Monday, 25 July 2011


EUROTOUR 2011 Part Two



In my concern to ensure that the concert hall of the beautiful Les Arts Gstaad project will have an orchestra pit for on-stage performances, for dance, for opera, for theatre, I decided to fly to Gstaad after my summer stay in Berlin. The original instructions for the architectural competition had stipulated that there should be ballet on the stage, but that there should not be an orchestra pit; that the sightlines would have to arrange themselves! That would of course mean that one would see the feet of the dancers through the conductor’s waving wand, and past the heads of the orchestral players, and through their instruments, the harps and the double bases...

When Markus Kappeler showed me these instructions during my stay with him and Marlis in the summer of 2009, I immediately remonstrated with him about the inconsistency of planning musical performances on the stage of the concert hall, without providing an orchestra pit, an obviously necessary professional-standard facility. He countered that an orchestra pit would be too expensive! “Too expensive?” When they were planning to build, not a local village hall, but a world class, multi-million Swiss Francs, arts complex, to serve a large area, that would include an art gallery, a safe art depository, and the concert hall - the only one of its kind and scale in the neighbourhood - with a bus station and car parking underneath it all???

In preparation for my journey I contacted various persons concerned in the project, including the architect, Rudy Ricciotti, who said that he would not be in Gstaad, but that I would be welcome to come and see him in Bandol. So I flew to Nice, where Michel Callyannis had kindly arranged for me to stay at the same hotel as two years ago, the Floride, on the 22 bus route into town, up the hill, a bit inland, with a wonderful sunny view over the town and hills from my balcony, the coloured lights at night. And Boris Slioussarenko collected me from the airport. And the next day he drove me to Bandol.

Rudy Ricciotti talked to us about the superb acoustics that the concert hall would have, and expressed his concern, that there was not enough money to continue the architectural work, and that there was not enough money to build the building. And why didn’t one of the wealthy residents of Gstaad simply pay for the lot, and lend his name to the building. I concur with that sentiment. I was relieved that building work had not yet started: I had had no access to information about the progress of the project until I came to Bandol...

We then had a conference with Rudy’s enthusiastic project manager, Rasko Rob, at which I would like to have been shown more detailed plans – on the internet sketches the stage appears rather high for an orchestral podium - but I could see from the plans which I was shown that the hall had no orchestra pit. I pointed this out to Rasko, and he said that there was space underneath it for one to be installed, as there was car parking below the hall at that point which did not require the total height of the ceiling. When I asked him why there was no orchestra pit,

he replied that none had been specified by Les Arts Gstaad. So I realised that this crucial

facility – crucial, as it is intended to present ballet etc ON THE STAGE! - which I had been pleading for in speech, emails and letters and on my blog for two years now, was still not going to be provided, to my view a disastrous compromise. A house without a water closet. I mentioned that London’s Royal Festival Hall had been built in 1951 simply as a concert hall, with a podium for the orchestra. But it was found necessary to present a long season of ballet in the hall each summer, as musical customers were attending the BBC promenade concerts in the huge Albert Hall. So a make-shift stage for the dancers had to be erected in the Royal Festival Hall each year. With its recent renovation, the hall received a completely new, flexible, stage and orchestra pit, and the chorus seats can now be moved away hydraulically, so as to provide a clear performance area. Rasko stated that no chorus seats were arranged for. This is a double lack, as they can accommodate members of the audience when not needed for a chorus, the audience thus surrounding the orchestra as in a private salon, giving a more intimate ambiance, and providing cheap seats behind the orchestra. Memories of early concert-going to the Proms in the Queen’s Hall...

After the meetings with the architects Boris and I had a wondrous fish meal, and drove into the villages behind Nice, a rich day out, business and holiday, both.

I had a few more days in Nice, had a swim, watched the beach parachutists towed by a motorboat, and sometimes landing in deep water; and lunched at Angelika’s – memories of Mytilini 1958 - and Erio’s, in their house behind Nice, together with son Michel and daughter Alexandra, who gave me lifts there and back from her village, reached by local buses. And Michel and I had our farewell Moules Marinieres by the Nice harbour...

With my now up to date if, alas, incomplete, information of the concert hall, I flew along the Mediterranean, over the white-tipped Alps, and along the huge Lake Geneva; took the train along the lake to Montreux, and then the little mountain railway up to Gstaad. I wheeled my zipper the few meters to the luxurious small chalet Hotel Christiania, with its welcoming host, in the main street.

I had an appointment for coffee the next day with Frank Mueller-Brand, the editor of the Anzeiger von Saanen, and I fetched him from the office, and we sat in the sun in a cafe, and I put my case. It was a delightful meeting, the outcome of which was for him to say that I needed a ‘Gespraechspartner’ to voice my continuing concerns, somebody with authority within the organisation of Les Arts Gstaad to speak to. He suggested Hans-Ueli Tschanz, Kultur Engagement, who rang me the next day, to say that he was not the right man, but that I must meet Kurt Aellen in Bern, the architect member of the Board of Les Arts Gstaad.

