Salzburg Journal, Part I

by Jay Nordlinger

Editor’s Note: Our senior editor Jay Nordlinger spent the middle two weeks of August at the Salzburg Festival: hosting a public-interview series, giving a lecture, and covering performances. The music coverage will appear in forthcoming issues of National Review and The New Criterion. We begin his journal on this site today.

I’m not in Salzburg yet but in the Frankfurt airport (where one can spend half one’s life — not particularly unhappily, either). I have always found the food terrific. The food at these cheapish eateries can be better than at pricey restaurants in New York. Which is both thrilling and depressing.

The bathrooms? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: cleaner than those of some rich people on the Upper East Side. (I’m talking about folks with live-in help.)

The airport in Salzburg is the W. A. Mozart Airport. Its code is SZG, for Salzburg. I’ve always thought it should be WAM (pronounced “wham”). A cool code.

I’m trying to think — doing some quick calculations. How many months or years of my life have I spent stopped at Salzburg intersections? As a pedestrian, I mean? Man, are the lights long. And don’t nobody cross, until the lights say so. Even if no cars are coming.

The cultural rule is very strong — almost iron. But it’s not my rule. And sometimes, my American legs just want to bust out and cross. And do.

There are lots of beggars on the streets — more than I’ve ever seen in Salzburg. More than on the streets of New York (by which I mean, you encounter them more frequently).

The question is eternal, at least for me: To give or not to give? Rudy used to beg us not to give — demand that we not give. (I’m talking about Rudolph Giuliani, the former mayor of New York.) These beggars here: Are they truly needy and hungry? Or are they professional, so to speak? Do they go out and beg as if it were their job? Is it a “lifestyle”?

To be continued . . .

Greenpeace is here, doing some polar-bear stunt. Global warming. I think of a phrase from Bill Buckley: “the street theater of the Left.” It is endless, and dishonest, and vexing — and, to say it again, endless.

The food in the open-air market looks so very good — better than it tastes, as a rule.

I remember an observation I made when I first came here, ten years ago: Even the policewomen are good-looking. Aren’t they supposed to be — you know: a little manly?

The Salzburg Festival Society puts on a public-interview series — conversations with prominent musicians. Our first guest is Antonio Pappano, one of the best conductors in the world. He’s the music director at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, and at the Santa Cecilia orchestra in Rome.

So, what is his nationality? That question is tricky, as he says at the beginning of our conversation. He’s English — a native Londoner. (Close enough: He was born in Greater London.) He’s Italian, by virtue of his parentage. He’s American — because he spent some formative years on our shores.

How about his speech? To my ears, it hovers around the border of British and American, leaning toward the British side.

Pappano is a product of his experience, as we all are, I guess: and his experience is rich and varied.

What makes him very much an Englishman, for me, is that he has been knighted. “So,” I say, “you’re Sir Tony now, right?” He answers, “Sir Antonio.” Next time I’ll be more careful (as an old southern friend of mine would say).

Sir Antonio is a fabulous talker. Some musicians can’t articulate what they know and feel. They can communicate this through music (which is more important, of course). Our guest can do both.

He walks us through a variety of pieces — or part of the way through them. He suggests how to perform them, what to think about them. For example, he shows us how he begins Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony — not an easy piece to begin. He conducts and sings. Then he continues with the piece, a bit. It’s positively thrilling. There is no need for an orchestra, in this lecture room. The music is there, perfectly apparent.

A little later, he sings a portion of an opera aria: “Che gelida manina,” from La bohème. His wife is in the audience: Pamela Bullock, a voice coach. I call out to her, “How’d he do?” “Fine,” she answers. “It’s one of his best arias.”

Oh, I wish you could have been there. (I’ll be saying that a lot in this journal, I think.)

I notice a store, on one of the main drags here in Salzburg: Azwanger. I met Mr. Azwanger once. His store was established in 1656: exactly 100 years before Mozart was born (steps away from the store).

Here’s a fact I remember: You know what the Azwanger store’s first phone number was? 9. Just 9.

I pass a clarinetist on the street — he’s playing a jazz version of the Albinoni Adagio. It works, amazingly enough.

As I’ve commented in journals past, Salzburg boasts exceptionally good street music. It’s better than a lot of the music you pay for, elsewhere. (Of course, you can always pay a street musician.)

Across a table from me sits a friendly sort. I ask where he’s from. “Upper Austria,” he says. I know this area a little: Where, specifically? The man hesitates, then says softly, behind his hand, and with a chuckle: “Braunau.”

Ah — got it. Birthplace of Hitler. Oh, well. Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot were born somewhere too.

This is kind of funny: There are some pretty well-heeled people about. They tend to have multiple homes: in a city; in another city, on another continent; in some mountains; by a seashore. A lady says to me, “Jay, where do you live, mainly?”

I love that “mainly.”

An Austrian friend of mine is not too happy with Obama — because of technological spying. He says, “You know what Obama’s new slogan should be? ‘Yes, we scan.’”

That’s a new one on me. Apparently, it has made the rounds in this country.

By the way, you remember when Obama, way back, said, “I don’t know what the term is in Austrian”? If Reagan or a Bush or Quayle or Palin had said that . . .

I learn from the papers, and from e-mails, that Regina Resnik has died. She was an important — indeed, great — mezzo-soprano. From the Bronx. I attended a couple of dinners with her. Smart, caustic lady.

Once, she said something really, really harsh about Christian Thielemann: German conductor, who, years ago, was accused of making anti-Semitic remarks. He denied it — credibly, I think.

Anyway, hours after hearing about Regina, I go to the Grosses Festspielhaus — Great Festival Hall — to hear Thielemann conduct the Vienna Philharmonic in Bruckner’s Fifth Symphony. Funny how Regina and Thielemann have converged on my day.

Let me tell you a quick thing, before I go: Some friends of mine attended an opera performance. In front of them — in front of one of them, in particular — was a lady wearing a hat with a big feather sticking out of it. The feather obstructed my friend’s view. In frustration, my friend took a picture of it (and the lady, and the hat as a whole).

“If only I had had a pair of scissors!”

Thanks for joining me, friends, and see you tomorrow.

Did you like this?