More Music, this time in Graz

We’ve experienced three out of four seasons in Graz.  When we arrived, at the end of February, it was still winter.  Snow thinly blanketed our hill and road, although there was none in the city.   It was cold, and we needed every bit of the winter clothing we brought with us, including the snow boots.  Freeze and thaw brought on mud season.  Spiritually, it’s a rich time; literally, it was awful keeping the flat clean from all that mud and dirt!


How quickly that changed in  mid to late March, when suddenly buds starting popping and patches of green took over the space outside.  Why is it we are always so surprised by Spring’s appearance?  Buds gave way to flowers, which have stayed with us progressively as the weeks have passed.  There is always something blooming in the woods, here.  It’s one of the sensory things I will miss about Graz—the smell of these woods.  It brings back memories of those early formative years when I galloped with my chums through the deciduous, creekside woods near my childhood home.


Now it’s summer. The birds are still singing outside our windows, and some are on their second or third broods.   Buildings sport colorful hanging flower baskets and boxes; plaza plantings have filled out from their early tentative beginnings and it’s hot!  We won’t be here for Autumn, which we are certain will be just as glorious.  But we experienced the Four Seasons, nevertheless, in a musical performance on Tuesday, June 28.


Our friends, Christina and Gernot, are part of the Verein Sakrale Musik Graz-Mariatrost, a choir about 80-strong, which sings at the Bascilica several times a year and in other parishes as well.  The choir is celebrating its 25th year and for this celebration, as well as the 225th birthday of the Maria-Trost parish, they performed Haydn’s Four Seasons.  The three soloists, choir and orchestra soared! We had the German libretto to follow the lyrics, but it really wasn’t all that necessary, as the music itself is such a great ‘tone poem’ of the cycle of life.

the plaza at Mariatrost before the concert of the 4 Seasons (Haydn)


always a beautiful view from Maria-Trost











Gernot and Christina before the concert



the choir and orchestra after the concert


the altos with angel! Christina Aigner-3rd row

Gernot Aigner (dark hair with beard)-top row












the soloists

Last visit to Vienna: music in the key of life and death

Our last full day in Vienna, June 26, was a Sunday.  The Vienna Boys Choir sings Sundays at the Imperial Chapel, but one pays 10 € for hearing them at a church service, and tickets are hard to get.  Instead, we took Rick Steve’s advice (for once) and headed for the Augustinerkirche, and equally lovely church, also part of the Imperial complex, where excellent music happens.  Lucky us!  We managed to arrive in time for the Anton Bruckner Mass in E Minor, plus a whole lot more.   The service went on for 2 hours!  But fortunately we had comfortable chairs (instead of sitting in the rock hard pews or standing up) and we didn’t mind.  How could you mind when listening to music in that setting?




After that, we walked around the Innerstadt


water fill up/fountain on Graben in Vienna--Mountain Water take note!


Donner's fountain to the rivers in Neumarkt Platz



detail of fountain


man digging for coins in fountain to the rivers in Neumarkt Platz














and visited the Capuchin Church, home to the crypts of the Hapsburgs.   The crypts are beautifully ornate and I find it interesting that death is actually acknowledged, personified and raised here to a level of art, rather than glossed over in a shiny casket.













detail of tomb of Elizabeth Christine

death = life veiled?















detail from the casket of Kaiser Karl VI



We then moseyed over to the MuseumsQuartier, in hopes of finding some live music from South Africa, because we had seen a poster for a South African Festival being held there.   No music, just a lot of art and crafts, but interesting none the less.  Also a fabulous imperial looking sandcastle!



sandcastle at Museumsquartier


The MuseumsQuartier plaza-a lively place

The Leopold Museum is in the MuseumsQuartier and was open.  Hooray, at last!   They have a fabulous permanent collection of Egon Schiele as well as a decent grouping of the works of Gustav Klimt.  What is even better, (unlike the MUMOK), they also have very good explanatory notes in German and in English!  The current ‘exhibition’ was on photography and Ansel Adams was included there!



Egon Schiele - still life flowers


detail of life, from Life and Death by Gustav Klimt



Ansel Adams photos on display: left, Rocks and Limpets, 1960

We finished our day by walking back to our hotel, taking in the sights along the way.



reflection along the street in Vienna


Having access to all of this art and art history has been fabulous.  I think I will look at what I see in Missoula with new and expanded eyes.

