Fred Child, host of Performance Today
As host of Performance Today, I get to listen to great concerts every day. But one of the best parts about enjoying fantastic music is doing it with friends. A River Rhapsody on the Danube is our opportunity to experience music together. I hope this tour deepened your love and understanding of music. We explored the places where the best composers in history lived, loved and wrote music.
Here are a few of the composers we encountered on the trip:
June 21, 2015
I arrived in Prague on the longest day of the year--and with flight delays, cancellations, re-routings, missed connections, and adding 7 hours via time zone changes, I felt every last moment of it. But landing finally in Prague... none of that matters any more! (Even though my checked bag went to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Not making that up. That thread to be continued.)
I took a short walk in a jet-lagged haze about a quarter mile from our hotel, and stumbled across Prague's mesmerizing astronomical clock (dating back to 1410, mechanized in 1566).
It's beyond me, but if you know what you are looking for, you can see the positions of the sun and moon, Old Bohemian Time, Babylonian Time, the Zodiacal Ring, the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, Star Time and... oh, and the time of day.
June 22, 2015
Arrival day for our PT travelers-- the first event was this evening, our welcome dinner.
More about that in a bit.
One of the toughest things about tours like this is deciding what NOT to see--there's only so much time in a day (as we learned from consulting the astronomical clock yesterday). Our official Prague tour on Tuesday unfortunately doesn't include the Vyšehrad, the thousand year-old fort on a high cliff overlooking the Vltava (Moldau) River. But I love checking out composers' graves and tombs, and Dvorak and Smetana are up there, so up I got before our guests arrive!
PT listener Rita from Las Cruces, NM was an early bird, she joined me to check the place out. Neither of us knew exactly where we were going, but we both love just pointing our feet in a direction and seeing what we find... and whaddaya know, we found the place!
The most famous of Czech composers, Antonin Dvorak, was laid to rest here in 1904, and in style. He gets a big corner of the cemetery to himself, artfully carved to show his connections with the natural beauty of the Czech countryside.
Bedrich Smetana, the most Czech of Czech composers (the man who wrote "The Moldau" about the river just below) is here, too. Not quite as private a spot, but still well-loved and cared for.
And on those little plaques on the sides? The "river tune" representing the swirling water of the Moldau, in Smetana's handwriting.
Rita and I wound our way back down the hill, and I met our APM Tour Director Amy Hyatt at Municipal House, where we'd later welcome all 140 of our travelers for dinner.
Two hours later... it was PACKED with PT listeners from coast to coast (and two from Hawaii!). And why didn't I get a picture of that? Seems logical now, but at the time I was too busy eating roast duck and shaking hands with jet-lagged music lovers.
When we walked out into the cool of a June evening in Prague, we got our first (unplanned) musical experience. Petr Spatina was playing glass harp, busking just outside the hall. I've heard some lovely glass harp playing, but Petr made it so much more than just a cute novelty -- the guy can flat-out PLAY. He can make it sing, or... would you call this glass harp shredding?
Yup, it's the old thing of absent-mindedly rubbing your moistened fingertip on the rim of a nice glass to get a musical tone... but done with incredible intention, musicianship, and virtuosity. I bought the last CD he had on hand, and hope to get him as a guest on PT soon!
June 23, 2015
Our first official day with all 140 PT travelers on hand! We broke up into groups of 20, and began with morning walking tours around Prague's Old Town. (And to put that in perspective, the "New Town" began to go up in 1348.)
We're using these great "whisper systems." Our guide talks into a small head-set microphone, we each have radio receivers with ear-pieces, so there is no shouting or straining to hear.
It's beautiful looking up and around, but also looking down. Here's what underfoot much of the way.
And way down at the end of this street on the right, our group is approaching a stand-alone building, the Estates Theatre.
Finished in 1783, this is where Mozart conducted the premiere of his opera Don Giovanni in 1787. Each of our groups got a private tour of the surprisingly intimate interior
I snuck up into the Emperor's Box to see what his view was like. (Shhh, don't tell!)
Then I went down to the stage and stood right where Mozart stood to conduct Don Giovanni. And even with my awkward "conducting" gestures and bits of stage junk lying around... it was spine-tingling to stand right there and picture Mozart IN THAT VERY SPOT. (Or perhaps Tom Hulce, who ALSO stood right there while shooting the movie Amadeus. Either way: I am not worthy.)
Then it was a quick bite of lunch, and we jumped on buses for a short ride to the Dvorak Museum.
I have to say... despite the fact that I picked this out for our tour (I love Dvorak's music!)... this 'museum' was not the high point of the day. It was closed (lunch time) when we arrived at 1:45. When we finally got in, we saw painfully few actual bits of Dvorak memorabilia, mostly contrived and tired exhibits. This apparently was Dvorak's desk.
(But... did he really have a portrait of Beethoven overhead?) There was no music playing as we walked from room to room (and there aren't many rooms). The staff was literally asleep. (I was tempted to get a picture, but alas, manners won out.) And it turns out Dvorak never lived in this building anyway, just nearby. Surprising, frankly, that Prague doesn't do better by Dvorak. Here's hoping that will change.
