Sunday, January 27, 2013

Art and Frozen Feet. Our Sunday in Europe.

The Grand Mercure Biedermeir Hotel
I have an idea.   Let’s add yet another country to our list today……Slovakia!

We are scheduled today to sing at the 5:00 p.m. Mass at the St. Martin’s Church, site of the coronations of 11 Kings and Queens of Hungary.   In other words, a pretty famous place.  But I’m getting ahead of myself….we had some other things to do first. 
Dr Nesheim hauling his tuxedo to the bus

Like breakfast.  And a stop by what our guide Hans calls “the most beautiful palace in Austria,” Belvedere. 
Belvedere is a historic building complex in consisting of two Baroque palaces (the Upper and Lower Belvedere), the Orangery, and the Palace Stables. The buildings are set in a Baroque park landscape south-east of its centre. The grounds are set on a gentle gradient and include decorative tiered fountains and cascades, Baroque sculptures, and majestic wrought iron gates. The Baroque palace complex was built as a summer residence for Prince Eugene of Savoy.
The Belvedere was built during a period of extensive construction in Vienna, which at the time was both the imperial capital and home to the ruling dynasty. This period of prosperity followed on from the commander-in-chief Prince Eugene of Savoy's successful conclusion of a series of wars against the Ottoman Empire.

Waiting for our entrance tickets at the Belvedere...might as well take a group photo!

Interior ceiling, second floor.

Today, the Belvedere is one amazing art gallery with exhibits ranging from medieval church artwork to impressionists of the 20th century.  At the moment, it is hosting the largest collection of Gustav Klimt works – truly awe-inspiring.  Truly!

Crossroads of southern Europe!
An hour was not enough time to explore all there was to see, but we needed to get moving toward Bratislava and our evening there.  It’s about 90 minutes by bus, and while the sun wasn’t out (surprise!) we could tell that there is some interesting scenery between the cities.  We’re along the Danube River in both cities, and yet our first “full view” of the width of the Danube is found at Bratislava.  Of course it’s colder than all get out today, but we drop at the river’s edge and head on a “really quick” walking tour of the center of the city.  Atop the hill is the palace where the Hungarian royals lived and below are the State Theatre and Slovakian Orchestra Hall.   It was time for a late lunch and several of us found delightful authentic Slovakian restaurants wherein the food was FAB – U – LOUS.  

We have entered Slovakia!
Off then to rehearse at St Martin’s.   A few more things about this church…..the priest is a great guy….. there is a sacred altar containing the remains of a saint who died in 632….. as I mentioned before, this is where they crowned the kings and queens AND, finally, it is (according to vote by the choir) the COLDEST interior of all the cathedrals in which they’ve performed.  They looked like a large choir today….underneath their robes were every stitch of clothing they had brought along today.  But nobody cared – our generous sized crowd (wrapped in full length minks and other warm items) hung in not only through Mass but also our full concert.  It was especially wonderful to hear the response to the “Nunc Dimitis” sung in “church Slovanik.”  
St. Martin's
All that said, there are now many of us sitting in the hotel lobby using the free wi-fi system…..and we’re still in “thaw” mode.  Hot showers are sure to follow – 

Tomorrow we leave Vienna and head for Salzburg………..look out Alps, here we come!

Amazing meal....chicken, ham, cheese and peaches.  PEACHES!

Concert tonight at St. Martin's

Vienna - more than sausages.....

Interior of St. Stephen's
It was a particularly exciting day for your editor today as I awoke with the recognition that our students were going to learn and experience some things today that they would simply not quite be able to comprehend…..or at least expect.  I mean, geez, it's we're becoming icebergs!

Vienna is a simply beautiful city – even in the depths of winter – it comes alive with the sounds of festival balls – dances – waltzes – and music unlike any other time of the year, and in complete opposition to what one would expect.  First of all the city is amazing in and of itself.   

Our hotel is right next door to one of Beethoven’s homes….he wrote the 9th Symphony there.  Before we get too exited about that,  however, we did learn that he moved 69 times in the 35 years he lived in Vienna.  Seems he was a bit of a “wear out your welcome” kinda guy.  Still its cool to know that we are in his neighborhood.

