Salzburg Journal, Part V


Friends, thanks for joining me on this Salzburg journey, or for this Salzburg journal, or whatever we should say. The previous parts are at the following links: I, II, III, and IV.

Longtime readers may remember my talking about my late friend George Sgalitzer. He was the senior patron of the Salzburg Festival. Born in Vienna, he became an American, working as an Army doctor. He was present for the very first performance at the Salzburg Festival: the performance of Jedermann, on August 22, 1920. Jedermann is the play by Hugo von Hofmannsthal, one of the festival’s founders. It is his version of Everyman, the English morality play.

George — Dr. Sgalitzer — was seven years old that day in 1920. He was taken by his grandparents to see the play. They liked theater, but music, not so much. George was a devourer of both.

He told me about seeing the first Jedermann — the first actor in that role — at that first performance. He could remember it all like it was yesterday. The actor was an Austrian of Albanian origin, Alessandro Moissi (as his name was rendered in Italian). George was pained by what became of Jedermann, in modern productions. He eventually gave up attending.

This year, Jedermann is played by Nicholas Ofczarek, another Austrian actor, and brilliant. The devil in the production is a businessman, or so it appears: pinstriped suit and all. Of course, the businessman has been Marxism’s devil from time immemorial. So, so tired, and absurd.

It’s sort of amazing that, in 2011, they bother to put on a Christian morality play at all. There’s life in the old girl yet, for sure.

During the Salzburg Festival falls every year Maria Himmelfahrt — which is to say, the Assumption. It is a national holiday, I believe. The shops are closed. Every year, I hear the term “Maria Himmelfahrt” — and I can’t help smiling a little. Am I eternally seven years old? And I’m not as mature a seven-year-old as George Sgalitzer, clearly.

One morning at a Vienna Philharmonic concert, Jacqueline Bisset sits a few seats over from me. She ignores me — just as she has done my whole life. So rude.

I’ve just done a little Googling — cursed thing — and see that she is to be 70 in three years. Is she still beautiful? Oh, man, believe me.

I also hear that Nastassja Kinski is about. I don’t see her. She, too, ignores me.

The fifth and final guest in our Salzburg Festival Society series is Kent Nagano, the American conductor — born and bred in California. He has held many posts, in many countries — both symphonic posts and operatic posts. He holds one of each at the moment: the Montreal Symphony Orchestra and the Bavarian State Opera. Nagano comes to us in the company of his wife, Mari Kodama, a pianist. This is not a couple who shrink from working with each other, either: They will perform a Mozart concerto together soon.

The conductor and I first talk about his name: How is it pronounced? Does he say Nah-GAH-no or NAH-gah-no, as in the Olympic city? Neither, really: The syllables in his name should be pronounced evenly. And the Nagano that is his name and the Nagano that is the city’s name are different Naganos: different pronunciations, different meanings.

I think most people — certainly most Americans — find it natural to pronounce the conductor’s name Nah-GAH-no. But those Olympics threw us off a little. In any case . . .

At some point, Nagano and I get around to talking about contemporary composers, and he has much to say about Pierre Boulez. Let me quote something I wrote in 2006, in a “Salzburg Chronicle” for The New Criterion. This came during comments on a performance of Boulez’s Second Piano Sonata by Maurizio Pollini:

You are perhaps familiar with the King James phrase “an hard saying.” Well, this is an hard saying: After this beloved composer-conductor [Boulez] is gone — and after his many friends and supporters among performers are gone — scarcely a note of his music will be heard. At least that is my suspicion. And I suspect the same is true of many, many other contemporary composers, in what we might call the Boulez school. I suspect that future generations will look back at our era — how many times has James Levine programmed Elliott Carter? a million? — and say, “What in the world were they thinking? Why were they under this bizarre spell, or why did they think they had to pay this obligation?” Then again, I may be nuts.

Nagano thinks I’m nuts — or would, if he knew what I thought. It is Nagano’s belief that Boulez’s music will endure. That he will be recognized as a master.


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