But first I had to keep my appointment in Zuerich with Dr Peter Hagmann, feuilleton-editor of the Neue Zuercher Zeitung. I was out of breath by the time I had given him a resume of my case for an orchestra pit. Then there was a silence. And I thought he was thinking me a fusspot over such a detail as an orchestra pit. But he went much further than me. He quoted other new concert halls in Switzerland, all of which were extremely flexible, and one of which had innumerable squares of floor, that could all be lowered and raised individually, in any configuration so that, for example, the audience could sit in the centre, with the action going on around them. He proposed to pass on my information to his colleague dealing with architecture. I have emailed Peter Hagmann with detailed supportive notes for his colleague: About the missing orchestra pit; about the missing choir stalls; and about the apparently also missing organ; none was mentioned in my talk with the architects.

Concerning the apparently missing windows in the building, I pleaded for daylight in all dressing rooms, in the green room, and in the canteen, and in the rooms for the technicians, for the orchestra and for the chorus.

Concerning the other missing feature, the restaurant, I learnt that it had been deleted from the original plans in deference to the interests of the nearby hotel restaurants and cafes! A completely wrong decision, to my mind, about which I raised the following six points:

1) That it would be more proper for Les Arts Gstaad to represent the interests of Les Arts Gstaad, and of its public, its artists, and its technicians, rather than representing the interests of nearby hotel restaurants and cafes;

2) that these nearby hotel restaurants and cafes have the opportunity of applying for a licence to run the restaurant;

3) that a restaurant would support the project financially;

4) that, together with the originally planned terrace, the restaurant would encourage the public to visit Les Arts Gstaad;

5) that a restaurant was all the more necessary, as the building had activities for the public all day, as well as in the evenings;

6) and that eating and drinking served a hugely important social function.

The next day I took the same series of trains to Bern, to meet Kurt Aellen, the architect, le maitre d’ouvrage, as Rudy called him. A fantastic meeting. Thrilling. Because it turned out that he thought that the solution of the Royal Festival Hall could solve the problem of the Gstaad hall: Raise the stage one meter. Extend the front of the stage one meter. Remove 5 rows of seats. And, hey presto! you have an orchestra pit, without having to build one. Both a technical, and a financial, solution! Irony has it that I had circulated the full details of the Royal Festival Hall scheme, together with those of Eddy Smith, the Technical Director of the South Bank, – THE man they should consult! - of the company that designed and installed the new stage, and of the architects overseeing the renovation of the hall to Rudy, to Markus, and to a number of other persons concerned in Les Arts Gstaad, in November 2009, twenty one months ago!

After our meeting Kurt Aellen insisted on driving me to see the wondrous Renzo Piano Paul Klee art gallery on the outskirts of Bern, where I had a quick look inside this amazing huge steel and glass ‘conservatory’, built in three curved waves...

I rushed back from Bern to Gstaad for a delayed meeting with Leonz Blunschi, the chairman of the Yehudi Menuhin Festival. I asked him what he expected, hoped for, from the concert hall, pointing out that the festival was the first known potential customer of the new facilities. But Herr Blunschi refused to answer. The beginning of our conversation was also its end. He said that he was not concerned with technical questions, and stated that, if everybody talked to everybody about the scheme, there would be utter chaos. People should talk only to Markus Kappeler. I was nonplussed. First of all Markus Kappeler was no longer on speaking terms with me, so that that avenue was closed to me. Then I wasn’t “everybody”. I had a very particular involvement in the project; and where did freedom of speech come in? After sleeping on this extraordinary interview I emailed Herr Blunschi, and suggested to him that he appeared to have erected a fascist structure in Les Arts Gstaad, and to have given Markus the role of dictator, a notion less than palatable to me, with my personal experience of Germany 1933... In his reply

Herr Blunschi countered my definition by describing what they had set up in Les Arts Gstaad as a “klare Organisations- und Entscheid-Kultur”, literally a clear organizational and decision culture”. I accepted Herr Blunschi’s definition as being a better and more accurate definition than mine, and thanked him for his explanation. But I said that I still found that conversation, that discussion, with whomever, and between whomever, about what was, after all, a public project, should not only be permitted, but should be actively encouraged. And, further, that I was in the unique position of having actually been the person who had proposed to Markus that he should take on this project, my having been introduced to the subject some 23 years ago, then a concert hall inside a mountain, by architect friends in Berlin. And that I should therefore be all the more allowed to participate in the discussion. I also indicated that I thought it a great pity that I was not given the opportunity, while in Gstaad, of meeting the Artistic Director of the Festival, Christoph Mueller, particularly as I, too, had been involved with a number of arts festivals.

I have the feeling that these wrong decisions derive from too closed, too isolated, too insulated, too insular a structure of Les Arts Gstaad.

I left a mini rose plant for Marlis on the letter box outside their flat, with my good wishes. There was a note stuck to the letter box, with the previous day’s date on it, for Markus to contact somebody, so they must have been away. I rang their god-daughter Baba in Muensingen, to find out where the Kappelers were, and how Marlis was. Baba didn’t know where they were, and she had found Marlis in good form when they had last met.

