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Tuesday, November 28, 2023


Think of Vienna and you probably think of classical music, schnitzel and apfel strudel. Well, maybe also Freud or mini-sausages in pop-top cans, but we won't go there.
An "Austrian evening" Sunday at Tillett Gardens will feature the musical and culinary artistry of the land.
Gottlieb Wallisch, a young Viennese pianist with the credits and acclaim of one far beyond his years, will perform a recital program dominated by the works of Beethoven and Brahms, two classical masters who spent much of their adult lives living and composing in Vienna.
Alexander Treml, Frenchtown's Austrian-born restaurateur, has prepared a menu of palate pleasers from his homeland for the dinner that will precede the performance.
Both the sit-down dinner and the recital will take place in the newest performance venue in Tillett Gardens – the air-conditioned Pistarckle Theater.
"It's a special concert, not a part of the regular Arts Alive season, and a special occasion with the dinner, so we decided to have it in a special place," concert series producer Rhoda Tillett says. Wallisch will perform on the same grand piano used for concerts in the garden.
Tillett and local attorney James Hindels also decided to make the event a "St. Thomas elegant" affair.
Now, what does Hindels have to do with it?
Not many people have known it until now, but Hindels is the honorary consul of the Republic of Austria in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
He was born and raised on the U.S. mainland to parents who emigrated from Vienna shortly before World War II. In the Virgin Islands, because of his cultural connections, he has assisted over the years in setting up meetings between visiting Austrian diplomatic and commercial delegations and V.I. government and business officials.
A few years ago, when the Austrian ambassador to the United States visited the territory, "He asked if I would officially represent the government here as their honorary consul," Hindels says. The U.S. and Austrian governments gave the requisite approval, and the deal was done.
Among other things, the designation meant Hindels would henceforth be invited to consular conferences held by the Austrian Embassy in Washington, D.C. At such a meeting last spring, he let the embassy cultural officer know of his interest in inviting concert artists to the territory who were touring the United States "and were available to come to the V.I."
The wintertime appeal of the tropics worked its magic, and Hindels got a phone call saying pianist Wallisch would be making such a tour in February and March and would be available to take a side trip to St. Thomas between performances in Washington, D.C., and Illinois.
The honorary consul asked Tillett about fitting another concert into her season, and they worked out the plans for "an Austrian evening." Tillett also passed the word to her St. John counterpart, School of the Arts director Ruth "Sis" Frank, and a second performance was scheduled at the school. It takes place Tuesday, and is a concert only.
Wallisch, still in his early 20s, is a rising star in the classical world. He made his debut this season with the fabled Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and is booked for concerts next season at New York's Carnegie Hall and London's Wigmore Hall. He performed in Vienna in 1996 under the baton of Yehudi Menuhin and last year with the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra.
He has toured throughout the world to acclaim such as this from the South China Morning Post five years ago, when he was still a teenager: "He is a pianist of more than skill. He is tough, muscular; he makes challenging pieces sound challenging, and he turns intricate atonal toccatas into cuddly pussycats." And this from The Washington Post a year later: "The means are already there – spectacular keyboard agility and the kind of control that keeps bravura in the right places but gives voice to … meaningful phrasing and moments of quietude."
Such critical kindness should come as little surprise to anyone who has tracked Wallisch's career. A student at the University of Music in Vienna, he became the first pianist ever to win all four top prizes at The Stravinsky Awards International Piano Competition in Illinois, taking first prize, the Joseph Haydn Prize, the Igor Stravinsky Prize and the Grand Prix Ivo Pogorelich. That was in 1995. A year later, as the youngest entrant in the Elena Rombro Stepanow Competition in Vienna, he won first place.
His Virgin Islands concerts will open with four sonatas by the Italian composer Domenico Scarlatti, who had nothing whatever to do with Austria but was a contemporary of J.S. Bach. Next on the program is Eroica Variations, Op. 35, by Ludwig van Beethoven, who was born in Bonn but moved at the age of 22 to Vienna, where he spent the rest of his life. The second half of the program will begin with Three Intermezzi, Op. 117, by Johannes Brahms, who also was born in Germany but lived for much of his adult life in Vienna, where he died in 1897. The concert will conclude with Beethoven's Sonata No. 28 in A major, Op. 101.
The dinner menu consists of a salad of cucumbers in dill cream dressing; a choice of two entrees – jaeger schnitzel (pounded veal in a mushroom and cream sauce) or chicken Salzburg (in a sauce of lemon butter, white wine and capers), both served with spaetzle (free-form noodles); and dessert of apfel strudel with vanilla sauce. Fine wines, coffee and tea will accompany the meal. Treml notes that the wines will not be Austrian: "The country makes a very little wine; it's very good, but it's not exported to the Virgin Islands."
Hindels says a group of St. Thomas residents of Austrian heritage "gets together on a fairly regular basis," but there is nothing formal such as a celebration of the republic's national day. He says he hopes to continue inviting Austrian artists to come to the territory to perform "if the community is interested in reaching out to these opportunities."
Sunday's event begins with a sunset cocktail sip outside in Tillett Gardens. Seating for the dinner will be promptly at 6:30 p.m., and the concert will begin at 8. Seating will be at tables for eight. Security personnel will be on duty in both the garden and the parking lot.
While the event is an added attraction for the 2000-01 season, it was promoted in pre-season publicity for the Classics in the Garden and Tillett Garden Series concerts, and season subscribers had the option of including it in their ticket orders. However, as with any Arts Alive concert, Tillett says, single event tickets are available.
Those for Sunday night are $90. Reservations are required by Friday. They may be made by telephoning the Arts Alive office at 775-1929, faxing to 775-9482 or e-mailing to tillett@islands.vi.
For the Tuesday concert at the St. John school, general admission is $20 and that for students is $15. Tickets will be sold at the door, with seating on a first-come basis and no advance purchases or reservations. For more information, call 779-4322 or 776-6777.

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