5-Oh, Vienna, And You

The Staatsoper (Vienna State Opera) The Staatsoper (Vienna State Opera)

This post contains an invite and stories. They’re connected. The invite is for you, and the stories are of my recent trip to Vienna, where you’re invited to. Let me explain.

Next February (13.02.2020), I’ll turn 50. I’ve decided to spend “half time” (on my journey to the 100 years I’m determined to reach) in my favourite city in the world, and also to invite absolutely everyone I know. I’m not sure about the details yet, but the 13th will be a Thursday, and of course the following day is Valentine’s Day, so in case you’re part of a couple, you should definitely bring your partner, because Vienna is hands down the best place to be in love. Seriously, forget Paris.

You could make a four-day weekend out of it. And because a trip like this requires advance planning, taking time off work etc, I’m telling you now, nearly 11 months in advance. I’m fully aware there might be 5 or 50 people showing up. I’m good either way, just know this: If you do come, you will get hag-hugged! There’s simply no way around that.

Read on to get a taste of the most magical city on earth. It’s steeped in the history of an entire continent (Habsburg empire, anyone?), art, theatre, music… you name it. Most major cities have one famous opera house, and/or world class theatre, and/or concert hall. Vienna has two of each of these, and that’s not counting the many excellent smaller stages and art galleries and museums and the sheer beauty of the architecture – look up anywhere and see artwork and sculpture on the sides of houses – the excellent food and drink, and the unique wry humour of the Viennese, who like to appear grouchy at first glance but really have huge hearts.

Yes, I'd love to go to that concert and hear Liszt playing live! Yes, I’d love to go to that concert and hear Liszt playing live! Alas for being nearly 150 years late.

I made it a musical trip this time, but please remember that Vienna is also the city of Gustav Klimt and much of the Art Nouveau movement of the Fin de Siècle. This is where Hofmannsthal and Schnitzler wrote their works and so many more lived and worked.

On my first evening, I felt a little lonely because my dear Kati, who was going to go to the opera with me to see Figaro, caught pneumonia of all things. I went on my own and sold her ticket to a Korean conductor who lives in the US and was stranded in Vienna for a night because his connecting flight got delayed. We spent all our time before the opera and during the breaks chatting about music – it was one of those Vienna encounters that happen all the time there. In between, we admired the view from our seats, from where we could see the entire orchestra and the conductor, as well as having a perfect view of the stage.

View of the audience and orchestra from my seat View of the audience and orchestra from my seat

The production was incredible, just the right mix between modern and traditional, and the singers were all excellent, in particular Cherubino, the Comtessa and Figaro himself. Thoroughly enchanted, but knackered after only three hours of sleep the previous night, I went straight to the hotel afterwards, still humming “Voi Che Sapete“.

I’d decided that after over 10 years away, I had every right to call myself a tourist again (forget for a moment that I used to live in and around Vienna for over six years), and so I went sightseeing the next day. First came the house where Schubert was born, where I was just about moved to tears listening to a recording of the “Wanderer Fantasie” played by Anatol Ugorski (note to self, look up more of Ugorski’s albums).

At Schubert's birthplace At Schubert’s birthplace

Then I went on to one of Mozart’s apartments in Vienna. What I love most about all these is the handwritten originals of famous pieces that are on display there. On Tuesday at Beethoven’s house, I even saw an early version of my favourite sonata. As well as an actual lock of Ludwig’s hair, which I found strangely touching.

Then there are the historical instruments, of course. Check out the five pedals!

This belonged to Schubert's brother This belonged to Schubert’s brother

In the afternoon, just when my feet began to protest, I met Tom for dinner and drinks and a good long chat and putting the world to rights. I almost forgot to take pictures but Tom remembered – this is us outside the Stephansdom (St Stephen’s Cathedral) which stands right in the centre of Vienna.

With Tom With Tom

The entire trip was like closing a wound from the past, putting yet another piece of my life’s puzzle back into place (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, read yesterday’s post). I reconnected with friends, re-visited places I loved, and basked in the most incredible music. Bliss!

