Friday, 30 December 2011

Hubert von Goisern - a great musician

One of the nice things with music is that it never ceases to surprise. There is always something new to discover.

My own musical taste is rather conservative. Most of the popular or "classical" contemporary music I simply find boring. However, a couple of months ago I saw a program with Austrian singer and composer, Hubert von Goisern, whose music immediately struck a chord with me. Goisern´s music is a mix of traditional Austrian folk music - including yodeling - and rock music, and has been labeled Alpenrock (Alps rock).

I understand that von Goisern and his band are extremely popular in the German speaking countries of Europe, which is not at all surprising; it is difficult not to get into a good mood listening to their music!

Here a couple of my favourites:

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to all old and new visitors!

"Be always at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let each new year find you a better man."
Benjamin Franklin

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Another nice December sunset in Øresund

This afternoon we had another nice sunset in the Øresund area. (The land behind the water is the Danish island Zealand.)

S.S. Hendrick Hudson

The steamboat Hendrick Hudson was put into service in 1906 at a cost of almost a million dollars. She had an advertized length of over 400 feet and was able to carry 5,500 passengers.

The other day I found this picture of the Hudson Day Line steamboat Hendrick Hudson in an old picture book.  Quite a ship!

The Hudson River Maritime Museum page gives some additional information about a bygone era of steamships on the Hudson river:

Of the many Hudson River steamboat lines, the Hudson River Day Line was the most prominent and dependable. Their steamboats were known for elegance and speed, and provided the most enjoyable way to travel the Hudson River. No one could claim to have seen America without seeing the Hudson River, and the only way to properly see the Hudson River was from the deck of a Day Liner steamboat.
For over 150 years, steamboats carried freight and passengers on the Hudson River, but in 1948, regular steamboat service by the Hudson River Day Line between Albany and New York ceased. On September 13, 1948, the Day Line steamboat Robert Fulton made its last run from Albany to New York City bringing to an end the era of gracious steamboat travel on the Hudson River

Nobody knows

Nobody Knows the Trouble I´ve Seen is one of the most touching spirituals that I know of, particularly when it is performed by the great Paul Robeson.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Ships in Shanghai on Christmas Eve 2011

Shipping is an industry that never stops. Thousands of ship crews spend their Christmas at sea every year.

On the image below you can see ship positions in the world´s busiest container harbour, Shanghai today on Christmas Eve at 4.05 A.M. (CET):

(image by Marine Traffic Com)

Altogether there were 893 ships in the Shanghai general harbour area at 4 A.M. (CET) this morning!
One of them was the huge Märchen Mærsk container ship (367 m X 42 m) on its way to Nansha.
Merry Christmas to all of you on board the Märchen and all the other ships in Shanghai!

Yangshan Deep-water Port in the Shanghai harbour zone (image by Wiki)

Friday, 23 December 2011

The Beauty of the Mariinsky Ballerinas

The other day I watched the 2007 Mariinsky Theater version of Tchaikovsky´s Swan Lake. What a wonderful performance!

The star of the evening is of course the great Ulyana Lopatkina, who together with the other stunningly beautiful Mariinsky ballerinas makes this an unforgettable performance.

The Madonna of the Mariinsky

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Ronald Reagan´s Christmas greeting 30 years ago

Almost exactly thirty years ago Ronald Reagan spoke about Christmas on US television. At that time I lived in Washington, so I can vividly remember the uplifting short speech which made all of us feel good. It is a pity that the politicians of our day seem to lack Reagan´s warmth and friendliness.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

The Met´s 2008 La Bohème - a great performance

Great singing by Gheorghiu and Vargas

Today I could not resist "opening" my Christmas present to myself, the Met´s 2008 version of La Bohème, with Angela Gheorghiu and Ramón Vargas in the main roles. And what a wonderful production it is!

The director and set designer Franco Zeffirelli is true both to the music and the libretto, and does not - like many of his contemporary colleagues - feel a need to contrive some kind of a modern setting for this, one of the greatest operas ever. This production is a feast not only for the ears, but also for the eyes!

No wonder that Zeffirelli´s production has been so succesful. Before this evening in 2008 there had already been close to 350 performances since its first night in 1980.

Gheorghiu and Vargas and the other soloists were in top form on this great opera evening. An extra bonus on this disc is the possibility to look at what happens backstage during a performance.

Warmly recommended to all friends of opera!

