Impromptus

Up with People: A Salzburg Journal, Part III

Vilde Frang, performing at the Salzburg Festival (Marco Borrelli)
A Horatio Alger story, ‘stumbling stones,’ breaths of fresh air, and more

Editor’s Note: Jay Nordlinger spent the middle two weeks of August in Salzburg, Austria, working at the Salzburg Festival. He hosted a series of conversations for the Salzburg Festival Society and wrote criticism for National Review and The New Criterion. This online journal is mainly for fun. For Parts I and II, go here and here. The journal concludes today.

Am I glad I knew Gerry Andlinger. He was a big international businessman. He was chairman of the Salzburg Festival Society. And he was a joy to be around. He usually had a twinkle in his eye. He had all the goodies that money can buy — yachts, sports cars, penthouses — but he had a beautiful democratic touch.

There is a memorial service for him, in a splendid room called the Kulisse, mid the festival halls. He put up the money for the Kulisse. Members of the Vienna Philharmonic form a string quartet to play Mozart. A tenor sings Mozart, Schubert, and Strauss.

Not just any tenor but Julian Prégardien, a wonderful singer — and the son of the famous Christoph Prégardien, also a tenor.

Gerry was an American, a classic American. He started out here in Austria, where he was born in 1931. During the war, he pretty much starved. Later, he learned English from American GIs. I have another friend here who learned English the same way. These guys read Life and other magazines and listened to Armed Forces Radio.

In 1948, the New York Herald Tribune staged an essay contest for the young people of Europe. They were to write on the subject “The World I Want.” A boy and a girl from each country were selected the winners. The prize: a three-month trip to America. Gerry was a winner.

He wound up at Princeton and then Harvard Business School. The sky was the limit for him.

I last saw him in November of last year. It was at a gala in New York. He made some remarks, and expressed his gratitude for America’s openness to immigrants.

Here in the Kulisse, his friend Heinrich Spängler quotes something that appeared in a Wall Street Journal piece about Gerry. In 2008, Gerry gave $100 million to Princeton. A trustee told him that if he upped it to $102 million, he would hold the record for giving. Gerry replied, “I don’t do Mickey Mouse.”

I loved him.

• It’s Sunday morning, and the sun is splashing on Salzburg, and the church bells are ringing out, resounding through streets and hills and meadows. Not too very bad. Glorifying.

• Have you ever noticed something about memory? When you’re at a particular place, where something happened, you remember it. Otherwise, not. I have many such memories in Salzburg. I mean, they keep popping up, with glimpses of certain places, associated with particular times and events.

• Speaking of memory: A “Stolperstein” is a “stumbling stone,” or stumbling block. They are all over Salzburg, on sidewalks. They are basically little plaques, meant to memorialize people. A few houses down from the place where I stay, there is a Stolperstein indicating that Dr. Eduard Portheim once lived here. He was deported in October 1940 and murdered at Dachau in February 1942.

I’ve snapped a picture:

I first heard about these Stolpersteine, these stumbling stones, from Marko Feingold, leader of the Jewish community here in Salzburg. My story about him is in two parts: here and here. “Über-Survivor,” it’s called.

• As I take a walk, well beyond the Old City, I’m passed by the Sound of Music tour. They are on bikes. One lady has the boom box — or whatever it is — in her basket, playing the musical’s soundtrack. A little hokey, maybe, but nice.

• The third guest in our Salzburg Festival Society series is Vilde Frang, the Norwegian violinist. She is a superb guest, a superb interviewee, bright, interesting, and endearing. We talk about a slew of subjects, including Mozart — whose music she happens to be playing at the festival.

“When I was younger, I was intimidated by Mozart,” she says. “I didn’t want to destroy him. Like being afraid you’re going to break something in a store. What got me over that was listening to opera singers in Mozart. You must embrace him and play him naturally. In Mozart, you have to be seven years old in one phrase and 75 in another. He has that whole range.”

So true.

When did Vilde Frang start playing the violin? She can’t remember. She can’t remember not having a violin in her hands. Her father played the double bass, and so did her sister. The father declared that their car was not big enough for a third double bass. So Vilde got a violin.

