Impromptus

Salzburg Journal, Part V

by Jay Nordlinger

Editor’s Note: Jay Nordlinger spent approximately the middle two weeks of August doing his annual jobs at the Salzburg Festival in Austria. He hosts a public-interview series for the Salzburg Festival Society. He occasionally lectures. And he writes criticism for publications back home. Criticism appears in the current National Review and will appear in the forthcoming New Criterion. Additionally, four reviews have appeared at The New Criterion’s website: here, here, here, and here. This week’s journal is for non-musical dribs and drabs, although they often touch on music. Previous parts are at the following links: I, II, III, and IV. The journal concludes today.

Early on in these scribbles, I mentioned begging techniques: Different beggars have their own styles, their own methods. I now see a man, sitting at a prominent corner, with an adorable little dog in front of him. People are stopping to admire and coo at the dog. This is especially true of children. I imagine the beggar is accumulating a fair amount of euros.

That’s a brilliant idea, that adorable little dog. I suspect it works better than a baby or toddler would . . .

Speaking of animals: I hear the tinkling of bells, at the edge of a mountain. I look in, and there’s a herd of goats. They are interesting to watch — athletic little beasts. They have just about the best footing in the business. They also practically define “frisky.”

Goats have a bad reputation, it seems to me. The word “goat” is almost always negative. The Bible speaks of “sheep” (good guys) and “goats” (bad guys). Kind of a pity.

I have mentioned in this journal my laps around the pond at Leopoldskron. Often, I hear a guide giving the Sound of Music tour. So, I get three-, four-second snatches, as I speed by. I think I’ve learned something, in these laps: that the filmmakers could not get permission to film inside the palace. They had to make do with outside shots, and go elsewhere for the inside scenes.

So, that’s what I can contribute to you . . .

The fifth and final guest in our Salzburg Festival Society series is actually a pair: the husband-and-wife team of François Leleux and Lisa Batiashvili. He is a French oboist; she is a Georgia-born violinist. (I’m talking about Tbilisi, not Atlanta.) With some colleagues, they are giving a chamber-music concert in the Mozarteum tonight.

Each is poised, articulate, and friendly. He speaks a charming Frenchman’s English; she speaks near flawless, unaccented, slightly American English. Where she got it, I don’t know.

I ask her whether she plays the oboe — no. Not a lick. I ask him whether he plays the violin — only on the open strings, he says. I ask Lisa, “How does he sound?” She smiles and says, “Like a beginner.”

She was born in 1979, meaning she experienced Soviet Communism for her first dozen years or so. Her family immigrated to Germany toward the end of Soviet rule. She is a particularly good player of Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No. 1. (She is a particularly good player of almost everything.) I ask whether her acquaintance with the Soviet system has anything to do with her playing of this concerto. (The music is loaded with fear.)

Batiashvili mentions that her father, a violinist, played in a string quartet. They played all the Shostakovich quartets. They met Shostakovich on two occasions, if I remember correctly. And the composer’s picture was displayed in the Batiashvilis’ home.

So . . .

Her soon-to-be-released album is of Bach. And, before our group, Batiashvili makes a profound and moving statement about Bach: about the spirituality of Bach’s music, and its capacity to heal. I very much wish I had this statement on tape.

There is an old saying in music: “You play who you are.” Batiashvili’s playing is characteristically noble and humane, and I have a feeling that the saying applies to her.

Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf have two children together. Do they play tennis? I don’t know. François and Lisa have two children as well. Are they wonderfully musical? Will they be musicians? I don’t know.

But they will certainly be exposed to top-level musicianship.

Longtime readers may remember my friend Donald Kahn — a unique guy (in the old and fading sense of that once-useful word). He was the principal benefactor of the Salzburg Festival, and the principal benefactor of The New Criterion. He benefited a lot of people and institutions. At various events, I’d refer to him as “an Esterházy of our time.”

At the festival this year, there is a memorial concert for him. A Who’s Who of Salzburg is in attendance. The program comprises music of an elegiac nature. Donald’s son Stephen Kahn sings some of On Wenlock Edge, by Vaughan Williams.

There are brief speeches during the program, and one of them is by Marko Feingold. I wrote about him last year (in a two-part series, here and here). He is the leader of Salzburg’s Jewish community, such as it is. He survived four concentration camps. He has been known to say, “I could write a Michelin guide to the camps.” When I interviewed him, he was 100. Now he is a buck-oh-one. Still doesn’t look a day over, say, 82.

Swear.

After the concert, there is a jolly party, which Donald would have enjoyed. (For some remarks about him I made in last year’s journal, go here.)

Out and about, I see a man in a “CCCP” jersey. Typical. Usually, I hold my tongue. I’m a good boy. When I let loose, it’s in print. But I can’t help muttering, as I pass, “Where’s your swastika?”

(This issue is not without complications. I wrote an essay about it several years ago. If you’re interested, go here.)

I meet a lady of some years — a native Salzburger, I think — who wants to tell me a story. The story is this: When a young woman, she attended college in Wayne, Pa. One day, she had to go have her shoes repaired. And who was the cobbler? Anna Moffo’s father. (Moffo was a big Italian-American opera star.)

She has a friend with her, a somewhat younger woman from Munich. This lady went to Villanova.

In my history of the Nobel Peace Prize, I remarked on something: So many of them — so many of the laureates, from all over the world — were educated in America. And almost always on scholarship. (Some of them were miseducated, I grant you, but I hope you take my point: the generosity and influence of this little upstart country of ours.)

Here is a micro-issue: napkins. In Salzburg, the paper napkins in restaurants and other eateries tend to be large, sturdy, and even elegant. Keepers, practically. When did our napkins at home get to be near useless little tissues? No wonder we have to grab like 50 of them!

There are differences between concertgoing in Europe and concertgoing in America. Well, let me narrow that: differences between Salzburg and New York. I will give you three.

1) In Salzburg, you pay for a program, if you want one. In New York, they’re automatic.

2) In Salzburg, when you make your way through a row, to get to your seat, you do so facing the people who are standing for you (or should be standing for you). In New York, you have your back (and rear) to them.

You know what I mean? Can you visualize it? Sorry if I have been unclear.

3) In Salzburg, ushers come out onstage at the end of performances to present flowers to female performers. In New York, everybody gets flowers — male and female alike. We have developed a unisexual, or metrosexual, culture. (Needless to say, I like the older way.)

Once, at Carnegie Hall, Bryn Terfel (the Welsh bass-baritone) and his (male) accompanist received flowers. The singer mocked this development, gently and charmingly. He was not ungracious. But you could tell he thought our practice wussy and embarrassing.

Well, this has been a pretty long journal, my friends. One more item? Okay. Consider this an after-dinner mint.

Salzburg is famous for “Mozartkugeln,” Mozart balls, the beloved chocolates. The best, I think, are from Fürst confectioners, the ones in the silver-and-blue wrapping. Fürst is also first (ha ha ha).

But don’t overlook the Bachwürfel — literally, Bach cubes. They, too, are chocolates, and super-chocolates. They go down real easy. Like in groups of ten. (Just kidding — mainly.)

Thanks for joining me, dear ones, and catch you later.