Monday, 19 December 2011

Christmas on Tristan da Cunha

Edinburgh of the Seven Seas, the "capital" of Tristan da Cunha
(Picture by Wikipedia)

If you are one of those who want to escapte the hustle and bustle of the ever more commercialised Christmas season, there is one place that should be ideal for you:

There are no package tours for independent travellers, no hotels, no airport, no holiday
reps., no night clubs no restaurants, no jet skis nor safe sea swimming.
Visitors are limited due to lack of available shipping berths (only 12 on fishing vessels).
Nevertheless, Tristan da Cunha is one of the world's most sought after destinations for

travellers determined to find a special on, take advice, plan carefully and you can make it!

I have to say that I like the above description on the website of Tristan da Cunha, the world´s most remote inhabited island. Honesty and plain facts instead of the usual tourist business jargon!

Visiting Tristan da Cunha is somewhat easier if you arrive by a cruise ship. This Christmas passengers on board the Island Sky (23 - 27th December) and the Hanseatic (25th December) will be able to share some of Tristan da Cunha´s traditional Christmas festivities together with the island´s 262 British Citizens.

This is how Christmas this year is celebrated "far away from the maddening crowd" on Tristan da Cunha:   

The Last Post
Christmas comes early on Tristan. Serious shopping begins in August with an eye to the sailing dates of the supply vessels from Cape Town. The last pre-Christmas scheduled sailing departs in mid November, so it’s not surprising that New Year diaries and calendars, together with most Christmas mail from friends and relatives overseas, literally ‘miss the boat’ and arrive here at the end of January.

Break Up Day

In early December the focus switches to the run up to the traditional Christmas / New Year holidays which cover over three weeks. On Break Up Day morning (on Friday 17th December 2010) arrangements are made to shut down over the next three weeks. Each family stocks up with supplies from the Island Store,which closes for over three weeks at noon on break-up day, and there is limited access to the store’s freezers where they rent space for frozen food. The Internet Café remains open during the lead up to Christmas, shift men will keep the electricity generators going, and the doctor holds surgeries, but both the pub and the café will be closed. Government and factory employees are invited to The Residency for drinks and afterwards, groups adjourn to their own departments for drinks, and the celebrations conclude with a number of ‘braais’ (BBQ) parties in the evening. 

Church Services

Both St Mary’s Anglican and St Joseph’s Catholic Churches hold a carol service and on Christmas Eve a midnight mass to herald Christmas Day itself. Often people attend dressed in their party clothes before going on a round of home visits to wish family and friends a Merry Christmas. Christmas Day itself starts with a morning service at St Mary’s.

Read the entire article here


In order to give you an understanding of how remote Tristan da Cunha actually is, here are a few distances:

To St Helena - 2429 km - 1509 miles (nearest community)
To Cape Town - 2805 km - 1743 miles (nearest mainland city)
To Rio de Janeiro - 3353 km - 2083 miles
To Stanley, Falkland Islands - 3902 km - 2424 miles
To London UK - 9881 km - 6140 miles

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Gustavo Dudamel, the new international star conductor

Dudamel in 2007 conducting the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra
The new Venezuelan star conductor Gustavo Dudamel could be seen in action today on two European television channels.

The Austrian Servus broacast a 2007 concert with Dudamel conducting the wonderful Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela. The programme, which consisted of traditional Latin American pieces, showed the orchestra and Dudamel at their very best. The enthusiasm and professionalism that the young musicians radiate is unbelievable.

Dudamel conducting the L.A. Philharmonic in a Gershwin programme

The other broadcast, shown on Arte, was recently recorded in Los Angeles, where Dudamel conducted a Gershwin programme with the L.A. Philharmonic. This was another marvellous concert, with the great Herbie Hancock as soloist in Rhapsody in Blue.

It appears that Dudamel has achieved an excellent working realationship with the orchestra, although it may take a while before the L.A. musicians begin to exude the same kind of enthusiasm when playing as their younger colleagues in Venezuela:

Anyway, the L.A. Philharmonic and also the Gothenburg Symphony Ochestra, are to be congratulated for signing Dudamel as music director. Dudamel is the kind of conductor that classical music and orchestras need in order to survive and thrive.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

A December sunset in Øresund

Just before sunset (at about 3.35 P.M) the Belgian registered cargo ship Agate passed Helsingør/Helsingborg on its way to Vyborg (formerly Finland´s second largest city).