There was another Norwegian violinist — a big one — in the 19th century: Ole Bull. “He was the first Norwegian rock star,” says Frang. “And yet he is neglected today.” I say, “He was like Paganini, right?” Pretty much, says Frang. “Paganini was Coke, Bull was Pepsi.”

When Vilde Frang was a girl, Anne-Sophie Mutter, the starry German violinist, took her under her wing, even paying some expenses. That is a noteworthy instance of mentorship. And Frang is “paying it forward,” mentoring students herself.

Does she like pop music? I like to ask this question of classical musicians. The answer, in this case, is some. The Beatles. Ella Fitzgerald. And a flamenco guitarist, Paco de Lucía.

I wish I could give you this entire Q&A, but here is one more line: In the classical-music world, says Frang, social media are poisonous. Absolutely poisonous. The same is true for other worlds, right?

Anyway, a photo, of Vilde Frang and her happy questioner.

• I’ve said it before, in these Salzburg journals, and I’ll say it again: It’s amazing what man can do with an accordion. I hear it, and see it, in the streets here. There really are Paganinis — and Bulls! — and Rubinsteins and Horowitzes — of the accordion.

• An old Salzburger friend of mine is complaining about new buildings going up — apartment buildings, which “look like what I saw in Poland during Communist times.” She is 100 percent right. The new buildings have Soviet bloc written all over them. How can they do this in Salzburg, of all places? These are mustaches — butt-ugly ones — on Mona Lisas.

• Wanna see a moody fortress? Here’s one:

• The fourth guest in our SFS series is Javier Camarena, the Mexican tenor. A treat to listen to (singing and talking). I happen to have a podcast for you, here. And a photo:

• You know what a helluva lot of fun is? Lunch with Hans Graf, the Austrian conductor. He spent many years as the music director in Houston. He and his wife, Margarita, still live there, part time. The maestro and I talk about our shared love of Houston: its dynamism, its food, its amazingly diverse population. Margarita is a Russian, and she can get top-notch caviar in Houston, from the many Russian vendors. One thing to lament? Houston’s summer humidity. A challenge for mind, soul, and body . . .

• Also a lot of fun? A whole lot of fun? Dinner with Jim Geraghty, National Review’s own, along with his wonderful wife Allison and their two young sons. These boys are straight from Central Casting, let me tell you. Perfect American kids. Ripped from a Norman Rockwell painting. Almost enough to give me hope! (In fact, it does.)

• Care for some flowers in the Mirabell Gardens? Thought you might.

• Our fifth guest is Herbert Blomstedt, the Swedish conductor, who leads the Vienna Philharmonic in a morning concert, and then comes straight to us. For the resulting podcast, go here.

• Return to food for a moment (were we talking about food?). You know those thinly sliced cucumbers they do in Austro-Germany, swimming in that vinegar soup, so to speak? Holy-moly. I almost prefer them to chocolates.

• Have a look at my backyard. And the house in the background, sort of at 1 o’clock? That’s the house Mozart grew up in.

• Outside town, the pond is still. There is hardly a sound from anywhere. Then two swans decide to take off, in the water. They flap their wings, hitting water and soon air. The sound is loud, and marvelous.

• Speaking of marvelous: Sir Willard White, the Jamaican basso, in conversation? He is our sixth and final guest, and you will like him, a lot, or your money back . . .

• It’s intermission, at an opera. I ask an usher what time the opera will end. She tells me. Sounds a little late to me. Before I go back into the house, I ask another usher. He says the same time.

I laugh at myself. I’m like the guy seeking a second opinion, hoping for a more favorable answer.

• Along a path, not too shabby . . .

• On an airplane, I sit next to an Austrian girl, who’s entering the 10th grade. I’m using American terms. She is flying to America, to be an exchange student. She’s so excited. She already speaks pretty much perfect American English — she has watched a lot of American television programs over the years. Plus, she’s whip-smart. She would like to work in forensics one day.

She’ll spend three days in New York City, then move on to California — Fairfield — where she’ll live with her host family and go to school. Again, she’s so excited, and so am I, for her.

Thank you for joining me, guys, and I’ll see you around.

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