Thanks for reading!

Chestnuts, books and more music

If you are wondering why no blog entries for a while, we were grossly preoccupied the last few weeks trying to figure out what to do over the Austrian University System Spring Break, which is coming up mid-April to the end of April. Yes, it is for 2 weeks, only we don’t have all that time available to us because of a previously scheduled Fulbright meeting elsewhere in Austria. After much reading and trying to wend our way through the maze of German and Spanish websites (sorry IE and Google, your browsers definitely do NOT translate everything and Firefox, not at all!) we finally decided on 6 nights in Spain, in the Andalucía area (southern Spain).  We will let you know how this turns out since we realized after we had booked the flight that this was over part of Semana Santa (Holy Week) which is a BIG DEAL in Spain.  Researching the options at the local bookstore was delightful, actually, and we were very glad to see that this giant bookstore in Graz was very crowded! Literacy (and the non-electronic kind, too) rules!


Moser Buchhandlung (literally Bookhandler) - even soft chairs for browsing!


Dogs go everywhere in Austria. Did I mention that before?

I wonder what he wants to read? He's in the wrong section for puppy training!


There was also a great kids’ section (with even a kids’ play area), but don’t tell Amy and David I went there I was never there. Also a cafe where you could also read and enjoy a treat.  I wonder where Barnes and Noble got their ideas?

We popped into a few other stores on Herrengasse, which has the most expensive storefronts in Graz.  Also the coolest at which to window shop.   (those shoes a while back?  On Herrengasse)

I bought a packet of gift cards for way too much money in a Paper Store, which is the oldest one of its kind in Graz. But I was pleased because I did the entire transaction auf Deutsch.  I think the lone clerk there was being too kind.


the oldest paper store in Graz

We also learned there that it is good etiquette not to bring your wet umbrella into a store and drip it all over the counter or floor.  Receptacles by the doors are placed there for that reason, bitte.

My favorite storefront, after the shoes, is this one:

ready for Easter! I don't think they are Fabergé eggs but I do want to check more closely! Not sure I can say 'just looking' in German!


On St. Patrick’s Day we tried to celebrate.  I couldn’t find corned beef in Graz, although all the ingredients for Irish Soda Bread were at hand.   There are actually 3 Irish Bars in Graz, each one claiming to be ‘authentic’.  We found all three, but by the time we arrived, others with the same idea had been there for hours already.  They were packed, smokey and loud.  And the beer was green.


the crowd outside the bar on St. Patrick's Day- even more inside!

another bar, with outside seating on the plaza--a little too cool for us and no food!


Foregoing the idea of celebrating the wearing o’ the green, we walked around looking for somewhere interesting to eat.  Graz has a huge network of small streets, courtyards and plazas.  We passed by the Glockenspiel and found the characters were performing!


Dancers dancing at 6 PM


Of all places, we ended up at a Mexican restaurant, eating shrimp in mole sauce, and fajitas, drinking Czech beer.




Tijuana Restaurant - Menu in German, though


Last Sunday, March 20, we took ourselves to yet another beautiful musical event.  This one was in the Stadtpfarrkirche, one of the first churches I mentioned in previous blogs.  (It’s the one with the stained glass windows that include as Jesus’ tormentors Hitler and Mussolini.)

The event was the Graz Opera Youth Choir/Singing School (Graz Oper Singschul’ ) singing the Stabat Mater accompanied by ‘original’ instruments.  We can’t decide which was the more transporting sound:  the timbre of the baroque violone (which is a double bass) and violin-cellos or the sweet, pure voices of the teenagers and younger children singing.  Have a listen and you decide:

Instrumental introduction to Stabat Mater

Singschul’s first bars of singing the Stabat Mater


Unfortunately, this was not the night to discover I’d left the memory card in the computer!  BIG mistake!


Singschul' for Oper Graz

the children were very attentive to the tuning of the 6 instruments, all individually tuned



Near the church, just off Jakominiplatz, is a stand that sells chestnuts, or in German, Maroni.  You see these stands all over the city.  Chestnuts roasting on almost an open fire, drum,15 to 20 Euro cents a chestnut.  We ran into two fellows who were from Canada, living in Graz for 2 years now.  They figured only a tourista would be taking photos of a Maroni Stand and struck up a conversation!