The Choir performed a 30-minute set at the Cathedral
Breakfast in the “Breakfast Room” was like most of the others; with the exception of the availability of fried eggs and or/omlettes made to order.  Mmmm good!  Students were told to “sleep in” if they wish, but be at the entrance to St Stephen’s Cathedral (in the heart of Vienna) by 11:45.   They had an opportunity to warm up in the adjacent Music building while the “fun people” wandered the streets, shopping, observing and enjoying the sights of Vienna while working toward St. Stephens for the 12:45 performance by the Choir.  Need I say that The Choir did not disappoint?
Maren Engle's "Beautiful Savior"
Exterior of St. Stephen's

Following the noon mass, at this most famous venue in Vienna (built in 1210) the Choir marched in and took their place at the appointed space for visiting choirs.  When they began to sing, people came forward, and came forward, and came forward.   Paul Nesheim told me, “Every time I turned around, there were more people there!”  And it was true. 
Hundertwasser-Krawina House

The gentleman host from St. Stephen’s remarked to Paul, “Oh my, finally…basses!”   I guess he’s heard a lot of “bottomless choirs” lately.  J  He presented the Choir with a certificate of appreciation and acknowledged that he had no idea that the Choir would be this good.  (What a nice thing to hear, eh?)

Just too funny.  :-)
Imagine.  Only in Vienna!
We had a break for lunch, then headed to meet up with our guides for an informative and fun three-hour tour of the city which included the “RingStrasse” home to gorgeous Baroque buildings formerly housing the ruling families and now serving as government operations.  We also stopped a the Hundertwasser (a crazy housing and development area based on the idea that there should be no such thing as a stright line!) then as well as the Schonbrunn Palace (1642), summer home of the Hapsburg rulers.  How many “p’s” in “Oppulance?”   (Dr. Johnson failed when he answered “Three.”  HA!)  What a beautiful place, and what wonderful stories of the families who lived here.  Maria Theresia, who ruled over this part of the world for sixty-some years, had 16 children, the most famous (and perhaps the most unfortunate) was Marie Antoinette.  She was the “wild” child as eventually she lost her head.  (Get it?)   MT’s bed coverings took many years to make and included silver and gold threads; they’ve just recently put her bed back on display after a celebration of the anniversary of her reign.   The pictures taken for this blog are highly illegal (so they were snapped from under my coat….) but I was encouraged by several students to face the music (jail) if necessary for the sake of you, our readers.   J

In front of Schoenbrunn
How fun it was for Bus One to have Ulrike as our guide today.  Ulrike led the choir 11 years ago during our tour of Italy and Austria.  She is a wonderful guide, and LOVES Augustana people. 

We had visions of the Band in Cairo today when our bus made detour to avoid a demonstration.  Two groups were protesting today.  The first was against “rigged” soccer events and the second, more vocal, was a group demanding that Austria “get out” of the European Union, I guess you can’t please everybody…..

These are the illegal interior photos......

Choir member Ben (“I wear shorts in winter”) Winkler was in charge of tonight’s activities as he single handedly arranged students tickets at the StatdtsOper (Vienna Opera House) opening night of La Cenerentola (Cinderella).  We got back to the hotel and almost thirty of our group spiffed up and took off for their “big night” on the town.  Dr Nitz led another group of 15 or so to a Beethoven restaurant a train, bus and walk from the hotel.  Both groups returned safely, and happily – although some of the opera folks complained about neck pain from their “partial view” seats.  Still, it was a wonderful evening for all.

A note about another day I’ve been told I forgot to mention in an earlier blog… of our fondest memories of Prague was St. Havel where the man who let us into the church also did the following:  led the Choir to the balcony, turned on the lights, lit the candles, brought a chair our to the altar – took off his shoes – climbed up on the altar to light the bigger candles– got down from the altar and disappeared.  Two minutes later, he reappeared in vestments to assist the priest, served as cantor, took up the offering, helped serve communion, well… get the idea.   Seems to us that this church knows how to stretch it’s budget.  J

Ben Winkler has this t-shirt, below the face, it says "Pizza Hut."  Oddly enough, it looks like Kyle.......