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Volume 1, No. 9: September 8, 2004

Pitten Classics 2004

By Michael Bouman

These are the key ingredients of an educational music festival:

We come together every two years from separate regions of the U.S.  Festival Director David Neiweem is Chairman of the Music Department at the University of Vermont.  His partner, Alan Parshley, the Festival Administrator, is a professional French Horn player.  David is a gifted singer, organist, choral conductor, and arranger.  Alan and David both play piano well enough to accompany students and colleagues in public performances.  David's brother Ralph and his sister-in-law, Claire Aebersold, are an exciting duo-piano team based in Chicago.  The teenage piano students who they bring to the festival have usually been playing for ten years.  They can play full movements of classical concertos from memory.  Singers in the Neiweem circle of friends round out the faculty.  The voice students and adult choir members of the faculty make up the festival chorus and populate the master classes in voice, piano, and brass.

Alan Parshley organizes a brass ensemble that often plays outdoors as a prelude to the concerts inside the Bergkirche (Mountain Church), our "big" performing venue on the side of the mountain overlooking the town of Pitten.

Alan Parshley conducts the Festival Brass Ensemble outside the Bergkirche

We rehearse every day in Pitten's elementary school, which has one or more pianos in every classroom.  Across the street is Pitten's new Community Center with a stage and seating for several hundred people.  Three blocks down the street is a 17th century convent, one of the major historic preservation projects in town, with a big courtyard where the festival presents one outdoor concert. Also in the center of town is a new bank with a second-floor art gallery and performance space with seating for about a hundred people.  Our main performance venue is the Baroque mountain church (Bergkirche) on the small mountain that overlooks the town. The church has an area large enough for a small orchestra and chorus or for two grand pianos, and several hundred can occupy the pews for the big concerts.  Above the Bergkirche, on top of the mountain, is a 16th century castle that once provided shelter for townspeople during periods of siege.  We gave one outdoor picnic concert on the castle grounds this year.  From that vantage point we could see the skyline of Vienna on the far horizon to the north. 


The Bergkirche in Pitten with the 16th century castle above it


Duo-pianists Ralph Neiweem and Claire Aebersold perform in the Bergkirche

Outside the church on a lovely evening, we enjoy the view of the fertile Pitten valley and the castle above the town of Siebenstein.  The blue building of the central foreground of this picture is the Pfarhoff, the 17th century convent that serves as a venue for one outdoor concert.

Evening view from the Berkirche in Pitten, with the castle at Siebenstein in the distance.

Always in the first week of the festival, David Neiweem takes the group for a day in Vienna.  This year he arranged with several Austrians in the festival to lead three or four guided walking tours of the city.  David took one group to the main cemetery in which one section is devoted to the graves and memorials of the great Viennese composers.  The gravestone of the great 19th century Lieder composer, Hugo Wolf, is always a favorite because of the passionate embrace that is sculpted into the stone. 


St. Louisans Eileen Walhermfechtel and Adrienne Todd at the grave of Hugo Wolf

Inside the main cemetery is a magnificent chapel recently restored to the splendor of its Jugendstihl art work.  It's a breathtaking accomplishment!


Jugendstihl artwork in the chapel at Vienna's main cemetery

Several residents of Pitten like to hold picnic lunches for the festival participants.  Here at the home of Frau Fischer is her daughter, Eva (striped shirt), Adrienne Todd, and pianist Claire Aebersold.  Many of the homes in this part of town have small fruit orchards in the back yard, as you can see here.


Picnic at the Fischer home in Pitten

In preparation for our performance of Haydn's Theresienne Mass, we were taken on a day trip to Eisenstadt, the formerly Hungarian town where Haydn worked most of his life for Prince Esterhazy.  We visited Esterhazy palace and the Haydn houseand then drove on to the lakeside town of Rust, where the storks roost in twig nests they build on chimney tops.  Seeing the storks promised to be the most memorable part of the day until night fell.


Stork roosting in Rust, southeast of Vienna

Before our outdoor concert in Rust, we had a light meal at a wine garden.  Pictured here are Christine Mandak and her father Hans.  We had met Hans Mandak a few days earlier in an unforgettable experience following our performance of Mozart's Requiem.  Hans Mandak arranged for us to have a tour of the cloisters and church in Wienerneustadt where Mozart's Requiem received its first performance.  Our chorus went into the choir loft there and, with David Neiweem playing an organ dating back to the 16th century, we sang two movements of the Requiem just for the experience of doing so.


Volunteer conservationist Hans Mandak with his daughter, Christine

Mr. Mandak is one of a handfull of dedicated volunteers who take care of a priceless collection of antique books in the cloister's library.  He gave us a tour of the library and showed us samples of some of the best books in the collection.  We saw a hand-illuminated "Book of Hours" from the Renaissance.  We saw a manuscript of a Bible showing the same passages in six languages.  We saw an old map of the known world on a twenty-meter scroll.  These and other treasures were lovingly unboxed or uncovered for our viewing.  It was a rare pleasure to see archival conservation under conditions that reminded me of so many local museums in Missouri.  If Mr. Mandak lived in Missouri he'd probably receive a Governor's Humanities Award.  You wouldn't know it from this picture or to see him in action, but he's eighty-four years old.  Christine is a flight attendant with Lufthansa and holds a real estate license in Washington, D.C., where she lived for many years.

And what, you may ask, was so memorable about nightfall in Rust that we didn't remember the storks as the highlight?  Was it the view of the huge stone quarry outside of town where a massive production of Verdi's Aida was having a run of performances?  No, it was not that.  It was the courtyard in which we gave our evening concert to an audience of fifty to seventy-five resort visitors who had purchased tickets to hear us.  The chorus opened with a short piece and then took seats as several soloists began to sing.  As soon as we sat down, a cloud of small mosquitoes descended on us.  We began to slap ourselves and the people seated in front of us.  A tube of insect repellant began to circulate urgently through the choir.  The soloists and pianists could not interrupt their performance to swat.  Mosquitoes entered mouths, eyes.  The audience began to go through the same swatting motions.  We couldn't just call the concert off.  At intermission many of the women had dozens of bites swelling around their faces, necks, and legs.  Men had taken dozens of hits around the socks.  Our director began cutting verses of pieces in the second half as the audience thinned out.  My three-verse performance of Duke Ellington's "Come Sunday" was shaved to a single verse, with thanks from all.  We got out of there as quickly as decency would permit, and for the next few days displayed our many badges of honor as we passed the Benadryl!