The Maroni Stand (no angels or visions here)



Want to know what else Austrians do with Maroni?  Here is what:



Kastanienoberg Torte


This little slice of heaven had a chestnut -whipped cream filling over a dense cake of something – maybe ground chestnuts – and was topped by a delicious dark chocolate with just a hint of something alcoholic.  We imbibed at the same restaurant (Hauserl im Wald) that’s become our destination on Sunday strolls.  This was the first dessert we’ve tried there, and at this rate, we are going to have to walk a lot farther!

Maybe even over to Mariatrost, which would be quite the hike!  It was lovely bathed in the late afternoon light.



More on Mariatrost in a future blog!  Stay tuned, and Vielen Dank for reading!





A little bit of musical heaven, definitely not singin’ the blues

I didn’t think it was possible to experience more musical delights in one week, but we did!

Late last week (the week of March 7) we finally connected with the folks we had met on the trail (see this post) a few weeks back.  Christina had been trying to reach me via phone but because we hadn’t really learned these new phones yet, we were a) unaware we had received calls and b)couldn’t retrieve a voice mail message at all.  So, after taking ourselves back to the phone store and finding the same clerk who helped us before, we managed to install a system for voice mail.  I hope that after the rapidGermanthatIcannotunderstand finishes, I can just enter my pin and listen!  Texting (or SMSing here in Europe) is infinitely more reliable, once you figure out how to do it! (my adult children can stop rolling their eyes, now!)

Christina and Gernot invited us to a concert in, she said, “the church near the school where I teach.”   She said some of her students and former students would be performing.  We were thinking, ‘kids’ choir concert’ but we were so wrong and completely blown away by what we encountered! (side note:  Concerts happen in churches all the time here in Europe.  When we were in Prague in the mid-90’s, there were at least 2 or 3 different concerts a day in various churches — all open to the public usually for a small fee. Here, they tend to be more formal and people dress up!)

They picked us up near the corner market (how to tell someone where we live?) and we drove about 20 km east of Graz on winding, narrow back roads to the charming town of Nestelbach bei Graz.


location of Nestelbach bei Graz (‘by Graz’)–purple pin is Nestelbach

It was apparent right from the start that this was no small ‘kids concert’ because right away, even though we had arrived 1/2 hour early, there was NO PLACE to park!  (note:  in Austria, there are very few parking lots; you have to find a place on the street, usually, and in big cities like Graz, you must put two of the wheels up onto the sidewalk if you don’t want your car to get clipped by a tram!)  And as we walked into the church, there was also NO PLACE to sit.  Ahh, but Christina’s friend (a mom of a student) had, without being asked, saved us seats.  What seats they were!  We were about 3 rows back from the front and we felt like we were sitting IN the orchestra.  Yes, full orchestra!  Behind them, after the beginning instrumental piece, the choral group – about 30 singers, mostly adults but some youth and one little girl (10 years old) – filed in.


the church in Nestelbach bei Graz - built 1678 ('neu' by Austrian standards!)

What proceeded, after the Allegro in G by Vivaldi, was an amazing concert of alterations of readings from the Bible (creation through the passion, resurrection and ascension of Christ) and choral (satb) or instrumental works.  The very first choral piece was the Gloria from Vivaldi (yes! another point of familiarity!).  These people were not professionals:  mostly it was the church choir and church members, with some students from the university community.  14 pieces in all, mostly choral but the orchestra played on every one.  Absolutely impressive and sung and performed from the heart.    The Austrian audience very respectfully did not clap until the end, but when the last note was sung in the Benedictus, there was uproarious applause, so much so that the groups performed 3 encores!


the orchestra standing at the end; Mag. Hubert Stoppacher, Chorleiter, on the left (glasses).

The choir leader has had no ‘formal’ training as a conductor.  He reads music and he put together the entire program, re-arranging some of the pieces for his groups, and published a 9-page glossy program with photos to accompany the text of the songs. It’s title was “es werde Licht!” or “Let there be Light!”  The groups had been working on this for about 5 months, and it is something they do each year, especially during Lent.  This was the second of two performances this weekend.   Is there something in the leitungswasser (tap water) that leads to such musical talent in this small country? If so, it is time to drink up!



more orchestra


the choir


these folks had the BEST seats! (actually I think they stood for most of it!)

