Hello From Austria: Classical Music, Hiking & Summer Tobogganing & Two Delicious Backyard Feasts I

After just a gorgeous day on the Alpine peaks at the Austrian / Italian / Slovenian border, the weather gods were not as kind yesterday. It rained and drizzled pretty much the whole day and I spent a relaxing day in my home town, visiting with friends and doing errands. The big excitement was reserved for the evening: a live concert at the Kunsthaus Weiz, a recently constructed multi-purpose performance venue. My sister-in-law Anneliese and I got ready for an evening of classical music that would feature works by Mozart, Strauss and Verdi.

Just before 7:30 pm we strolled into the concert hall and were just able to find two separate seats in a packed venue. Many local dignitaries were present, and this was an important event in Weiz social calendar. The concert was organized by the Weiz Lions Club as a fundraising event and the concert featured the AIMS Festival Orchestra and Soloists. AIMS stands for American Institute of Musical Studies, a Graz-based organization that offers six-week long programs in Vocal Lessons, Opera and Lieder Coaching, Master Classes, Foreign Language Diction, Conversational German and career-related courses for professional musicians, pianists and singers.

Twelve young sopranos, two mezzo-sopranos, two baritones and six tenors performed pieces from Mozarts The Magic Flute, Johann Strauss Die Fledermaus and Giuseppe Verdis La Traviata. The music that these young artists produced was indeed magical and we marveled at the talent of the singers, none of whom seemed to be much older than 25 years of age. The emcee, Andrea Huber, an American of Swiss heritage, took us through the evening. Andrea herself is a highly respected soprano who is now based in Germany and also teaches for AIMS.

The orchestra was directed by Edoardo Mller, a renowned conductor who has conducted in many of pre-eminent opera and concert houses around the world, including those of Paris, Rome, Barcelona, Munich as well as Tokyo and Santiago de Chile. His North American assignments include the New York City Opera, the Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Dallas Opera, the Seattle Opera and the San Francisco Opera. Most of the musicians in the orchestra were also in their early twenties.

The beauty of this music deeply touched me, and in addition I was elated by the notion that all these international music students, most of whom hailed from the United States, came together in Europe to hone their craft and pursue their passion. As I found out by talking to some of the AIMS performers after the concert, the AIMS program not only provides a great opportunity for elite musical training, but also a cross-cultural experience that will create memories of a lifetime. In my conversations with five or six of the AIMS students I found out that they come from places such as Boston, California, Rochester and even as far away as China. They all confirmed that they were extremely well-received in Graz and that they were having the time of their life, hoping that this European experience will kick-start their careers in classical music.

In total the concert had raised 15,000 Euros for local needy families, and the event was a resounding fundraising success. I even ran into one of my old high school teachers, a sports and geography teacher, who was extremely popular with the students. I had not seen him for close to 30 years, but recognized him immediately. He still had the same bright smile as he did three decades ago, and although I had to jog his memory a bit, his face lit up when he started remembering our class. Anneliese and I left the concert on a high and celebrated the experience with a night cap in a local caf called Weberhaus. I mused that a small town like Weiz, with a population of less than 10,000, would offer such high caliber programming whose quality was truly at an international level.

So after an evening of high culture, a more physical and culinary program was on the menu today. I started the day off with another photo safari through my home town of Weiz, and explored the Taborkirche, which is dedicated to St. Thomas of Canterbury. The Romanesque church was first mentioned in a document in 1188 and expanded in the late 1300s with a Gothic altar area.

Until the late 1600s imposing walls and watchtowers were surrounding the church, giving it a defensive character and making it possible for the local population to find safety within the complex, which was particularly important during the Turkish invasions during the 1500s. The church yard features several gravestones from the Roman era, indicating that this area was actively settled more than 2,000 years ago although much older pre-historic remains were found in the surrounding regions as well. The so-called Celtic Village on the nearby Kulm Mountain is the first outdoor pre-history museum in the province of Styria and illustrates that this area has been inhabited since pre-historic times.

During a stroll through the Main Square of Weiz I ran across two old acquaintances, my neighbours mother, who I had not seen for at least 20 years and a friend from my former volleyball team who I had not seen for more than two decades as well. Its now almost 21 years that I have been living in Toronto, but it was great to see these familiar faces again and to reconnect after such a long time.

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