This is the darkest time of the year here in the north. This picture shows the view over to the Danish side of Øresund a few minutes before Agate passed by.

Friday, 16 December 2011

The Sound of Music shines on blu-ray

Today I received my copy of the blu-ray version of one of my absolute favourite musical movies, The Sound of Music. What a visual and musical delight the new blu-ray disc is! If you enjoy the movie, it is well worth investing a few dollars in this wonderful disc. One never gets tired of watching and listening to Julie Andrews! And Cristopher Plummer and all the others are excellent, too.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

The reefer Stina and the Danish patrol boat Freja in Øresund

The Danish Navy´s Diana class patrol boat Freja P521 this afternoon passed Helsingør. The 43 x 8,2m Freja was launched in August 2006 and is one of the six boats in its class.

The Barbados registered reefer Stina (151,5 x 22,8m) also passed Helsingør/Helsingborg on its way to Flushing. The 1983 built Stina is owned by Stina Shipping Ltd operated by Holy House Shipping in Stockholm. Reefers like Stina belong to my personal favourites with their appealing classical "retro" style.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Looking forward to the Vienna New Year´s Concert

The Grosser Saal has been the venue of the New Year´s Concerts since 1939

It is now less than three weeks to one of the great televised musical highlights of each year, the Vienna New Year´s Concert on 1 January 2012. The Vienna Philharmonic will be conducted by the Latvian Maestro Mariss Jansons, whom some of you may remember already from the concert 2006.

The Grosser Saal (Large hall) of the Musikverein is the ideal setting for the concert. It is - at least in my opinion - the world´s most beautiful concert hall, and probably also has the best accoustics.

If you are not one of those lucky ticket holders (tickets are nowadays drawn by lot over this website at the beginning of each year) be sure to mark the day for a musical feast in front of the telly on
January 1.

Since 1980 the flowers that decorate the hall have been a gift from the Italian city of Sanremo

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Snow is finally falling on Europe´s ski slopes

The 1898 ski season in Finland was also excellent. Here you can check the situation today.


Snow is finally falling on Europe´s ski slopes. We read that Swiss ski enthusiasts are breathing a sigh of relief after heavy snow finally hits the slopes. By the weekend mountains could see up to 70 cm, a forecaster said.

And over in the US, it´s already looking like another great season for ski centres on the west coast. Last year saw a record snowfall, with more than 18 m in total (!) in some areas.

Cross country was the favoured style of skiing in Finland in 1898

The late 1890´s were good in Finland for other winter sports as well

The Crown of Scandinavia late

It is always nice to watch the DFDS ferries pass by on their way to either Oslo or Copenhagen. This morning, though, the Crown of Scandinavia, heading for Copenhagen, was a couple of hours late. The delay must have had some other reason than heavy seas.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Haydn and Schiff - an ideal combination

Haydn himself said that "the entire world understands my music". Even if it is an incredibly complex music ... there is something for everybody in it ...

András Schiff

In February the French-German Arte channel broadcast one my own personal favourites among the musical offerings on television this year:

The Genius of Haydn - With András -Schiff - A Film by János Darvas

The Hungarian-born British pianist András Schiff is the ideal choice both to introduce and play the music of the great Franz Joseph Haydn (1732 - 1809).

Regrettably the programme does not seem to be available on DVD or blu-ray, but in case you are interested, you could perhaps try to get in touch with the maker of the film, János Darvas Steinberger here.

Here Schiff performs Haydn´s Sonata No.33 Hob.XVI:20:

Film by János Darvas - Broadcast Premiere in HDTV on ARTE - February 21, 2010ff - A Film by János Darvroadcast Premiere in HDTV on ARTbruary 21, 2010

Thursday, 8 December 2011

The unique Stockholm, Åland and Turku archipelagos

When friends who are planning to visit Sweden and Finland ask for advise about what to see and do, I always recommend one of the cheapest "luxury" cruises on offer - the day passenger/car ferry from Stockholm to Turku (Åbo in Swedish) in Finland.

The ship departs in the morning and arrives in Turku in good time for dinner - or vice versa. You can enjoy the journey any time of the year - in the winter months the sometimes rather extreme ice conditions may be interesting to observe - but during the summer you can fully enjoy the unique Stockholm, Åland and Turku archipelagos with their thousands of islands and skerries.