We finished the afternoon with a little more walking in small groups, listening to our terrific local guides on our "whisper systems."
We had free time in the evening -- I mentioned to our crew that I was going to stop in at the State Opera to see Verdi's La Traviata, and about a dozen of our guests joined me for what turned out to be a riveting performance. (Oh Violetta! You're independent-minded, loveably imperfect, and... awfully sickly.) I would have gotten pictures of the interior, but EVERYBODY WAS TAKING PICTURES and somehow I didn't want to be yet another tourist pointing my phone at the ceiling. So sorry, you'll just have to look up the State Opera in Prague, it's gorgeous!
Everybody else got in cabs to go back to the hotel, but knowing that this was likely my last night in Prague for years maybe?... I walked along the river to the Charles Bridge (built in 1357). It was just after 10 p.m., but on these longest days of the year, twilight lingers and lingers over the bridge, with Prague Castle just behind.
Tomorrow we jump on buses and head into Germany. We'll stop in Passau to see one of the largest organs in the world, then see our Danube river ship for the first time!
OH. And my bags arrived! About 36 hours after I got here they completed their journey: Minneapolis, New York, Fort Lauderdale, Atlanta, Amsterdam, Prague. It's clean clothes from here to Budapest.
June 24, 2015
This evening, just before we boarded our boat, the AmaSerena, we were treated to an early Oktoberfest in Vilshofen, Germany. This gentleman was one of our official hosts (I wish I had gotten his name!). In the picture on the left, we’re each holding our first Pilsners. In the picture on the right, second Pilsners.
June 25, 2015
From Brian Newhouse, Managing Director of Classical Programming for American Public Media | Minnesota Public Radio:
I must’ve been asked a dozen times today, “You’ve been to Salzburg lots of times, right?” So many of our travelers assume that the Managing Director of Classical Programming at American Public Media would’ve made many a pilgrimage to the birthplace of classical music’s prince, W.A. Mozart. But today was my first-ever visit.
The Austrian tourism board ordered up poster-worthy weather. The town was as full of Mozart fans as Sound of Music fans -- both of whom arrive by the busload, whatever the weather, from all over the world.
Salzburg’s Mirabell Palace Gardens where 51 years ago Julie Andrews taught her young charges how to sing “Do Re Mi.”
June 26, 2015
This morning we arrived in Melk, Austria and toured the incredible Melk Abbey. The abbey was founded in 1089, but the baroque structure we visited was built between 1702 and 1736.
The real highlight for me, though, was the guided bike tour from Melk to Durnstein, Austria through the Wachau Valley. The sights could have been painted on a canvas. The company was pretty great, too.
June 27, 2015
This morning we arrived in Vienna, home of the Musikverein. It’s one of the acoustically richest, gloriously golden concert halls in the world. A concert at the Musikverein was on life’s bucket list for many of us.
June 28, 2015
Today we had the entire day free to explore Vienna (and to re-explore the places we didn’t have enough time for yesterday!). In the evening, I interviewed Brian Newhouse, Managing Director of Classical Programming at APM | MPR, about the live Minnesota Orchestra broadcasts he hosted from Cuba in May. It was the first Cuba to United States live broadcast since the Cuban revolution in 1959. This was one of several fun, memorable group activities we did onboard the AmaSerena.
Fred and Robyn accompanying us on a classical music tour through Europe... I still can’t believe I was there! Of all the places I’ve been and all the things I’ve seen, this was the most memorable. (Especially hearing Robyn play Bach’s Chaconne in person!) Thanks to all who made this tour possible. - Kim Masters
June 29, 2015
This morning, our cruise ship motored down the Danube River to Bratislava, Slovakia, a fascinating city. When we got off the boat, we did a walking tour of the city that led us to St. Martin’s Cathedral. It’s one of the oldest churches in Bratislava, although its facade isn’t as old as you may think. The original structure was built in 1311, but additions were added throughout the centuries. By the 19th century, the cathedral had been so damaged by fires, earthquakes, war and other calamities that it needed to be completely restored. In order to retain the sense of history, the builders “gothi-sized” the 1877 exterior to look like earlier versions of the cathedral.
Once inside the cathedral, we were treated to a private organ recital by Daniel Gabco.
As I write this, it’s 1 a.m. The ship is quiet; everyone is asleep. We had a thoughtful on-board group conversation tonight about music education and the state of the classical music business. Former PT Young Artist Robyn Bollinger and I played a mini-concert. But now, sailing on a beautifully dark stretch of the Danube, no towns in sight for miles, Hungary on the right, Slovakia on the left, it’s just me and the moon and the water.
June 30, 2015
I had to spend much of the day catching up on some work (that’s the trouble with a daily radio show! You’ve got to do it all over again tomorrow), but I did manage to sneak to explore Budapest. We arrived here this morning. What a fascinating place!
It’s been such a treat getting to know all of you and learning more about this music that we love so much. I hope you’ve had a wonderful time and that we see you on a future Performance Today tour!