Afterward, there was a reception in the parish hall, with beer, wine, water, Pfirsich-Nektar (peach nectar, right from the orchard up the street), sandwiches and some kind of sweet bread shaped like a treble clef.  Am I in music heaven or what?  Bill and Gernot chatted (we found out he is some kind of sound engineer working with the Austrian highway department — you know those walls you often see separating the interstates from residential areas?  That’s what he designs!)  and I went with Christina as she met all the other people in the room, or so it seemed.  I tried a little German and they tried a lot of English!  We laughed and smiled, and it was just a ‘super’ time!  It was clear she is a much beloved teacher and the feeling between her, her students or former students, and their families is mutual.

At the Fulbright Orientation in Vienna, the program’s director mentioned that Austrians tend to appear outwardly ‘gruff’ but once you got to know them, they are delightfully warm and hospitable.  As we’ve walked around Graz, we have noticed that.  Most people do not look you in the eye or if they do, they rarely smile or speak even if you speak to them.    Bill is sure that is just ‘big city’ culture but this Montana girl was starting to feel a little discouraged, after so many smiles and Grüss gott’s were not returned.

After our visit to Nestelbach bei Graz, it was like the world had changed!  We felt such joy at being with the people there!  In the program notes, the director wrote about this time of Lent being thought of as morose and shadowy.  While he wanted to present a contemplative program, he did not want to ‘sing the blues’.  And after that night, we couldn’t agree more!


Tale of Two M’s

You’ve heard of 3 M?  Welcome to Austria and home of the 4Ms.  We’re not talking tape here, but rather the four ‘biggies’ in the formation and culture of Austria:  Mountains, Music, Mozart, and Maria Theresia.  Last week brought an opportunity to experience two of those M’s first hand:  Music and Mozart.

The two experiences could not have been more different:  an 18th century opera given an ultra-modern treatment in a 19th century hall, and mostly distinctly North American music from the 19th and 20th centuries performed in classical style, with a twist, in the most modern of buildings.

We had high hopes when we booked tickets for Don Giovanni.  I have loved the music of Don Giovanni ever since I played, as a child, the Minuet in G from John Thompson’s Piano Music Book 2!  We were going to an opera in a city that is filled with great musicians and culture.  We dressed up but not too much.  After all, to reach the streetcar we have to hike down the mostly dirt road which is thawing turning into a mudmire more and more every day as spring approaches.  So high heels no heels for me!    And although we are not so uncivilized to expect plays and opera to be performed in their ‘original’ version, we were not quite prepared for this über modern version!  (I have heard, by the way, that über is over-used (no pun intended) but since I am actually in a Deutsch-speaking country, it’s appropriate here!)

But first the opera house!  For an outside view, see the post of Exploring Downtown Graz.  Built in the last years of the 19th century, the house inside is a tribute to opulence grandeur!  It’s really what you might expect of a grand opera house in Europe.


This is what we saw as we entered the foyer



the grand staircase, up to the balcony and boxes



another view of the grand staircase



The stage awaits - sorry a little blurry, shooting without flash!


We were sitting in about the 9th row back, in the middle of the right side.  Great seats!



Box seats - one side of the theater. We're not at the Wilma, Dorothy.



The main chandelier in the theater. Phantom tickets? I think not!

So the orchestra was great.  The singing pretty great.  The baritone who played Don Giovanni was pretty uni-dimensional in his singing and his acting–disappointing.  The set and costuming something else—jarring even and yet very interesting conceptually.  The overall performance was just too much of the same thing (I found myself yawning!).  The designer cast the opera as a commentary on how we are prisoners of our passions: all of us, not just Don Giovanni.   Warning – some “R” rated clips! For a view into what we saw, look here but if you are under the age 16 and reading, best not to proceed.   The cast was all clad in shades of beige (women) and black (men) except for the rake himself–he had an embellished coat or wore a flower in his lapel.  The set was a table, and behind it, a prison.  Kudos to whomever put THAT together!  The biggest cheers came for the bass who played the Commandant, who spent at least 2/3 of the opera with his face in a soup plate.