20 July 2011

EUROTOUR 2011 Part One


My summer visit to Berlin was earlier this year – I caught the full season of asparagus! –because I was invited to come to Berlin to be interviewed on 23 May for a television documentary film by Radio Berlin Brandenburg, rbb-Fernsehdokumentation "Geheimnisvolle Orte: Wannsee”, “Mysterious/sinister places: Wannsee”. Nazi crimes were perpetrated in this lovely suburb set round the lake and by the river Havel. It had been largely started by the enterprise and money of wealthy Jewish residents who were all replaced by Nazi bigwigs and other ‘Aryans’ after 1933, till when I had spent my glorious childhood weekends at my father’s swish sailing club, the Verein Seglerhaus am Wannsee. And just down the road from the club was the notorious house of the Wannsee Konferenz, where the Nazis had decided on the ‘final solution’ of the Jews. The director of the programme, Karin Reiss, had picked up on my blog the story of my father’s friend and co-owner of our sailing yacht, Adolf Hain – picnics on board with the two families – who turned rabid Nazi boss of the club, and was responsible for kicking out the Jewish members post haste, a story I discovered 70 years later... I was interviewed on the terrace of the club where, total irony, I now have my birthday parties and, in the dining room, we celebrate our annual crisp Christmas goose!

In Berlin one feels all the time that the past is running parallel to one’s daily experiences…

We Berliners dispersed throughout the world get a journal issued by the Berlin Buergermeister twice a year, and they published a letter of mine, in which I described my recent discovery that I dont speak high German, that I speak berlinerish! I don’t eat ‘Kaese’ – I eat Kese! This pleased me enormously: Ich bin ein Berlienr… Twelve Berliners from all over the world wrote to, phoned or emailed me, touched by this reference to their past, their childhood, their family, their identity. Hanni Levi, who lives in Paris, was also coming to Berlin, for the laying of some ‘Stolpersteine’, literally ‘tripping stones’, those 4 inch square brass memorial plaques set on cubes of concrete and let into the pavement in front of the houses where Jewish residents had lived before they were murdered by the Nazis. I collected her and her friend Huguette from their pension nearby – we three had met over dinner the night before - and we went to the block of flats in the Nollendorfstrasse for the laying of these stones, eleven of them.

Now, in this house, Hanni had been secretly accommodated from 1942 till the end of the war by a non-Jewish German family, a hugely brave action. Hanni had peroxided her hair, and had played the role of a normal, ‘Aryan’ German girl. She had had to act completely naturally, with Berlin chutzpah, not be cowed, otherwise people might have become suspicious. And in that way she sometimes actually forgot, that she was leading a secret life! Some of the descendents of the family that had saved her life were present at the laying of the Stolpersteine, as well as the residents in the flats, all of whom had worked together to unearth the past of the building they were living in, had known about the eleven victims in the house, and had known about Hanni, had been astounded when Hanni had one day turned up with her grandson, whom she had wanted to show where she had lived in hiding. There had been unanimous agreement in the house that they would erect a wall plaque in the entrance of the block of flats to honour the family that had risked their lives to save Hanni, and they had arranged a celebration in their honour, to which Hanni had been invited.

That was the background to the celebration I attended. When the eleven Stolpersteine had been cemented into the pavement a Jewish man and his son donned their little caps, and the elder read a prayer, which reminded me that of course these historic victims had never had a funeral, had never been buried. I wasnt the only one who was moved.

A woman came towards me, and diffidently asked me whether I perhaps had also lost relatives, for whom I might like to set Stolpersteine in front of their last homes. I thanked her for her concern, and said that I could not but agree to consider her suggestion, although I had never thought before of setting one for Anita’s sister, my Tante Erna, for my father’s sister Hilde, and for my grandfather’s sister Lilly Kirstein, but would welcome her help in checking their last addresses. She found Tante Erna’s, but the information about the other two is as yet not quite convincing, and needs more research. The organisation that deals with this remarkable artistic invention of the Stolpersteine also does research for them. I shall arrange for one certainly for Tante Erna.

So this time Berlin was particularly dramatic, on top of the pleasure of music, theatre, opera, exhibition, favourite restaurants, enjoying the spaciousness and architectural variety and the lovely surroundings of the city of my birth. And seeing my dear friends. Birthday party at Amelie’s; breakfasts at Pitt’s; family dinner at Elisabeth and David’s; Gerhard’s private cembalo recital of the Bach family and of his own work; Amnesty International conference with Annette; meeting Margaret Ewing at the delicious free Tuesday recital in the foyer of the Philharmonie, the Reissner connection; long ramble along the Kleine Wannsee and the Havel with Annelie, with asparagus to follow! Gudrun’s book reading about her research of the Bayerische Viertel, another aspect of the Nazi pogrom; tea party for ten in the sailing club with my new friends; and many other meetings. Not enough time to see everybody...

20 July 2011