The undisputed highlight of the trip was the recital of my other all-time favourite pianist (yes, I have two!), Evgeny Kissin. I knew I had a good seat but nearly fainted when I realised that I was actually in the front row, by the piano and just a little to the left, so I could see his hands. The piano was so close that when he stood to bow, I could have stretched out my hand and touched him.

The view from my seat! The view from my seat!

The people in the seats around mine were lovely and the perfect company for this. Kissin is just so unbelievably good, it’s almost surreal. I’ve never had such a close view of a pianist’s technique and I drank it all in, trying to take mental notes whilst being completely ravished by the beauty of the music. He played Chopin, Schumann, Debussy, and Scriabin, and I loved all of it, but the Scriabin (the very short 4th sonata) was probably my favourite.

The entire Musikverein was on their feet applauding every time he reappeared, and we got him to play four encores! And still it was all over way too quickly.

Beyond happy, just before the recital. Beyond happy, just before the recital.

To top it all off, I ran into him afterwards, and managed to thank him and exchange a few words! He’s friendly, unassuming, and funny, and I couldn’t help thinking that it wouldn’t make a difference to his playing if he wasn’t, but it’s still nice to know that the guy who’s probably the most ingenious pianist alive at this time, is also a lovely person.

This post is way too long already, so I’ll leave it at that. Go and plan your visit! You’ll be pleased to find that Vienna is a very affordable city to stay in as well. I paid all of 135 EUR for four nights in a simple, but clean 3-star hotel.

See you in February 2020!

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Oh, Maestro

The lovely crowd at my birthday dinner in February The lovely crowd at my birthday dinner in February

I was going to tell you all about it.

And then I didn’t.

And didn’t. And postponed it. And just “didn’t find the time”. And then I realised, this stuff is way too personal. If you’ve read this blog for a while, you’ll know that I wear my heart on my sleeve; I’m not afraid to be vulnerable and share, and yet, that’s only true to a certain extent.

The real inner workings of this hag are only known to a very small number of select people. Through my business presence alone, I’m a fairly public person, and I believe in authenticity, I’ve never been interested in presenting a perfect facade just for marketing reasons. What you see and read is who I am. At the same time, for this exact reason – because so much is so public – there needs to be an inner core of privacy that I simply don’t share online.

I’ll have to find a way to write about these past four weeks so it’s authentic and true, without baring that which I’m not willing to make public. This requires a modicum of history, so here goes.

On two occasions, I’ve kicked people out of my life. Both were indirect results of trauma I didn’t know I carried. Heck, I only realised I’ve lived through abuse and ended up traumatised from it, about five months ago, twenty years after it happened! Because I wasn’t physically abused and didn’t end up in a shelter, I thought I was fine. And didn’t notice that I’d been robbed of my self-esteem and was drifting into a series of terrible decisions, self-sabotage and what I call soul-amputation – cutting off things, and people, from my life, and pretending they’d never been there.

When I began to heal from several years of light depression in 2015, I started peeling back the layers, reconnected with friends, rediscovered passions, and found new friends and passions. I thought that was the extent of the work, but when I stumbled on that trauma from 20 years ago, I realised that there was more work left to do, older friends and passions to recover. This process is still very much ongoing, and I don’t actually need to go into the details, because the insight from it all is enough:

I need all parts of myself. I don’t get to pick and choose what to leave behind. Of course, toxic people and situations that were clearly unhealthy for me, can and should be kicked out of my life. But I’ve been in the habit of throwing out the baby with the bathwater, and then throwing the entire bath after it, and the house too.

[Here’s the part where I keep details private].

The results of this process – although it’s far from complete – have been nothing short of dramatic. I’m manifesting an avalanche of blessings, everything’s falling into place magically.