The Scottish M.P. A MacCallum Scott, who travelled by ship from Stockholm to Åbo in 1908 gives a wonderful account of his journey through the Åbo archipelago in his book "Through Finland to St. Petersburg":

"About twenty or thirty miles before the Finnish mainland comes in sight the navigator begins to encounter numbers of small rocky islands. Rounded shoulders of black granite, all wet and glittering from the waves which wash over them, rise a few feet above the surface of the water like the back of some sea monster."
"The further the vessel proceeds the larger and more rugged these islands become. This rocky wilderness has a very wild and desolate appearance. Here and there a single fir-tree stands erect like a sentinel, and occasionally a few dwarf pines and stunted bushes afford a patch of green on which to rest the eyes. Landwards, along the northern horizon, stretches a dark green zone of forest which, at first, is taken for mainland; but as the vessel approaches it is found to consist of a labyrinth of islands thickly covered with pine and fir.  This wonderful archipelago stretches along the whole of the southern coast of Finland. The islands are so numerous that, as the vessel threads its way between them, it seems to be completely land-locked. At every turning it seems to enter a cul-de-sac, but, as it pushes forward, a passage, hidden by some wooded cape, opens up. The sheltered waters have a surface like a mirror, reflecting the wooded shore and the blue sky, and the only waves are those caused by the wash from the vessel rushing along the shore on either side."

This 1910 map of southwestern Finland shows the myriad of islands in the Åbo archipelago
In the late 19th century the life of a fisherman was not always easy in the archipelago, as this famous painting by the Finnish artist Alberg Edelfelt shows.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Vermeer´s "The Kitchen Maid" in Amsterdam´s Rijksmuseum

If you pland to visit Amsterdam in the near future, be sure to visit the famous Rijksmuseum. There is a large-scalee rebuilding going on (the entire musem will reopen in 2013), but a collection of the finest 17th century works is one view under the title "The Masterpieces".

Altoghether about 400 masterpieces are shown, but even if you would see only this painting by Johannes Vermeer, your visit would be more than worthwile:

This is part of the Rijksmuseum´s description of Vermeer´s "The Kitchen Maid":
"Intent on her task, the kitchen maid pours milk from a jug. The composition radiates a quiet calm, the only movement the flow of the milk inte the bowl. Taking an everyday subject and a simple composition, Vermeer createss a powerful painting. His work is most distinctive in the portrayal of light."

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

On confession and psychoanalysis

The late Lord Kenneth Clark understood the usefulness of the confession in the Catholic church. Lord Kenneth spoke about confession in his magisterial television series "Civilisation":

"A historian can´t help observing how the need for confession has returned, even - or especially - in the land of the pilgrim fathers. The difference is that instead of confession being followed by a simple comforting rubric which has behind it the weight of divine authority, the modern confessor must grope his way into the labyrinth of the psyche, with all its false turnings and dissolving perspectives - a noble aim, but a terrifying responsibility. No wonder that the psychoanalysts have the highest suicide rate of any vocation. And perhaps after all the old procedure had someting to recommend to it; because as a rule it is the act of confession that matters, not the attempted cure."

Very true, as so much else that Lord Kenneth says in this, the greatest of all television series.

Christmas wreaths

This is the time when the Swedes - like people in many other countries - like to decorate their houses with all kinds of Christmas lights and other decorative features. The Christmas wreath is a decoration I have always been particularly fond of.

Here are a few door wreaths from my neighbourhood:

Monday, 5 December 2011

Baltic Betina on its way to Kristiansand

This morning the Malta registered dry cargo ship Baltic Betina (89x14m) passed Helsingør-Helsingborg in the Sound on its way to Kristiansand.

A great number of crews will soon again celebrate Christmas on board their ship. The guys on Baltic Betina seem to have had a great time last Christmas, with a lot of good food:

Sunday, 4 December 2011

S.S. Oihonna - a classic Finnish passenger ship

S.S. Oihonna in the Helsinki harbour in the 1920´s. (Picture from the book "Finland i bilder", 1928)

In the late 19th and early 20th century ships - like many other manufactured products - were usually built to last. One such well built ship was the Finland Steamship Company´s S.S. Oihonna. The passenger ship, built in 1898 by Gourlay Bros. & Co. in Dundee, Scotland, was in active service for over 60 years until it finally was sold for demolition in 1960.

On April 21, 1906 the Oihonna run aground close to Helsinki on its way to Stockholm. All 100 passengers could be saved, and the sturdy ship could soon return to her regular route St. Petersburg-Helsinki-Stockholm.