A new way of looking at things
“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of looking at things.” –  Henry Miller

Curt Veeneman, Ph.D.


Parco della Musica (Rome)

9 May 2014

Includes concert review:

Gustavo Dudamel:  Wagner, Haydn, Schumann

Monday 17 June 2013 at 9pm Auditorium Parco della Musica: Sala S. Cecilia 4, Rome


In the next few weeks we are going to be taking a break from “Johann Sebastian Bach’s GERMANY” and explore some other areas of Europe.  Our destination today:  Italy, a new architectural paradigm, and one of its musical exponents.


Two Distinctive Architectural perspectives:  Herzog & de Meuron and Renzo Piano


Just a couple of weeks ago I mentioned in this blog a new concert hall rising above the HafenCity quarter of Hamburg, Germany (see Johann Sebastian Bach's Germany Part 3, Hamburg, 25 April 2014).  Designed by Swiss architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron, the Elbphilharmonie Hamburg concert hall is actually situated on top of an old warehouse and — expected to be completed in 2016 with a final height of 110 meters — will be the tallest inhabited building of Hamburg.


The Elbphilharmonie Hamburg concert hall in Hamburg, Germany, is shown under construction in May 2013.

(photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons) {{PD}}


Herzog & de Meuron are famous for their conversion of the giant Bankside Power Station in London into the new home of Tate Modern in 2000.  These architects are also recognized for many other innovative buildings, including the 2005 expansion of the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota, and closer to home (at least for me), the design of the 2005 M. H. de Young Memorial Museum in San Francisco, California.


The M. H. de Young Memorial Museum in San Francisco, California, was completed in 2005. 


The De Young is one of San Francisco's three new buildings by winners of the Pritzker Architecture Prize.  Located alongside the Music Concourse in Golden Gate Park, the building’s fractal-patterned, tectonic copper-clad exterior is gradually evolving a subtle patina as it is exposed to the elements.  The galleries of the atrium are cut away for views of palms and ferns to blend in-door and out-of-door realities.  For a nice twist (literally), the main building’s layout aligns with the grid of Golden Gate Park, while its parking tower aligns with the grid of the area city streets, putting a dance-like movement in the De Young’s form.  My wife and I attended the opening and happened to be captured there by a Chronicle photo-journalist at the time.


Colleen and Curt Veeneman admire the De Young Museum in Golden Gate Park.  Photo: Frederic Larson, San Francisco Chronicle / May 6, 2005.

(photo from Decade in review: Top 10 in S.F. architecture, John King, Chronicle Urban Design Writer, Wednesday, December 30, 2009)


Just across the street from the De Young Museum is located a building by another of my favorite architects:  the California Academy of Sciences, redesigned by Italian architect Renzo Piano, who was born in Genoa, Italy, in 1937.  The California Academy of Sciences is among the largest museums of natural history in the world, and after being damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake was reopened in 2008.  Piano’s design was awarded the Urban Land Institute (ULI) Award for Excellence for the Americas region in 2008, as well as the Holcim Award Silver for sustainable construction projects for the of region North America in 2005.  In 2006, Piano was selected by TIME as one of the 100 most influential people in the world.


The California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park was reopened in 2008.


The new building is at the vanguard of environmentally friendly design: it  supports a green roof and uses natural lighting in 90 percent of occupied spaces.

Piano is perhaps best known for his high-tech architectural style with Richard Rogers on the Centre Georges Pompidou (1971-77), located in the 4th arrondissement of Paris.  The center houses the Bibliothèque publique d'information, a vast public library, the Musée National d'Art Moderne which is the largest museum for modern art in Europe, and IRCAM (Institut de recherche et coordination acoustique/musique), a center for music and acoustic research.  The Centre Pompidou has had over 150 million visitors since 1977.


Centre Georges Pompidou: All of the functional structural elements of the building are color-coded: green pipes are plumbing, blue ducts are for climate control, electrical wires are encased in yellow, and circulation elements and devices for safety (e.g., fire extinguishers) are red.


Since then Piano has designed the NEMO science museum in Amsterdam, Netherlands (1997), expanded of the Art Institute of Chicago (2009), and added a wing to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston (2005–12), among countless other projects.  In 1999, Piano designed a watch called "Jelly Piano (GZ159)" for Swatch.  The watch design is transparent and the inner workings were influenced by his Centre Georges Pompidou design.

Which brings me to the point of this blog entry:  There is a Renzo Piano project that I have been waiting to see since its completion in 2002, and last summer I finally experienced the exhilaration of seeing it, walking in and around it, and touching it: the multi-functional public music complex in the north of Rome, Italy — Auditorium Parco della Musica.



