in droves.

MtMn and I started our whole sordid affair at a jazz performance, the Art Ensemble of Chicago playing at the Kerr Center in Scottsdale, Arizona. He gave me a ride on his motorcycle at the last minute when my planned ride canceled due to a last minute dating opportunity (I hadn't learned to drive and mooched shamelessly off my friends for a decade until MtMn talk me to drive stick on the hills of Tacoma, Washington, a feat which stands as stubborn proof of his love, or at least tenacity). Joseph Jarman and Roscoe Mitchell painted their faces and blew up a storm the night that several of my foundations began to crumble. Seems right that we should begin an extended marking of our path together at another concert, this time so very classical in nature and venue but still marked with misbehavior.

We stayed up late talking about music and Vienna and anything else that kept us talking. Friday night was also too late, wonderful conversation and music at a friend's house that led to more staying up at home. So this morning's Regiesitzung will be a little foggy. In tribute to that February night in 1983 when I stayed up longer than I should have to talk about music and books in the lobby of McClintock Residence Hall, I salute every single sleepy morning of my life that has followed such a lack of judgment. Here's to knowing you should be in bed but not quite going yet, just to make sure you don't miss something good.


Saturday, January 29, 2011


I'm thinking of a letter I got from a dear friend a few months back, about how to stay flexible when the established ways of working don't, well, work. Cher ami, I get it now. Thanks.

Well. How to miss the deep waters all around, how to forget to drink?

I'm in the imperial-scarlet-and-cream Loge watching Magic Flute. I quote this opera a lot in these pages, because we are almost always performing it. This is the definitive good ensemble night. The only guest is a recent ensemble member, and everyone else is in-house (except for the choir boys, but they're from only a few tram stops away). The orchestra is sweet and light, the cast is true, the music is lovely, it's all as it should be. Oh, such a flute is worth more than gold and power, for human happiness increases through it are the words I hear before I head upstairs and turn my computer on. From Italy I hear dear CG digging into a major role debut several Alps removed from me, and she tears it up (Richard Wagner, I don't know if you smile much where you are, but I bet she got one out of you!). Back down to the Loge in time to see the prince and princess reunite, the cute little feathered people get together, and the audience go crazy.

I'm in the Kunsthistorisches Museum looking at van Eyck, I'm in Cafe Schwartzenburg reading my Kindle, I'm at the Naschmarkt Deli catching up with a friend, I'm on Skype with my family. I'm back on Facebook with several hundred people who really, truly are my friends.

Because, well, Vienna, I'm done knocking on the doors of your temples. They've been open the whole time, haven't they?

Well, well, well.


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Bald, Jüngling, oder nie

Out the window to my left, snow quietly accumulates on the green roof of the Staatsoper. The sounds from the Kärtnerstrasse below are muffled and slushy, and you imagine you can get the scent of the fresh snow even from this side of the double-paned windows. Through the doors and walls float the morning's collection of notes and characters: a determined noblewoman, a party animal, a grieving father, the birdcatcher, the messenger, the princess. On the piano are the collection of notes for later today, Mozart and da Ponte, some for the shallow end of the pool with a beginning conservatory class and some for the big boys and girls upstairs. In my mind is the usual collection of joys and irritations, little hooks to hang my mind on, insubstantial, fascinating, meaningless and dear.

If these collected thoughts and sounds are gathered together, they have just substance enough to push other fragmented images into the darkest corners, nearly out of sight. Tired travelers making the walk from the cramped plane to the carousel, all those eyes scanning for familiar suitcases packed with shirts and shoes, books, watches, gifts, all those waiting with plans, work to do, children to embrace, dinners to eat, wrongs to right. How many times have I - no, how many times have we all - no, no, no.

A shameless, helpless plunge back into work: hiding from the world? helping it? Everybody keeps practicing.

Mi portasse una speranza di cangiar l'ingrato cor.
I'm strong, and I know it, and I'll stay strong, and that's all, and that's enough.
Dich leitet Lieb' und Tugend nicht.

Across the street, the white roofs of Vienna match the clouds exactly. The whole town seems attached directly to a cold, unblinking sky.


peace to Moscow and all places suffering from fear and violence

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Miller Welch Jagger

1. We move with eyes shut and ears stopped; we smash walls where doors are waiting to open to the touch; we grope for ladders, forgetting that we have wings; we pray as if God were deaf and blind, as if He were in a space. No wonder the angels in our midst are unrecognizable.