Contrast that with our visit the next night to the Music and Music Theater’s ultra modern hall, the MUMUTH, for a performance of Witness, a narrated dance and choral music performance on slavery – yesterday and today.  It featured four stories of slavery: the triangular trade (US, Caribbean, Africa), the diary entries of the daughter of a plantation owner circa 1859, a 12-year old in present day India, and twins in present day Salzburg who decide to be Witnesses.   The music included pieces by Phil Collins, Billy Joel, Rhonda Polay, and spirituals (Keep Your Lamps Trimmed, Witness, Bobby McFerrin’s Psalm 23…).  The staging was exquisite – nothing fancy but the choir entered, dressed all in black, looking lost.  They were making a statement.  The completely a cappella singing was even more exquisite and not just because we understood all the words! 🙂  The dancers were high school age from the Youth Ballet of Graz .  As good as the performance was, the other star of the night was the MUMUTH building itself.

It was finished in 2009, designed by a Dutch architect.


MUMUTH being built - twisted steel and concrete, later add glass!

The inside is breathtaking.  We sat in the very back, almost right in front of the people doing the sound and lights.  Never heard a word from them! So professional!  The hall floor can be transformed at the touch into a flat row seating in an arena-style.
Controlled electronics can tailor the acoustics of the room for that performance – from jazz to opera.

the stage and walls


Here is MUMUTH’s ‘grand’ staircase.

grand staircase - to the right



other staircase - not sure what this was for, the singers and dancers were using it!


As at most musical functions we have been to, wine and other drinks are available at intermission (if there is one) or before the performance itself.



wine cart waiting for customers; ushers waiting to open the doors



the performers and narrator, receiving much deserved applause



But here is the coolest thing, bar none.  The whole building changes colors!  Watch, and see.  I’ve shot from both the inside and the outside.








The designs on the windows  (above)  mirror the sound-changing designs on the interior walls of the concert hall.

Here is the outside:



Outside - red


outside - purple

outside blue

outside green

Honestly, I could have stood here forever watching the changes, but I was afraid of being run over by a BMW or Volkswagen.

And that was our night at the


This latter concert cost a fraction of the cost of the opera and we enjoyed it so much more!   Tonight we are invited by the folks we met along the trail to a concert in their church.  “Dress warm,” she said.  We know.

Until later and thanks for reading!  Grüss Gott!



Nach das Schloß : of castles and crystals

The Schlossberg or city castle/fortress is the predominant visual point in Graz skyline.  Actually, there are two castles…the inner city castle and the Schloss Eggenberg, at the western edge of the city.  It was the Schlossberg we were heading toward on Saturday and is the feature you see on the banner photo of this blog.

To get there, though, you need to wind your way around the streets of old Graz.  The city dates back to 1128 or 1129 (first mention), achieving walled town status in 1230.  Graz was the imperial residence under Friedrich III in the mid-1400’s, so not only are there examples of Gothic architecture but numerous Renaissance and Baroque structures also.

one of the intersting buildings we passed - note the emblem of Styria above the door

The streets were filled with shoppers, families and street musicians.  Stores were having ‘sidewalk’ sales, winter clothes 1/2 -off!  (unfortunately that didn’t extend to the shoes and shoes are the coolest clothing item I’ve seen in Austria, so far!)

Hammered dulcimer player - I've never seen one busking before!



We found the ‘Good Food Store’ of Graz!  I will probably never be able to find it again!

near as we could tell these are gluten free corn puffs!

Just before we headed up to road to the Schloß, we found another church.  This one was immediately captivating, being an Oases of Quiet!

an oases of quiet

The Stiegenkirche is actually one of the oldest churches in Graz, dating back to 1343.  It’s known chiefly as a church for students.  How very different its interior was from the Stadtpfarrkirche!  And interesting access, up two whole flight of steps!

totally modernistic inside!

with some beautiful old elements preserved

Graz has more courtyards than almost any city in Austria.  Not all of them are accessible.  This one dates back to 1630.


So, finally we find the way up to the Schloß.


it's uphill all the way!

