Monthly Archives: July 2013

Vienna, a Tribute to Gustav Mahler. Movies.

Vienna has always been sort of a teenage dream. At that time, I only knew it was the land of classical music. Only later did I know it has so much more but then again, it was how all the dream to visit Vienna started, i.e. it being a musical dreamland. Then in my twenties, Vienna is a must visit place, sort of like a personal pilgrimage, to pay respects to none other than the great Gustav Mahler.

I cannot remember how I got so deep into Mahler. Something about his music speaks to me. I remember Ted Dorall from the New Straits Times whom I have gotten quite close to at that time (like 13 years ago?) asked me why such a great fascination for Mahler but I cannot remember exactly how I answered him although I remembered then going into a discussion on THE CATCHER IN THE RYE and why he didn’t like Holden and thereafter went into a bit of Hemingway’s A MOVEABLE FEAST. The last time I saw him, he was moving to Penang and gave me a compilation of Hemingway’s short stories as a parting gift.

Continuing from the previous travel journal, we took a train from Prague to Vienna. The first thing we did after checking into the hotel was to go and see the Wiener Staatsoper, the famous Vienna State Opera. Of course it has such great history but for me, all that was in my mind that evening was Gustav Mahler and his time there. It is a dream come true, to be standing at the place where Mahler stood.

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Nothing beats being in the hall itself and having bought the ticket to Mozart’s LA CLEMENZA DI TITO, we indulged in an evening of musical extravaganza. This opera by Mozart is from his later period and is much less well known compared to the likes of THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO or THE MAGIC FLUTE but I felt that opera to be quite deep and engaging. It seems that this opera which was previously believed to be an inferior opera is now beginning to get a revival and was also favorably performed by The Metropolitan Opera in New York.

IMG_0279The little LED panel (blue light) at the back of the seats let’s you choose subtitles for the opera.

IMG_0292The orchestra pit right in front of the stage. I can’t help but imagine Mahler conducting there, although it is now different from Mahler’s time.

staatsbackWe also went for a tour of the opera house and was shown around, including a room named after Mahler. The picture above is the backstage.

A Mahlerite’s visit to Vienna cannot be complete without paying respects to Mahler at Grinzing where he was buried. I sat there by his grave and listened to the whole of his 5th Symphony. It was a wonderful day. The sky was clear and there was light breeze. The weather was slightly cool but not too cold. The place was quite empty and sitting there with his music, I cannot help but shed a few tears.

Woody Allen in his film MANHATTAN asked what makes life worth living.

For me, what makes life worth living comprises of moments like this. Sitting there, I try to figure out what life is all about. I still don’t know but at the moment, and many other moments, I felt it. What makes life worth living is the immense depth of the human spirit and the immense possibility to experience and enjoy them, be part of that human movement. What makes life worth living is the people that makes it worth living. Family and friends. Together appreciating these wonderful human creation and spirit, be it the making and/or appreciation of music, films, art, literature, food, poetry, playing GO….. and hopefully be part of this spirit, contributing whatever little we can to this human world.

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Besides the many sightings of Mahler, e.g. a bronze plate here and there, a street named after him, he also has his own section in the House of Music (Haus der Musik). There are many memorabilia there, including his favorite cap and some letters in his own handwriting. Although it is not a very large exhibition, there is enough Mahler there for me to spend some time.

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All in all, we had a great time with Mahler in Vienna.

Besides Mahler, we also indulged in some movie experience and the best was to go down the Viennese sewers just like Carol Reed’s movie THE THIRD MAN. It is truly an out of the world experience! It has to be a once in a lifetime experience and a must-do if you are a movie fan. Uber-cool.

3rd1Going down into the sewers.

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The guide who knows the movie inside out.

3rd2A picture inside the sewers in black and white.

Besides THE THIRD MAN experience, we were lucky that the Vienna International Film Festival is being held there. And there is a retrospective on Fritz Lang. We immediately bought tickets to his DR. MABUSE THE GAMBLER. It was a 4 hour show in Black and White. Not to mention a silent movie! The pianist did a magnificent job, accompanying the show for 4 hours without rest. It was a new experience for me doing that, and at some point in time, it was also hard for me although Fritz Lang is not a stranger to me having watched METROPOLIS and M, two of his most famous works.

