Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Paintings of Maribor Music Festival 2015

My watercolour sketches/paintings of the musicians at the Maribor Music Festival are now online at I added a bit of a commentary to the paintings this year, for my own benefit as well as for that of viewers.  
Maribor Musicians 2015 online

Monday, September 28, 2015

The absent gardener

A couple of months ago I planted small eight native bushes in my front garden. The soil is sandy and in shadeless places the lawn dies off in summer, so I thought I might as well go native instead.

But then I was away for five weeks. I know from experience that if I plant vegetable seeds then leave the garden to the elements I can't expect to find anything much growing when I come back. Every time I have been to the Maribor Music Festival in September I have come back to bare ground where I had hoped for vegetables.

Kale, silver beet and nasturtiums
(growing up the fence)

This year has been different. There must have been rain at all the right times because masses of kale and silver beet are thriving in the vegetable garden and all the little native trees I planted in the front garden are flowering and looking very happy.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Quick Rhine visit

A quick visit to the Rhine River on the way to Frankfurt airport. Just time to have one good sleep, a walk along the river bank and a beer - alcohol free since I was on my way to the airport for a long haul flight.
Grapes on the steep hillsides
Houses on the steep hillsides

Castles on the river (actually it was a river-tax collecting house
masquerading as a castle)
Beer in the glass

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Madam Butterfly in Munich

How wonderful it is to be in an opera house where you can hear well from every seat. I saw Madam Butterfly from the very back row of the Parterre which is tucked in under the balconies but I heard and saw everything perfectly.
It was a production I really liked. Joseph Calleja sang Pinkerton and Christine Opolais sang CioCio San to a packed house ( not a seat free) and great applause. What a pleasure!
The opera house itself was a surprise. Such a severe reception area, then velvet covered handrails leading to an opulent theater. The handrails were like a transition between the two.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Dirndls and Lederhosen

Octoberfest officially started yesterday and the streets of Munich are full of Dirndls and Lederhosen.

Shop window
Inside the shop 
Outside the shop:
Dirndl wearer posed for me
Walking past the shop

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Travelling with the Syrians

I had not expected to be travelling with the Syrians yesterday, but life sometimes delivers the unexpected.

Earlier in the week railway staff in Maribor told me it was difficult to predict whether there would be delays getting from Maribor to Munich via Salzburg but to give it a go. However when I got to Graz yesterday I learnt that the border between Salzburg and Rosenheim was completely closed and no trains were travelling that way.

'"Go to Salzburg anyway and from there you can catch the connection to Innsbruck, but you'll have to be quick," said a young conductor.
"And where would I go to from Innsbruck?"
"I don't know the connections but it takes three hours to get to Innsbruck."
I did a quick calculation and realised my seven hour trip might turn to fourteen hours or that I might be spending another night in Austria ... or perhaps longer? How does one get over a closed border actually?

An elderly conductor had heard my question and as I climbed onto the train I saw him discussing animatedly with his colleague, so when he was free I leaned out the train door and asked if there was an alternative.
" Yes via train, bus and train," he said. "I'll come and tell you."
He climbed into the carriage next door, the doors snapped shut and we were off, but he was as good as his word and came through to explain.

He said I would probably miss the Innsbruck connection anyway if we were a couple of minutes late and my best bet was to get off the Salzburg train at Selzthal, take the railway bus to Kirchdorf as there was track work today, then a regional train to Linz where I could catch an ICE (Intercity Express) to Passau which is in Germany. From there I could find my way south again to Munich.

Leaving Kirchdorf on the bus
I have much to thank that gentleman for,  as I took his advice and made the ICE without a hitch. On the way I saw a good deal of picturesque countryside (and the inside of tunnels) as we wound our way through the back alleys of Austria.

The ICE from Linz was packed. In the corridor just ahead of my seat a young English woman and her husband were caring for their baby among those standing but ten minutes into our journey a young  man in the seat behind me stood up and offered her his seat.
" Yes please, I insist," he said."Sit next to my wife and son"

The Englishwoman sat down gratefully and the two mothers chatted as their babies ( both 18 months old) kept each other entertained.  People around them were charmed by the two children and we couldn't help overhearing the conversation between the the two women. The English woman and her Austrian husband were taking a weekend away to celebrate her birthday. The other young woman said that she was from Syria and travelling with her husband and son to Germany. The English woman asked if she had travelled long and the Syrian said yes, first by boat then lots of trains. It had been exhausting and once in Europe her son slept through two whole days.  (I could see the young man yawning as he stood in the corridor, so he was tired as well.)
"Where do you want to go in Europe?" asked the Englishwoman.
"Anywhere safe," was the reply.