About Performance Today
Performance Today is America’s most popular classical music program. Every day, listeners experience the finest solo, chamber,and symphonic works. The show features richly textured live concert recordings that can’t be heard anywhere else, in-studio performances, and in-depth interviews with leading classical musicians and composers. Heard on 290 stations, Performance Today reaches 1.4 million listeners a week. In 2014, it won the Gabriel Award for Best National Entertainment Show. Performance Today regularly appears at classical music festivals and events around the country, including an annual residency at the Aspen Music Festival and School, the Grand Teton Music Festival, Savannah Music Festival, Ojai Music Festival, Music@Menlo, and more.
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Fred Child is the host of APM's Performance Today, the most-listened-to classical music radio show in America. Fred is also the commentator and announcer for Live from Lincoln Center, the only live performing arts series on television. He also appears at classical music festivals and events around the country, from PT's annual residency at the Aspen Music Festival and School, to special events at the Savannah Music festival, Marlboro Music, the Spoleto Festival USA, Summerfest La Jolla and many more.
Beyond the world of classical music, Fred hosted NPR's innovative "Creators@Carnegie," a program of wide-ranging performers in concert, including Brian Wilson, David Byrne, Dawn Upshaw, Youssou N'Dour, Caetano Veloso, Emmylou Harris and others. Before going to NPR, Fred was Music Director and Director of Cultural Programming at WNYC in New York, host of a live daily performance and interview program on WNYC, and for 10 years, a host at Oregon Public Broadcasting.
In recent years, Fred has hosted a series of unique live national concert broadcasts, including the Los Angeles Philharmonic from Walt Disney Hall, the Last Night of the Proms from the Royal Albert Hall in London, New Year's concerts by the New York Philharmonic, the Boston Symphony at their summer home of Tanglewood, the ground-breaking "Spring for Music" concerts from Carnegie Hall, and the "Americana" series for the BBC National Orchestra of Wales from Hoddinott Hall in Cardiff.
Fred's music reviews have appeared on NPR's All Things Considered, and his music reports have appeared on NPR's Morning Edition and Weekend Edition. He's been a contributor to Billboard magazine, and a concert host and commentator for BBC Radio 3.
While growing up in Portland, Ore., Fred studied classical piano. He also dabbles in guitar, percussion and bagpipes. His percussion band opened for the Grateful Dead at the Oakland Coliseum. He has narrated works at the Aspen Festival, with the Virginia Symphony, with the U.S. Marine Band and at the Round Top Festival-Institute. His rare musical performances in public include percussion with guitarist Sharon Isbin, and piano four-hands duets with Andre-Michel Schub. He appears as an actor in a video commissioned for the Partita for Solo Violin by Philip Glass.
Fred loves baseball (throws right, bats left) and soccer (he's a fan of North London's Tottenham Hotspur), and is an avid hiker, climber, skier, cyclist, and a licensed private pilot and certified scuba diver.
Brian Newhouse is managing director of Minnesota Public Radio | American Public Media's classical programming: Symphony Cast, Performance Today, Pipedreams and the national 24-hour service, Classical 24. He holds degrees in voice and English from Luther College, and has been a soloist with the Dale Warland Singers, the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, and an artist-in-residence at the Oregon Bach Festival. He won a Peabody Award for writing the radio documentary "The Mississippi: River of Song." He's the author of the memoir, "A Crossing." And he hosts the Friday night live broadcasts of the Minnesota Orchestra heard regionally on Classical Minnesota Public Radio. He and his family live in St. Paul.
Amy Hyatt is the Event Manager at Minnesota Public Radio | American Public Media. She has organized international trips for public radio audiences to London, Paris, Greece, Ireland, Italy and the Danube. Amy has worked for two Olympic committees including the 117-day Olympic Torch Relay in Australia in 2000 and the 2002 Salt Lake winter games. She has traveled to more than 50 countries including Senegal, Nicaragua, Samoa and Byelorussia. Amy sings in her big Lutheran church choir and she is proud to call Minneapolis home, you betchya.
Jeff Cronin-Hnilicka is Co-Director of Live Events for Minnesota Public Radio | American Public Media. He is former executive director of Kulture Klub Collaborative, an arts program connecting youth experiencing homelessness and professional artists in the Twin Cities. He is also an artist currently working in printmaking, poetry and performance. He as worked at the Walker Art Center, MASS MoCA, and J Mandle Performance. He lectures frequently, including NYU and MCAD. Jeff recently led a tour with MPR News listeners to Ireland with All Things Considered host Tom Crann.
Christine Solso directs the Major and Planned Giving teams at Minnesota Public Radio | American Public Media. In this role, she manages all fundraising activities with individual donors for designated program and project support, named endowments, and planned gifts. Before joining MPR|APM, Chris helped to build successful planned giving programs at Macalester College in St. Paul, MN and at her alma mater, Carleton College in Northfield, NM. An attorney by background, Chris's work provides an opportunity to apply her technical expertise in tax and gift planning with a deep commitment to helping people support the causes that are nearest and dearest to their hearts. Her recent travels have taken her to Chile, Brazil and Spain where her daughters conveniently arranged their study-abroad semesters.