2. I wanna sing that Rock and Roll. 

3. You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find you get what you need. 



Vienna outside my window, the now-familiar blend of chilly and gemütlich. I have an unexpected few minutes to myself thanks to Captain Vere's hoarseness; he'll bring a soothing Starbucks up to the Indomitable and her crew on the sixth floor and mark his way through Britten's exhortations. From down the hall float the bell-tones of the choirboys readying for a different world two floors below and two centuries earlier. No other singers populate the coaching rooms this morning, but most of them are here in the house; between Finisterre, Aguasfrescas, and the Weisheitstempel, nearly everyone in the company is rehearsing.

Next week and next month spread out before me, each translated into its own Excel document. Flute, Boheme, Romeo; Billy Budd on stage, Figaro not yet, Dutchman pretty soon, the false lull before the opera ball, the onslaught of March and April (American readers, brace yourselves: all of the Ring plus Elektra, Parsifal, Ariadne, and Arabella in fewer than eight weeks. Side dishes include, but are not limited to, Anna Bolena and Aida). Pianists' hours to count, vacation requests to track, next week's coachings to plan. The newest Excel sheets, labelled 2011-2012 and brightly color-coded, lie patiently ignored near my right elbow.

I'm staring out my window down the Mahlerstrasse, at the statuary lining the top floor of the Hotel Bristol. The ship is heading into battle. The adversaries are plotting. Smart people are coming up with plans, some of which might be good. The children are counseling us to be steadfast, patient and wise.

bedenke dies: kurz, sei ein Mann. 

As if on cue, it starts to snow. This city surely knows its theater.


Saturday, January 8, 2011


A ritual in an era run amok: a face separates itself from the crowd, a weapon vomits, grief explodes, people across the world open their veins to the words, the voices, the endless live updates streaming into their various receptors, jonesing with the same addicted response to information that probably led to the violence. Arizona radio spits the horrible story through my computer into this Austrian evening, and I break out the Ritter Sport Dunkel Vollnuss and start clicking my mouse. Funny that I avoided going to a blues club to hear MtMn tonight because I felt uncomfortable with the idea of being in a bar. Here I am downing shots of "analysis" with that same old drunkard's head, knowing what a bad idea it is but unable to turn down the next hit.

There's the Safeway at Ina and Oracle on my screen, the flat streets of Tucson still familiar. 30 years ago I would take Greyhound down to the U of A to visit my first love, later I drove down with MtMn to hear him play at the El Conquistador. I never wanted to come to Arizona; we moved right before my junior year in high school for my dad's job and it felt like a tragedy from the beginning. I saw guys with buzzcuts overturn the Muslim Students Association information table on my campus during the hostage crisis. I saw men with guns in their holsters walking through the streets of downtown Phoenix (only concealment was illegal). I was in graduate school when the car salesman turned governor slashed the university's budgets by thirty percent and said in a press conference that the newspaper was using microwaves to read his thoughts. When I got my Fulbright, we rode out of town in our Volkwagen Golf with the windows down and all of our possessions in the back seat. I let my bare feet hang out in the scorching air and ate potato chips as MtMn drove, and I knew I'd never live in that unnatural place again.

Of course, because life is hilarious, those ten years in Arizona were also joyous and irreplaceable, filled with good fortune and generosity. My husband, my dearest friends, the accidental beginnings of my beloved profession, my first chances to travel and live in Europe, all of these gifts were given to me there, could only have come from that place. MtMn and I discovered our kinship on drives and hikes in the mountains and deserts. The wild landscape is printed on me, lives on in our choice of American home, our little house slowly taking shape in the Texas hills surrounded by similar scrub and crowned by the same endless sky.

That's the country I love, despise, and long for. Freedom's yin and anarchy's yang, Mars and Venus, strip malls and fruited plains, the romantic tug of those poles - who isn't attracted and repelled by the epic New World? Of course terrorism has always played a part. My hometown celebrates every year the failure of middle America's favorite terrorist, Jesse James, to rob the local bank. It floored us once - has it really been almost a decade? - to be attacked from outside, but from inside we expect it even as we drop to the ground keening, again, and again.

Someone walked up to an elected official at a public event outside that Safeway, put a gun to her head, and fired. He shot other people as well, and there was at least one other gun in the crowd. Clearly the congresswoman was targeted, clearly her death was, to the gunman, worth the inevitable additional injury that would follow. I can taste in my memory the early January air of Tucson, dry and cool, probably a note of mesquite or cedar, certainly warm with sunshine. I imagine that right before the air split in two, people were buying their Saturday groceries so as to leave Sunday free for church and football. They loaded their food (plenty to feed their families) into their trunks, started their cars, and turned on their radios to listen to whatever voices would confirm the truths they already held to be self-evident.


