A musical tour of Europe
ONE of the fondest memories of my first visit to Brussels is of the concert I attended on the day of my arrival. As I explored the maze of narrow streets that surround the Grand Place, I noticed a red placard advertising Vivaldi's Gloria in D, to be performed in only a few hours. Suddenly, only a few hours but thousands of miles away from home, I was listening to a favorite piece of music in an authentic Baroque setting.
Europe is alive with music; the secret is knowing how to find it. With a little basic information - major newspapers and hotel clerks are a prime source - the classical music lover can avail himself of the best the world has to offer. One special treat is the wealth of music available in churches and cathedrals such as Notre Dame in Paris or St. Paul's in London.
Brussels. Belgium is a musical offering out of all proportion to its size, with dozens of weekly performances in the capital city alone. The Theatre de la Monnaie, which dates from the 17th century, is Belgium's National Opera House. Reopened in November 1986, after a lavish renovation, it is no longer old and quaint. Instead, it is bold and new and even boasts an upstairs foyer for the presentation of art exhibits. Located in the Place de la Monnaie, the number for information is 218 12 02.
The Lincoln Center of Brussels is the Palais des Beaux Arts at 23 Rue Ravenstein, Tel. 512 50 45, a huge complex of halls, theaters, and galleries. Orchestral concerts and recitals are given here and at the Conservatoire Royal de Musique, 30a Rue de la Regence: 511 04 27.
But this is just the beginning. Churches and cultural institutions, even hotels, have regular performances. To learn what's going on when you are there, pick up ``The Brussels Bulletin,'' an English-language weekly, or call TIB., the Brussels Tourist Office at 513 30 30.
Amsterdam. Amsterdam is obsessed with music. Of all the arts, it is the favorite. The Concertgebouw, meaning ``concert hall,'' is one of the most accoustically perfect halls in the world. It is also the name of the renowned orchestra that plays there, and tickets, even for the inexpensive seats on stage, must be reserved well in advance at the VVV tourist office, Stationsplein 10: 26 64 44.
Geneva. Intellectuals have long been drawn to this modern and medieval city, and it has a rich cultural life. The Grand Theatre de Gen`eve (Place Neuve: 21 23 11), a replica of the Paris Opera, is one of the finest opera houses in Europe. Other classical music may be heard at the Conservatoire de Musique, also at the Place Neuve: 29 67 22, Radio Suisse Romande, 66 Boulevard Carl-Vogt: 29 33 33, and Victoria Hall, home of the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, 3 Promenade de Pin: 28 81 21. Events are listed in La Semaine de Gen`eve: tourist office is at No. 1 Tour de l'Ile, Tel. 28 72 33.
Zurich. A city reputed to have the largest percentage of millionaires in the world must have something to sing about, which may account for the more than 50 men's choruses that call it home. To the Swiss, music is business, and they treat it accordingly. This means, among other things, that casual dress at concerts is not encouraged. For men, dark suits are de rigeur at the Tonhalle (7 Claridenstrasse: 201 15 80) and Opernhaus (Theaterplatz: 251 69 22) where much of Zurich's musical life is centered. The ``Official Weekly Bulletin'' will give you the low down on the high life as will a call to the tourist office at Bahnhofplatz 15: 211 40 00.
Munich. It may come as a surprise to learn that there is more to Munich than Oktoberfest. In perhaps no other country than Germany is there so much music-making, and Munich upholds the tradition. A particular gem is the Rococo Cuvillies-Theater (Residenzstrasse 1: 29 68 36) with its four differently ornamented tiers of boxes, its ornate chandeliers, and lavish use of red and gold. Light opera is given at the State Theater on Gartnerplatz #3: 21 851; while the weightier version is presented at the National Theater, Max-Joseph-Platz: 21 851. For other events, try the tourist office - 2391 256, 257 - and its ``Official Monthly Program.''
Milan. To speak of music here is to speak of La Scala. That it is the best opera house in the world may be disputed; that it is the most famous may not. The greatest singers of the past two centuries have triumphed, or failed, there. The opera season opens Dec. 7 and closes the end of May, followed by the concert season until the end of June and September through November. Tickets for La Scala can be hard to come by but, for a price, a concierge may be persuaded to work some magic. Occasionally, you may be able to buy a spare ticket from a customer just before the performance. Address: Piazza della Scala: 807 041/4. For a schedule of performances in Milan, call the Milan Information Office, 870 545, or check the local papers.
Vienna. There are some who say that this musical city is resting on the reputation of its past: the days of Beethoven, Mozart, Haydn, and Brahms, to name but a few. If so, you wouldn't know it from reading a list of current musical offerings. During the season, there is not a night without music of high quality.
Gala concerts and lavish opera productions are offered at the Vienna State Opera (Opernring 2: 52 76 36), where Mozart's ``Don Giovanni'' opened the house in 1869. Tickets are not difficult to obtain except for special guest performances, but they are expensive: $40 to $90. They can be ordered in the United States by calling 800 221-4980 or 212 838-9677. For the determined, 567 standing room tickets are sold on the day of the performance.
Two multi-halled complexes are the Musikverein (Dumbastrasse 3: 65 81 90) and the Konzerthaus (Lothringerstrasse 20: 72 12 11). Fans of Lehar and Strauss will delight in the confections presented at the Volksoper (Waehringerstrasse 78: 34 36 27). A complete listing of events is given in ``This Week in Vienna,'' or at the Vienna Tourist Board, Opernpassage: 43 16 08.
London. When it comes to things cultural, it seems these days that bigger is better. Take the Barbican Center, for example. Under one roof there are a concert hall, two theaters, a music foyer, a cinema, five art galleries, a library, three restaurants, a conservatory, and a shop. The London Symphony is Barbican Hall's regular inhabitant, while the Philharmonia, D'Oyly Carte, and others come to visit. Information is available 24 hours a day by phoning 628-2295 or 628-9760. For reservations, call 638-8891 or 628-8795.
The other cultural colossus is the South Bank Arts Centre. In addition to the National Theater, there are the large Royal Festival Hall, featuring three of London's four symphony orchestras, the smaller Queen Elizabeth Hall, for chamber music, and the smallest, Purcell Hall for recitals. The station is Waterloo; call for reservations, 928-3191.
As impressive as the new halls are, nothing matches the magnificence of the great cathedrals. To hear the boy sopranos of St. Paul's (tel. 248-2705) or the choir of Westminster Abbey (tel. 828-4732) is to be immersed in a tradition unchanged for hundreds of years. Recorded information on these and other events is available by calling Leisureline, 246-8041.
Paris. There is more to Paris nightlife than the Follies Berg`ere and the Crazy Horse Saloon. There is the Opera, of course. Not always as awe-inspiring as the building, perhaps, but often very good. The address is Place de l'Opera, 9e. Metro: Opera; Tel. 4742 57 50. And there is the Salle Pavart (5, rue Favart, 2e, Metro: Richelieu-Drouon: 4296 12 20), better known as the Opera Comique, which presents opera in French. Four more halls that present serious music are the Theatre des Champs-Elysees (15, avenue Montaigne, 8e, Metro: Alma-Marceau: 4723 47 77), the Theatre Musical de Paris-Chatelet (Place du Chatelet, Metro: Chatelet; 4261 19 83), the Theatre de la Ville (2, Place du Chatelet: 4272 22 77), and the Salle Playel (252, Faubourg St.-Honore, 8e, Metro: Ternes: 4563 88 73).