First of these was my trip to Germany a month ago. I visited my dad and stayed with my lovely friends, catching up and talking until the late evening, and then in the morning I got the train to Nuremberg. I’d been in a state of hyper-excitement and tension for weeks leading up to it, there was just so much emotion involved. The first time I went to a recital again since Eveline’s death in 2011, had to be this one, and I had to go on my own because I’d never see Ivo Pogorelich with anyone else. I had a good ticket but managed to grab an even better seat in the second row, just to the left, so I could see his hands and he was only 10-12 ft away.

Beyond excited on my way to the concert hall Beyond excited on my way to the concert hall

My expectations were sky-high, but he still blew them out of the water. I’d completely forgotten how magical it is to have him playing live right in front of me, and he absolutely killed me with the Mozart Adagio (click the link for a one-minute sample; you’ll see what I mean), which I’ve been practising myself recently. But the undisputed highlight was the Liszt sonata. Out of this world. Schumann’s Symphonic Etudes I liked even better than his older (stellar) recording of them, something I didn’t think possible. I was struggling to process it all; he still does that to me 31 years later.

He signed CDs afterwards, but I didn’t join the queue. Maybe I should have. I did watch him for a bit, being his usual cordial self (where people get this BS that he’s arrogant, I don’t know. I’ve met him before, many years ago, and he’s never been anything but exceedingly friendly), and I just wanted to hug him. I’m so bloody grateful that he’s still around, still doing this, still putting up with the circus people stage around him. It means so much.

The Maestro signing CDs after the recital The Maestro signing CDs after the recital

Just like it had happened during my “coming back to life” in 2016, I had to wade through a lot of darkness in the wake of the intense emotion of that evening. It took me almost a week to come out the other side, but come out I did – just in time for the next magical manifestation:

I’ve been approved for a mortgage! If you’ve known me for a while, know of the financial breakdown it took me over a decade to recover from (by learning to manage my finances and paying back every last cent I owed without writing off anything) and my previous, failed attempts of getting a mortgage at my age and with only one income (as opposed to, a couple sharing), will be able to fathom the enormity of this. Renting in Ireland is excruciating, expensive, and insecure – I’ve moved house every 1-3 years since I arrived here. Now I’ll be a home owner!

I’m about as mature as a five-year-old about this, so I shall insist on people referring to me as Lady of the Manor (“of the Hovel”, more like, to tell the truth). I haven’t got anything yet but have put in an offer on a house I love. It’s doubtful that I’ll get it, and I keep repeating to myself, “this or something better will come along”. I’ll keep you updated, obviously!

The third manifestation was my trip to Vienna that I’ve just returned from on Tuesday. It was actually a series of incredible manifestations, and I’m going to do something I’ve never done before and dedicate a separate blog entry to it, because this actually concerns – you. Yes, you! Stay tuned and make sure you read it.

Now I’m back and thankfully there’s no blackness this time, just happiness. I also promptly manifested something else! See, after the incredible experience in Nuremberg, I was very interested to see the announcement that Ivo Pogorelich is going to be part of the Schleswig-Holstein Musikfestival this August, with a recital in Hamburg. The problem is that only category tickets were available at first, where they assign you a seat, and I’m not buying blind! So I decided to risk it and wait until seat tickets became available on the 15th (yesterday).

Except that last week, the concert had sold out completely. Argh! I resigned myself to it but still decided to give them a call on the 15th to check if there’s a waiting list I could get onto.

It took me over two hours to get through to them, the lines were so busy. And the guy said he had one ticket left, actually, but only one (in a hall with 2,100 seats!). “Where?” I asked, fully expecting it to be somewhere in the back.

He said: “On the podium, next to the piano.”

How likely was that to happen? I’m incredibly happy but also awe-struck and beyond grateful. I’ve known this state of effortless bliss and manifestation before, and it’s something you never forget. I’ll always recognise it immediately. This is the vibration of “flow”, and while I know I’ll never manage to stay in this permanently – I’m not some enlightened Buddha person – I’ll aim for it as much as I can.

And I’m absolutely basking in it while it lasts. Today, I’m in need of some grounding, so I’ll be off to the woods with my bow now.

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