Thursday, January 6, 2011


There is a version of "We Three Kings" that is burned in my aural memory; It was a sixties-era Firestone Christmas album,  the Ray Conniff Singers or the Norman Luboff Choir, back before I knew enough to recognize the Ost in those names. They poured on the sound in the third verse and I thought it was thrilling. I can still hear that, and still remember a time when the kings' day was the end of our Christmas holiday. Austria still observes these old rhythms; last night there were people out on the town just to enjoy Vienna's Christmas lights one more time.

Gifts arrived from afar yesterday, perhaps in honor of the old trio. Our niece contacted me over Google Chat to discuss an unexpected and exciting job offer that will take her to the job she wants in a city that excites her. A dear friend on Skype rejoiced over her rehearsals of a brand new role, one I helped her learn (if anyone helps this brilliant lady learn anything). And I sat in a cafe with a new, serendipitous acquaintance who unwittingly handed me part of myself I had misplaced. I see how overblown that looks as I write it, and yet it's the truth, unlikely and miraculous.

Holiday over, we all return to counting the days, simple stepping forward, freed from the dramatic arc of the two great holiday stories. Today we throw out the tree and put the cards away. I gather my gifts around me and step out into ordinary time, eyes on the sky.


Saturday, January 1, 2011

Fêtes galantes

Christmas Eve, before we came home and lit the candles on our own little tree, we were guests at two wonderful gatherings.We ate lobster and rolled turkey leg, red cabbage with apple and tender sweet potatoes, tarte tatin and almond mousse. The violist and the flutist turned businesswoman sang in harmony as they lit the candles and their adult sons listened. The pianist and flutist wore evening dress and stealthily pressed gifts into people's hands. We talked about movies and politics and holidays past with the actor, the actress, the students, the young engaged couple, the still-bereft companion of the famous conductor, the doctor, the Austrians, the Hungarian, the Swede, the ex-New Yorkers. We walked home through the icy streets full of light and slept late.

Christmas Day we looked at our computer screen saw our parents, our brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews. We talked about the perfect gifts, the mouths of babes, the irritating habits, the surprising step forward, the overindulgence, the joyous pause, the good chocolate, the beautiful snow. We missed each other and looked on each other with undisguised pleasure.

The work week: Don Giovanni, Il barbiere di Siviglia, Die Fledermaus. Italian and German, tragedy, comedy, a stage of people from all over the world singing music from three centuries. The famous guests on New Year's Eve added a Gershwin duet to the Strauss, and the Philharmonic played it with their old-world sound and made it belong to the waltzes and polkas, Imperial Vienna letting loose at the club, and I marveled at the short step from Broadway back to the Ringstrasse.

Champagne flowed and firecrackers exploded across the city, and we ate goulash soup after midnight in a house full of musicians and translators and children visiting from various foreign universities. We waltzed on the icy flagstone: the woman who lost her sister, the singer-actress who is changing professions, the couple brand new in a second marriage, the man pulling out of depression, the law school graduate, the proud new apartment owner, the budding romance, the gracious hosts. We toasted the auspicious date, four times one, and Vienna was still partying when we called it quits.

As I write this, our dear ones in the US are probably heading towards sleep, having also rung in the New Year with drink and dance, music and cheer, joy and sorrow. To think on each of these people and the roads they have walked only in the last year is to stand amazed and reverent at the complexity of this human life. Babies were born and lives drew gracefully to a close or ended suddenly. Long illness was endured with and without patience, dramatic accidents were survived. Love flared up suddenly, it was fought for against brutal odds and was strengthened in victory, it was lost. People  spoke their first fragments of words, learned to read, made up stories, rushed home with news, laughed, lied, apologized, joked, argued, wept, promised, sang, shouted, spoke too soon, should have said more. Mistakes were made in foreign tongues! Friends did great work, went to school, lost their jobs, got new ones, didn't try hard enough, beat the odds, prayed unceasingly, walked the dog, didn't take care of themselves, cooked at home, lost the weight, got new shoes, cut their hair, shaved their heads, took the vows, took the long way home, didn't fix what wasn't broken, pushed a little harder, tried to relax.

And everywhere, everyday, in every place, people extended their hands to each other and offered themselves, a miracle, common and nearly invisible, holding the whole wild party together.