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IMG_3551Waiting to go into the screening hall.

There is so much to Vienna that such a short time cannot do justice to it. There are still many things to explore. I am not talking about buildings and monuments and such. Those things are what many tourists do. They visit a place and takes as many pictures of buildings and monuments as they can.

What I am saying is to have more time to explore the place a bit. Stay there and work there for a while if possible. To know the people and what they really do. Then to dig deeper into the culture and food. But as tourists, it is very hard to do that. But any touring cannot just be visiting buildings and monuments but with whatever little time, one needs to explore the arts and culture, not to mention exploring local food.

If not, why not just stay at home and watch Discovery Channel and if there is a need, use Photoshop and paste your own picture on those buildings and monuments? That way, it saves a lot of money.

(some photo credit many thanks to Kit Liew!)

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Prague….. not so Kafkaesque after all.

Having been lazy and following on from Taipei, I thought I would add a post on the travel journal slot for the trip to Prague last autumn. Vienna, Venice and Rome will have to wait a bit. Memories are very peculiar in a way not dissimilar to what Tagore said, something to this effect:

“I do not know who has painted the pictures of my life imprinted on my memory. But whoever he is, he is an artist. He does not take up his brush simply to copy everything that happens; he retains or omits things just as he fancies; he makes many a big thing small and small thing big; he does not hesitate to exchange things in the foreground with things in the background. In short, his task is to paint pictures, not to write history. The flow of events forms our external life, while within us a series of pictures is painted. The two correspond, but are not identical.”

I feel the same way too. What I desire in my memory is not an exact blow by blow, second by second “true” account of what exactly happened. That will be too sterile and unromantic.

The memories of Prague is one of a giant Disneyland. This is perhaps due to the nature of my visit, i.e. we are merely tourists. But that city is one magical place. The buildings silently speak untold stories it witnessed through its turbulent history. I was impressed with how dog friendly that city is, how bicycle friendly, and what a good transportation system it has. All the hallmarks of an advanced and civic conscious city, which took me a bit by surprise. It makes me reflect on my own city and what a substandard job our city management has done comparatively.

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The beautiful subway station. Well maintained and clean.

But of course, mentioning Prague will inevitably trigger my admiration first and foremost for Franz Kafka and also, but to a lesser extent, Dvořák and Smetana. Surely, Prague has been the host to many others. Mozart once said that the people of Prague understands him. Einstein found Prague to be a great place conducive for him to immerse himself in thoughts and further crystalize his theories on relativity.

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Franz Kafka Museum. Not a big place but the atmosphere inside and the music is unmistakably Kafkaesque!

But no one that ever comes to Prague can miss the vein that runs through this city, the Vltava River. One of my best memories of Prague, besides the morning walk on the Petrin Hill where I have foolishly caught a cold, was to walk by the bank of the Vltava River and listening to Smetana’s MA VLAST (My Country) where the river’s name was featured as one of the six symphonic poems. It is a wonderful piece of music and listening to that piece by the bank of the river, watching the swans swimming in the most carefree manner is one of the high points of the trip.

It is one of those memories what I pray will not fade from my feelings and my mind. And this is one of the reasons to be alive, to be happy, a reason to celebrate life! Memories like this makes life worth living.

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By the bank of the Vltava River

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A Kafka statue. Guess which story this is from.

There is music everywhere. Truly a city of arts and culture.

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Street musicians abound. 

We went for a performance of SWAN LAKE which was so-so. On our final night, we had a sublime performance in the Smetana Hall playing Ravel and Gershwin.

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Some more pictures of Prague:

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Autumn on Petrin Hill

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Street artists on the Charles Bridge

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Municipal House, home to the Czech National Symphony Orchestra.

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Tram lines. Great transportation system in Prague.

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Night scene from the Old Town area. 

Prague is a magical city.

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