Salzburg Journal, Part III

Markus Werba as Sixtus Beckmesser in Die Meistersinger (Salzburger Festspiele/Forster)


Let me go back to the demography question for a second: When I was growing up, there were lots of big families around — I mean, four kids, six kids, eight kids. It was not at all unusual. I haven’t seen such families in a while. But I see them here, and elsewhere in Europe: They are Muslim families.

I will say again, reading articles and books is one thing; seeing with your own eyes is another. Big families are a glory of life. They sweeten life, and cushion it, in myriad ways. I hope it all works out here.

The third guest in our Salzburg Festival Society series is Hans Graf, almost a local: a conductor from Upper Austria. He worked here in Salzburg for ten years. He has worked in many places: Calgary, Bordeaux, Houston, Baghdad.

Yes, Baghdad. In the 1975-76 season, he was the music director of the Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra. He enjoyed the experience very much. The people were hungry for music, he tells us. The orchestra did two concerts for each program. The concerts sold out. Graf and the orchestra could have done two more.

He studied with some notable people, including Sergiu Celibidache, the legendary Romanian conductor. How was that? Celi was nice to him, says Graf. To others — not so much.

Graf also studied in the Soviet Union: in Leningrad, with Arvids Jansons. The legend in that city was Evgeny Mravinsky, boss of the Leningrad Phil. for 50 years. “The orchestra feared him,” says Graf, “and loved him.”

The son of Arvids Jansons, Mariss, is one of the best conductors in the world today. Are he and Graf friends? Yes. If I have heard correctly, Mariss was best man in Graf’s wedding.

A teacher whom Graf highly esteems is someone not so well known: Franco Ferrara, an Italian who lived from 1911 to 1985. What Ferrara could do with a baton, says Graf, was almost miraculous. And he could teach you how to do it, too.

He did not do much conducting himself: He had some strange ailment that prevented it. But he helped a whole roster of conductors who became important.

Here’s something funny for you: In our discussion of orchestras, I bring up the Vienna Philharmonic, which does not have a music director, but an endless string of guest conductors. The VPO is unique in this way, I believe.

Yes, says Graf. “And do you know what ‘VPO’ stands for? ‘Very Powerful Orchestra.’”

Like Antonio Pappano, our first guest in this series, Hans Graf is a marvelous talker about music — as well as a doer. I learn from him, in this hour. Oh, I wish you could have heard it!

And I wish I had a tape.

Let me mention something, just FYI: I have interviewed many conductors over the years, particularly in Salzburg. As a rule, I ask them about conductors they especially admire. They name various names. But almost all of them name one name in particular: that of Carlos Kleiber.

Interesting. Says Graf, “He could communicate music to this table” (sitting before us).

A cultural note: Little old ladies in Salzburg are apt to have German shepherds. Back at home, it seems to me, tough guys have German shepherds. (Maybe these little old ladies are tough guys too.)

True story — can’t believe I’m telling it. Am dressing for a concert. Have worn a particular shirt on a different night. I give it a quick sniff. Then I shrug and say — out loud, though I’m alone at the time — “Good enough for Europe.”

See you tomorrow.


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