It’s a steep incline all the way up!  And this is the easy route!

layout of the schloß area--it is actually quite forested all the way up and also on top!

It is a beautiful day for a walk!

old gutter system, castle fortifications on right

There are actually apartments on the road up to the Castle!

How would you like to have this address?

Once you get to the top, the views just get better and better.  The castle itself is pretty much gone…only a few elements remain, but now it is a wonderful venue for walking, sunning, eating (2 restaurants) and enjoying the view (through the haze).

view from the castle, looking east. Just left of the middle of the photo, you can see the faraway spires of the Mariatrost church sticking up. That's the general direction of our place!


great place to catch some rays and some zzzz's


"fearless and faithful" (not sure exactly what this refers to....more research needed!)

the clock tower--28 meters high, it strikes the hour with precision, and since 1712. Originally it was a medieval defense tower, slightly remodeled in 1560.

The castle area is multi-level. We're up high looking down on park!

interesting tree in front of remaining bits of the original castle walls

more of the castle walls (brick part added later)

Of course, since we have a hydrogeologist here, we must have this next photo!  The Turkish Well was constructed from 1554-1558.  It’s a 94 meter hand dug well down to the groundwater of the Mur River, in order to be able to provide enough water during prolonged sieges.  The name, given in the 19th century, is said to be because there were Turkish prisoners digging it.

the Turkish Well

Up until 1787, there were four alarm cannons to warn the populace of approaching enemies and fires and housed in the armory of the castle.  They were called the “Four Evangelists”.  Oh dear.  What would Jesus say?

Cannons fell into French hands anyway, in 1809. So much for early warning. These are smaller cannons and ceremonial only. (I hope)

From the very highest point of the castle, the view is truly spectacular.  We’re looking down on the Murinsel, a floating ‘shell’ created by Vito Acconci (N.Y.), which links two sides of the Mur by footbridges.  Inside are a cafe and an amphitheater.


The Murinsel

The Bell Tower is the other really tall structure left of the castle and fort.  It dates back to the 11th century but has undergone some renovations and weathering!


The Bell Tower with St. Thomas Chapel

Graz has a lot of churches and it seems most of them have bells!  They ring at 7 AM, at Noon and at 6 PM—it is a gorgeous sound!



Area once for prisoners, now a concert venue!


Gardens are abundant in the several park areas on the Castle grounds.  Looks like spring is just beginning to arrive!



everywhere, the same!

Water feature alert! The Great Well, actually a Cistern, was built between 1544 and 1547, contains 5 well shafts arranged in a circle and holding 900,000 litres of water.  Rainwater was ducted, filtered and collected by communicating well-shafts.  Today this serves as a stand-by water reservoir for fire-fighters.

The Great Well (Cistern)

The way down is infinitely easier and still beautiful.


Some surprises in the trees.  You know us, you have to know we have our binoculars with us AT ALL TIMES!


a blackbird


Hooded Crow


This is one of the best strollers we’ve seen!  We decided that if this were sold in the US, it’d never fly because the little step for standing on would be deemed too dangerous!


Before we reached the bottom, we came to a tunnel:  enter at your own risk.  We took the risk.  This is a passageway – a shortcut – underneath the castle/fort complex.  Now it houses the little railway one can take up to the top.  (What?? That’s ok, we needed the exercise after the huge Greek lunch we had had!)  It was constructed during World War II and could house up to 50,000 people during air-raids.  15% of the buildings in Graz were damaged or destroyed by bombing…not such a high percentage compared with some cities.  This has to be one of the most unique tunnels ever.  Mozart’s music playing all the way through!!!!


one of the side tunnels for waiting out the bombs

light at the end of the tunnel!

street musician, a harpist

As we emerged from the tunnel, we were greeted by yet another unique street musician, this time a harpist!  The little girl is giving her some money.  As I am snapping away, Bill says, “you are missing the real picture, turn around.”

And here is where we were…and yet another way to get up!

the stairs up to the schloss

And so, we made our way home but not before running into the iconographic Austrian store, Swavorski, maker of fine crystal. This has to be the only store I have ever seen with crystals embedded into the entrance doors!


Crystals absolutely everywhere!  Next time I will go inside!

That’s our day at the Schloss.  More adventures to come, I am sure.  Thanks, as always, for reading!