Impromptus

Sounds of Music: A Salzburg Journal

The Old City (snapped by Jay Nordlinger)
Notes from Mozart’s hometown (and the Trapps’)

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.

Anthony Daniels, the writer who also works under the name “Theodore Dalrymple,” has lived in many places around the world, and has been to many more. “I like being a foreigner,” he says. I know what he means. I rather like it too. I especially like being an American in Europe. (Tony is British.) You can get away with so much. A lot of them think you don’t know any better.

• Salzburg is experiencing something of a heat wave. Air conditioning is rare, and ice in drinks is fairly rare, too. I would kill with my bare hands for a 7-Eleven–style soda fountain.

• Have a glimpse of the Old City, from across the river:

• Bianca Jagger is in attendance at the festival, as usual. The sight of her reminds me of Nicaragua, and its current troubles. She was a supporter of the Sandinistas. They are still blighting the land, and shedding blood.

• Angela Merkel comes every year (so far as I know). She was here shortly before I arrived. She always comes with invisible security. (I’m sure they’re around.) She is unassuming and makes no fuss. This year, she ate at the Sternbräu, where many gather for simple Austrian fare — simple but delicious.

Speaking of the Sternbräu: I order the Austrian equivalent of macaroni and cheese, basically. It is so heavy, and so delicious, it makes our mac ’n’ cheese seem like a light salad . . .

• I have a friend who has friends who live in Merkel’s neighborhood (Berlin). The chancellor will go to the drugstore — apparently unaccompanied — and wait in line. Others in line say, “Please go ahead.” She declines.

I think of Tony Daniels — again! — who told me something once. He was saying that doctors had prestige, in days past, a prestige that no longer holds. Say you were working in a small English town. If you were in the grocery store, people would want you to go ahead of them in line, on grounds that you had more important things to do than they had.

The trade-off was this, said Tony: You worked your butt off for the community, ’round the clock. You were always on call. In return, you got this prestige, this respect.

• Grigory Sokolov is one of the best pianists of this age, or any. He is giving a recital in the Great Festival Hall. A furious rainstorm breaks over Salzburg. The roof of the hall springs a leak. Rain is pouring through a light fixture, dousing people in the second row. There is a stir, a commotion. Sokolov keeps playing, unperturbed. He is in his own private Idaho.

Intermission comes. The leak is plugged. If I were Sokolov, I’d come back out carrying an umbrella. He is not that sort. I doubt that Sokolov was even aware of the disturbance.

When it comes time for encores, he plays Chopin’s Prelude in D-flat major — nicknamed “Raindrop.” Is he making an allusion, having fun? No — this is one of his regular encores.

After the recital, I learn that Sokolov was indeed completely unaware of the leak and the commotion.

• Out of town, there is a Schloss — a château or manor house — called Kogl. Beautiful place, of course. I’m told that the new Sound of Music was shot here. (I did not know there was a new Sound of Music.) I meet a lady whose infant grandchild is in the movie (I think it’s a movie). An early taste of glamour for this dear child!

You want to glimpse Schloss Kogl? They have a website. You can rent the place, for you and your 200 closest friends . . .

• Back to Salzburg — the city of Salzburg. The Gypsy racket, or Roma racket, continues, of course. All of the “workers” are at their stations, begging, mouthing the same old lines, employing the same old tactics. Generation after generation it goes on, all over Europe. The racket is never broken.

It occurs to me that the begging is rather hard work. I mean, these people are up early, and they work fairly late. Often they are in the hot sun. (The ones with shady stations are lucky.) They work in rain, too. They deal with the public, which is always tricky. Real effort goes into what they do. This effort could be channeled into proper jobs — many of which would be easier than this outdoor racket.

I see a young man about 20 or so. Handsome guy, with some charisma. He should be chasing girls and living a different kind of life. Instead, he is doing what his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather did, and what he seems destined and cursed to do. The ending of this cycle will be a blessing, mainly to the Roma.

• The manager of a clothing shop tells me something interesting. Americans typically want looser-fitting clothes than others. But the trend of the world is for skinny, tight clothing. In times past, he says, different countries had different tastes in clothes — in their fit, for example. And, obviously, Americans still have a different taste. But now the Internet drives everything, resulting in a certain homogeneity of style. Shops like his get only skinny, tight-fitting clothes.

This must be a rare instance where globalization results in less diversity.

• Speaking of clothing stores: There is a shop here called “Bonney & Kleid.” Kleid means “dress.” Bonney is Barbara Bonney, the American soprano, who lives here, and owns the store (as I understand it). Her family believes they are descended from William Bonney, better known as “Billy the Kid.” André Previn wrote a song-cycle for Barbara, about that Western outlaw.

• In the Great Festival Hall, I see a girl selling programs. I say, “Hey, you work at the yogurt shop, don’t you?” She grins. Yes, she has at least two summer jobs. That strikes me as rather . . . American. (Maybe old-American?)

Lines for the yogurt shop — this is frozen yogurt, mind you — are out the door, literally. The people are right, too. This stuff is well worth waiting for. Here’s a shot (and notice the house that Mozart was born in, right next door):

• Franz Welser-Möst is the music director of the Cleveland Orchestra, and a son of Austria. He is also our guest in the Salzburg Festival Society’s series of conversations. Shall we start at 4, the appointed time? Or give it five minutes or so, as we do in America? In New York, for example, concerts and operas always start at five minutes after the appointed time.

Welser-Möst tells me that, in Cleveland, they start at the appointed time. If the concert is scheduled for 8, it begins at 8. He has trained audiences this way. I’m amazed. I didn’t think that existed anywhere in America.

When do our movies start? A half-hour after the scheduled time? Gosh, I hate that.

Welser-Möst has many, many interesting things to say. I wish I had a tape for you. (Three of these conversations will be recorded, in coming days.) He is very interesting, for example, on the subject of being accepted in your own country or community, versus being away.

He also says, “I will soon be 58, and I have earned the right to be difficult.” This gets a laugh from the audience, as it should. But I respond, “I’m sure that you are less difficult than many who have not earned the right” — which is true.

I ask an almost-verboten question, but one that I rarely shy away from: Do you have favorite composers? Welser-Möst gives a memorable answer. Since he was four, he has had only one: Schubert. That mixture of simplicity and profundity . . . (He cites the Quintet in C major, particularly.)

Another question: Has he ever met LeBron James, King of Cleveland? (Never mind that King James has gone away, again.) No, he has not. He has watched him play, but he has never met him. That is a pity. These two kings of Cleveland should have met. An orchestra’s music director should be a big, big deal in the city.

“My heart is in Cleveland,” says Welser-Möst. He hopes to be there a good long time. He has been already, since 2002. Ormandy spent 44 years with the Philadelphia Orchestra; Mravinsky spent a full 50 with the Leningrad Phil. Cleveland is not the flashiest city, Welser-Möst allows, but it is one where good music-making is valued.

What an excellent thinker and conversationalist, this man.

• Okay, have you ever seen anything more stereotypical than the below? The Beer Garden Summer Camp. But it’s real. Thanks for joining me, one and all, and I’ll see you tomorrow for Part II.

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