Friday, June 3, 2011

Epilogue: Friday, June 3

That's it! We're done! Unbelievable that the program is over. Several students took off at the crack of dawn (that's 4:00 am here!). My family is heading to Salzburg for the weekend and as we walked to the subway to go to the train station to catch our train, we ran into Anthony, Catt, Bobby and Brittany as they caught their taxi to the airport. We said our goodbyes and that was it. I am looking forward to receiving emails from all the students when each of them returns home safely.

Here are a couple of final photos that were taken yesterday. They show the students in the foyer and staircase of the hotel, and also in front of the hotel.

Auf wiedersehen aus Wien!

Thursday, June 2

I cannot believe it is the final day of the program. We have been planning for this for almost two years, and now it is almost finished! I must say that the group of students that came on this Study Abroad program have been nothing short of wonderful. No trouble, no complaints, no problems. I couldn't have asked for a better group of students for my first Study Abroad directorship.

So what did we do on our last day? Something very appropriate. We have been learning about the great composers who called Vienna their home, we have been visiting their lodgings, we have been walking the streets where they walked, and we have been hearing their music in extremely high quality performances. So today we visited their final resting place, the Zentralfriedhof (Central Cemetery).

First we had a short session for both classes, wrapping things up and taking the final exams. Afterwards we got on the Straßenbahn and headed to the cemetery. I think the photos speak for themselves.

So what do do our last evening? What could we possibly do to top off this program and send us all home smiling? Amazingly, almost as if Vienna planned to give us an incredible send-off, the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra gave a free performance on the grounds of Schönbrunn Palace, for which they performed one of the great orchestral showpieces ever written, Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, in the arrangement by Maurice Ravel. We went early in order to get seats because we knew there would be a huge crowd. We got there about 5:00, but the concert didn't start until darkness fell at 9:00, because of the light show planned for the concert.

Here are some photos of us before the concert.

Here is what the stage looked like when we arrived at 5:00.

And here is what it looked like during the curtain calls.

The conductor of the concert was the famous Russian conductor Valery Gergiev, currently Principal Conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra. Here he is taking his bow. You can see the massive Neptune Fountain behind the see-through, plastic-sheeting that served as a stage cover.

Although this last photo is a bit blurry, it does give a sense of the pageantry and also the lighting that was displayed throughout the concert.

After the concert, as the crowds of people made their way out of the palace grounds and onto the subway, I said goodbye to the students as all of us are traveling somewhere tomorrow. Some are heading home, some are staying in Vienna, and some are traveling elsewhere in Europe. Several are leaving very early tomorrow. As we said goodbye, we all agreed that this concert was the very best way we could have ended our program.

Wednesday, June 1

Yesterday we discussed the Jugendstil (Art Nouveau) movement in Vienna, and today we visit the Belvedere Palace, which is home to the most important paintings of Gustav Klimt, the leader of the movement.

The Belvedere Palace has an interesting history. It was built by Prince Eugene of Savoy, Austria's most successful military leader. It is because of Prince Eugene's military victories that the Ottoman Turks were turned away from Europe and forced back into present-day Turkey back in the 17th century. Because of this the Austrian Hapsburg rulers showered the Prince with honors and also much wealth. It is with this money that he built the Belvedere Palace.

Our group on the front steps.

We could not film or take photographs inside the palace, but we did take a tour with a guide who showed us the highlights of the collection, including Klimt's most famous work, The Kiss. Afterwards the students walked through the palace grounds and formal gardens. The Belvedere has beautiful gardens, not quite as extensive as Schönbrunn, but still impressive.

In the evening there was a special performance of Verdi's opera Rigoletto at the Theater an der Wien (Theater on the Vienna River), sponsored by the Wiener Festwochen (Vienna Festival), which has been going on during our visit. The Theater an der Wien is an especially important theater in Vienna. It was built by Emanuel Schikaneder, who talked Mozart into writing The Magic Flute for his suburban company. He also wrote the libretto for The Magic Flute and was the very first Papageno (a major character in the opera). He built the Theater an der Wien with the money he made from producing The Magic Flute. It was built in 1801. Here is Drew in his box seat.

A view of the stage.

The performance was outstanding, and the production was a joint effort between the Theater an der Wien and New York's Metropolitan Opera. Here is the final curtain call.

Another great day. Another great performance!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Tuesday, May 31

Today in the Vienna Class we talked about the turn of the 20th century in Vienna, the artistic movement known here as Jugendstil (elsewhere as Art Nouveau), and the composers Anton Bruckner, Hugo Wolf, Gustav Mahler, Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg and Anton Webern. In the Opera Class we covered in depth the style of light opera called the Operetta, which had a huge flowering here in Vienna in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century. Two of the greatest operettas were composed here: Die Fledermaus ("The Bat") by Johann Strauss II (which many of us saw this past weekend); and The Merry Widow, by Franz Lehar.

In the afternoon we visited the house Joseph Haydn bought with the money he made from his first concertizing trip to London in 1791-92. Later he added a second story after his second trip to London in 1794-95. It was here where he wrote his two great oratorios The Creation and The Seasons. It is also the house in which he died.

Michael with Haydn's piano.

We're all taking photos!

Haydn evidently had a collection of musical canons which he had displayed on his wall. Here's Natalia with the canon collection and a Haydn piano.

Haydn especially loved his garden, which has been recently restored to look like it did during Haydn's last years.

Monday, May 30

Today we begin our final week here in Vienna. It seems as if it has gone by so fast. This Friday is the end of the program and everyone will be leaving. Some of us will go home on Friday, while others plan to spend a few extra days in Europe. Several of us plan to spend the weekend in Salzburg, my family included, others plan to travel in Germany, and one student is flying to Paris to spend a week with a friend.