I sneaked a peek at the women behind me. They were both lovely, one blond and one dark both holding their almost identical babies who were sharing pieces of the Syrian child's apple.  Then I looked around me and realised there were other Syrians in the seats nearby. Perhaps they were travelling as a group.

So these were the refugees we all had heard about. The young woman spoke excellent English, as did her husband who had given up his seat. I had thought he might be English himself before overhearing the women's stories.

The English woman got her husband to bring a baby book from the luggage which she gave the Syrian mum. She expressed in this gesture what those listening would like to have done. We all smiled at each other.

The Englishwoman told the Syrian not to be worried about all the police who would be in Passau, that they were there to help and often had translators with them.

There were indeed lots on black clad police in Passau but they were chatting and relaxed and very non-threatening despite their uniforms.  I couldn't help comparing them to the thuggish 'border force' officers travellers have to deal with going through Sydney airport. A group of Australians in Maribor had shared their airport 'border force' stories one evening and every single one had had an unpleasant experience with them.  I felt so proud of Germany (and so ashamed of Australia) on that train. These people would warm the hearts of any observer.

I left the train at Passau and took a regional train back south. All the train staff on both sides of the border were very understanding about me travelling on trains for which I had no ticket. On the Passau train no one inspected tickets at all.

Rainbow in Bavaria
As my final regional train chugged its way to Munich it rained as the sun was shining, then out the window we saw a brilliant rainbow.

I took the rainbow as a good omen for those refugees and I think it must have been because this morning on the news I heard a local politician say that yes, all the refugees would change Germany, but it would be a change for the better. Go Germany!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

2015 Maribor Festival draws to a close

Tara Simincec
Jaka Stadler
Richard Tognetti

The Maribor Music Festival is almost over for another year. As always, it was a fantastic journey, lots of different music and a diverse array of performers. I have painted musicians and Maribor for the last 10 days and will have their music in my head for months to come. It is an exception festival in a lovely town and all the people who visited this year are hoping the organisers will find a way to hold it against next year.

If you have never been to Maribor, put it on your buckt list. It's gorgeous! I just went for a last-night-at-Maribor stroll - here are some photos.
At the wine bar on the river Drava
Wine at dusk

Swans on the river Draver at sunset

Town square lights and monument
to plague victims

Monument to plague victims

Friday, September 18, 2015

Ronja and Frida at Isabella's

Isabella's is a cute little cafe/restaurant down a side street near the cathedral in Maribor and it serves the best coffee in town.

I go there often for lunch when I am in Maribor because Isabella's also serves the best salads and soups in town, all made lovingly with fresh and, where possible, organic ingredients.
Frida, Igor and Ronja

On Sunday I met the daughters of the young owners, Igor and Anja who had brought them in for some soup. They are called Ronja and Frida and are very cute kids.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

'The Woman Project' : a breath of fresh air

Satu Vänskä plays violin
Satu Vänskä's The Woman Project was packed full of very diverse work and the performers were as diverse as the music: the festival orchestra, a girls choir singing Hildegarde Bingen's work, a musical ensemble of young locals playing Mozart (led by Mozart himself after a clever change of clothing by Richard Tognetti), caberet artist Meow Meow mimicking a sexual encounter (in German) as only she can do, singers Satu Vänskä and Nica Goric among others. Videos and still shots provided context, from witch burnings (so many wood cuts) to 17th/18th/19th century paintings of nude females among clothed males (so many of them too!)

Despite the diversity the program had a common theme: how our male oriented society is missing out on so much work that could have been ours if only women were regarded are capable of composing. Women have composed (Fanny Mendellsohn, Clara Schumann etc) but critics have an unacknowledged preference for male composers, so we lose works by women. There are more female composers nowadays (especially in Slovenia), but not so very many.

The program notes were different to the normal as well, with direct and pertinent comments about the female condition. The festival booklet is really worth keeping this year.

The program divided the audience, with some saying it didn't acknowledge progress or women's considerable achievements. The program was unrelentingly depressing, that is true (except for the young singers and musicians) , but despite that I loved it. I think we have to acknowledge our history if we are going to progress and seeing women's history presented so critically is affirming in an odd sort of way. If you consider our collective history it becomes clear why we have issues with domestic violence and lack of female representation in our elected governments etc. It also gives women a feelling of not being alone in a world where women often feel they have drawn the short straw.