Today's class was held in one of the most impressive palaces in all of Europe, Schönbrunn. Meaning "beautiful fountain," Schönbrunn was a conscious attempt by the ruling Hapsburg family of Austria to duplicate Versaille, the summer home of the French kings outside of Paris. It is a massive structure with over 1000 rooms. It was also the summer home of the Austrian rulers, and when it was built it was several miles outside the city walls. But now the city has grown up around it. Still, the footprint of the palace and surrounding grounds is immense. Here is the UTB group in the front of the palace.

We had arrived a little early for our tour, so several students relaxed on a flight of stairs inside the entrance.

Unfortunately, the staff of the palace does not allow photographs of any kind inside. But of all the ornately decorated rooms the one that made the most impact on our students was the room in which the six-year-old Mozart performed his very first concert in Vienna (only his second concert ever) for the Empress Maria Theresa. This is the famous visit during which Maria Theresa's daughter Marie Antoinette helped Mozart after he slipped on the polished floors, and he promptly announced that he would marry her some day!

After the palace tour the students were free to explore the grounds, and although not quite as extensive as Versailles (the Hapsburgs ran out of money before they could duplicate the French model), they are still very impressive. This is the view of the "backyard" with a temporary stage, lights and sound equipment being readied for a free concert of the Vienna Philharmonic on the palace grounds Thursday evening (of course, we plan to attend!).

On the grounds of the palace are a public swimming pool, the best zoo in Europe (many students have been and have compared it favorably to the San Diego Zoo), several mazes, a playground, several large fountains and pools, many formal gardens, nature walks through wooded areas, and a massive structure on the hill behind the palace called the Gloriette.

Here is Drew lost in the maze.

And here is the view of the palace, and Vienna beyond, from the Gloriette.

After the walk through the palace grounds, many of us decided to go to a famous old "keller" (cellar) in the center of Vienna, the Twelve Apostles Keller. They serve classic Viennese dishes such as sausages, Wienerschnitzel and others. The atmosphere inside the keller is unbeatable.

The local musicians serenaded the students with "The Eyes of Texas!" I've got video to prove it!

An enjoyable evening to a tiring day!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Friday, May 27

Friday was art museum day! We had a tour through one of the great art museums of Europe, Vienna's Kunsthistorisches (Art History) Museum.

The museum is located at the edge of a large square, opposite which is the Natural History Museum. In the middle of the square is a huge statue of Empress Maria Theresa. Here is the group at the statue.

We arrived about fifteen minutes early, so we relaxed on the steps of the museum.

Once inside we met our tour guide and she took us up the grand staircase to the first item, a neo-Greco sculpture.

She pointed out some interesting ceiling paintings as well.

Once inside the painting galleries our guide took great care to explain each of the works she introduced to us.

In the one hour tour, we were introduced to the prizes of the museum's collection, including Titian, Caravaggio, Velázquez, Dürer, Raphael, Rubens, Rembrandt, Vermeer and Bruegel.

Here our guide is talking about a famous Madonna by Titian.

Here we are in front of a famous self-portrait by Rembrandt.

Our guide ended our tour in the room with the Bruegel collection, the most extensive collection of Bruegels in the world. Here she explains the painting called "Peasant Wedding."

Our tour ended with the Bruegels, so the group was allowed to wander at their leisure through the rest of the museum. I heard from some students that they greatly enjoyed the Egyptian and Greek exhibits.

This ended the instructional part of the day, so the students were free to stay in the museum or have some free time.

Most of the group had decided to attend the production of Die Fledermaus by Johann Strauss II. This production was at the Volksoper, and I heard mostly positive comments from all. Here is the set for the ballroom scene in the second act.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Thursday, May 26

This morning we held class in our hotel. In the Vienna class we talked about Johannes Brahms and also Johann Strauss II, and the incredible popularity of the waltz in nineteenth century Vienna. Since it was the midpoint of our program, we also had a mid-term exam. We don't have any way to connect our laptops to printers, or access to copy machines, so our exam was an oral one. Everyone did very well. The students are really soaking up a lot of information here. In the Opera class we talked about Verdi and the popularity of his operas here in Vienna, although he never had a physical connection with the city. We also talked about the Verdi opera in production here during our stay, Simon Boccanegra. Since one of our group, Joseph Sanchez, had already seen the opera, his mid-term exam consisted of telling the class about the plot and his experience at the opera house.

Our afternoon excursion consisted of tracing the life of Franz Schubert, the only one of the great composers associated with this city to have actually been born here, lived his entire life here, and died here. We first visited the apartment in which he was born.

Here is the front of the building.

Inside are some artifacts and items associated with Schubert. Catt and Bobby are photographing an actual pair of Schubert's glasses (they were broken!).

Here are some of the students looking at the artifacts.

Joy is playing "air piano" on the instrument owned by Schubert's brother, so most likely played by Schubert.

After the "birth house" we jumped on the Straßenbahn and headed across town to the house in which Schubert died.

The apartment belonged to Schubert's brother, and when Schubert came down with his final illness (typhoid fever) he moved into this apartment. This is the actual room in which he died.

This is the entrance to the apartment.

And this is the courtyard in the middle of the building.

That concluded our tour of Schubert sites. The students were released from "class" and were free for the rest of the day.

Several of us went to the Musikverein that evening to hear the Vienna Symphony Orchestra. They performed Mahler's 5th Symphony. It was a very good concert and a very good orchestra, not quite the level of the Vienna Philharmonic, but any city would be proud to have such an orchestra as it's main orchestra. Here the Vienna Symphony is Vienna's "second orchestra." This is a photo of the orchestra just before the concert began.

After the concert we got to see the Musikverein for the first time at night. The lighting was beautiful.