A program like this gives us a starting point and encourages us to make greater efforts to deal with misogyny in society.

Dvorák, with a spring in his step

From left: From left: Richard Tognetti, Satu Vänskä,
Polina Leschenko, Nathan Braude, Jaka Stadler
Tonight's concert at the Maribor Music Festival was a delight. Gifted young pianist Polina  Leschenko and viola player Nathan Baude played work by by Rebecca Clarke and Frederic Chopin.

They were then joined by violinists Richard Tognetti and Satu Vänskä and cellist Jaka Stadler to play Antonin Dvorák's Piano Quintet #2 in A major which has a very strong melody line.  I can hear people whistling it in the hotel hallway as I write.

Meow Meow in Maribor

Meow Meow with 'helpers'
from the audience
Meow Meow is the most extraordinary performer. In Maribor she had her audience in the palm of her hand from the beginning of her performance and by the end her conservative, glued-to-the-seat audience were standing, laughing and clapping as she crowd- surfed her way across the room on a sea of hands in a yellow frilly net dress, fishnets and very, very high heels.

Laughing doesn't really describe our reaction to her cheeky jokes ... belly-laughing is probably a better description. She is truly hilarious and a consummate performer.

How lucky we were to see her at the Maribor Music Festival!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Picturesque Maribor

Hidden courtyard
Maribor on the River Drava
Maribor is picturesque and around every corner is a new surprise, a hidden courtyard, a cute coffee shop ( a tea shop) or swans conversing with ducks. 
Swans and ducks on the river
Path down the hill

Some of the older buildings need a little patching up but that all seems to add charm to the place.
Maribor park
'Old City' building

Monday, September 14, 2015

Smokers in Slovenia

Group of smokers outside the Hotel reception
One thing you really notice here in Slovenia is how many people still smoke. Public squares are full of smokers but at least people no longer smoke inside.

In Germany the number of smokers appears to have decreased rapidly over the last couple of years and I am told smoking is no longer 'cool'.  German railway stations have yellow 'smokers squares' painted on the platforms and they used to be crowded. Not any more. 

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Satu Vänskä and Sibelius

Satu Vänskä plays
We have heard some wonderful playing this week at the Maribor Music Festival, not least Satu Vänskä who played us a violin marathon, the Sibelius Violin Concerto in D Minor.

Seeing a Finn, this Finn particularly, playing Sibelius was a treat.

Sketching in Maribor

Musicians in rehearsal
The Maribor Music Festival is in full swing and I am making lots of sketches of musicians and of Maribor town.

People have been asking to see them so today the very helpful receptionist at the Orel Hotel next to the town square helped me hang some in the reception area. Two sold almost as soon as I put them up to members of a walking tour who are spending some days here at the festival.
Maribor: the Drava River

Sketches hanging at the Hotel Hotel

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Maribor Castle

Maribor Castle
Maribor is such a pretty place, particularly the old city. The Maribor Castle (left) was built between 1478 and 1483 and nowadays it houses the local museum. It looks out over one of the most loved town squares in the city. There is a larger town square which a grand sculpture in its center but it is not nearly as vibrant.

The Maribor Music Festival is underway and the post concert parties have been keeping us out until past midnight these last three days.

Last night it rained and I discovered the town square is as pretty on a wet night as it is on a dry day.
Maribor Town Square on a wet night
Maribor Castle at night

Friday, September 11, 2015

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Lovely Maribor

I'm back among the brick red rooves!

Last leg on the way to the Maribor Music Festival

Looking towards Graz
Looking towards Maribor
I arrived at the border crossing between Austria and Slovenia by S-Bahn this year and once it had trundled back towards Graz I was alone on the platform.  I had a 30 minute wait and it was so quiet that if I hadn't made this crossing before I would have wondered the station had been abandoned. It isn't long ago that this border was between the capitalist west and Communist East, but you would never know it now.

Eventually the Slovenian train arrived and I hoisted my bag up the steep steps of one of the 3 carriages. There must have been a waiting room in the station because two other people clambered in as well. When I saw one of them stash two musical instrument boxes next to the seat I knew I was on the right train. Off to the Music Festival!
Stashed musical instruments