Parco della Musica

Rome is famous for its ancient architecture; the Pantheon, for example —




or the Colosseum —




but one of the biggest attractions for me on a recent visit to Rome was a new creation by Italian architect Renzo Piano, the Parco della Musica.


One of the “pods” of the Parco della Musica in Rome


We prepared for a concert that we would be attending there that evening, allowing for extra time, realizing that getting there would take two busses and some walking.  Give Rome maybe another couple hundred years to negotiate all of the archeology underground and they may eventually have a metro system like that of Paris, Vienna, or London, but for now we’ll have to get places slowly.

We caught the #628 bus on Vittorio Emanuele II (normally on Corso Rinascimento, but they moved the stop due to road repair) and got off after six stops at Lungotevere delle Navi and then walked to Flaminia.  Then we took the M bus to Parco della Musica (3 stops).

When we reached the Parco della Musica, we circled the massive new complex on foot so that I could take photographs of the exterior.  Designed by Italian starchitect Renzo Piano, the Parco della Musica consists of three concert halls connected by a continuous underground lobby, as well as an outdoor amphitheater (‘la Cavea’) and a restaurant (which we were glad to see, as there didn’t seem to be any other restaurants around for miles).


The Parco della Musica amphitheater


The three concert halls are the Sala Petrassi (c. 700 seats; named in memory of Goffredo Petrassi, 1904–2003, a composer with whom one of my teachers, Kenneth Gaburo, had studied), the Sala Sinopoli (c. 1200 seats; named in memory of Giuseppe Sinopoli, 1946–2001, another well-known composer and conductor) and the Sala Santa Cecilia (c. 2800 seats; it is also fascinating to go to the catacombs where the second century saint was buried).  This last was the hall in which our concert was taking place this evening.  From the outside, the three concert halls look like scarab beetles or computer mice.  Their carapaces of pre-oxidized lead were absolutely thought-provoking.  The Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia is located at the complex as well.


The Parco della Musica


We watched sound and lighting workers setting up for a concert in the outdoor amphitheater.  Several girders were lowered to shoulder height so they could attach lights, cables, microphones, speakers, etc., and then to be raised over the stage again.  Some of the engineers, on the other hand, climbed on girders high above the stage to work, hanging on by their knees.


Lighting and sound engineers work at the amphitheater of the Parco della Musica in Rome


In one area of the complex, there are some excavations of a villa and an oil press from the sixth century BC that they discovered during construction. 

Of course, this slowed things down considerably, so the complex wasn’t completed until 2002.  Today, more than a million people a year attend events at the Parco della Musica.

Ancient ruins discovered while excavating the Parco della Musica in Rome

At one point a man came up to me and asked if I spoke French, to which I answered, “Oui, je parle un petit peu.”  It turned out that he was going to the same concert as we were, so I gave him directions around the complex as best I could.  After thinking in Italian for a week and a half, it was interesting to go into French, kind of like a vacation.  We encountered this friendly man several more times throughout the evening.  I kind of felt sorry for him, being French in such an aggressive, foreign culture: he knew no Italian.  At the same time, I admired his courage, being alone and persevering so well.


The Parco della Musica Relais le Jardin


After taking a few more photos, we walked down to Parco della Musica’s restaurant, Relais le Jardin, for dinner.  (At least I hope our French friend liked the restaurant’s name.)  We had what they called “brunch,” which was about 10 salads: corn, zucchini and rice, pasta and mushrooms, mixed grains (barley, rice, wheat), salad with tuna, eggplant parmigiana, grilled eggplant, paté, peperoncini, plus bread.  On our way out, we noticed our French friend and gave him a smile.

En route to Sala Santa Cecilia in the underground lobby, we marveled at the neon art glowing above our heads.  Violet lights announced international Zen-like koans, such as:


Thought-provoking signage in the lobby of the Parco della Musica


And another, in German:



[See or don’t see hear or don’t hear]


The auditorium is beautiful:  bulbous, cherry-wood ceilings (for acoustic purposes), a very organic, attractive hall — the inside is as good as the outside.  Bravo, Piano.  It was quite packed for this concert on a Monday night, too.


The Sala Santa Cecilia of the Parco della Musica


I saw other people looking at their programs and when I asked for one, was instructed to go back to far end of lobby to purchase one.  By the time I returned (several flights of stairs), the concert was ready to begin.

Ironically, the guest conductor lives just down the road from us — in Los Angeles.  Gustavo Dudamel, 32 years old, is a wunderkind in the conducting world.  He comes from Venezuela, and is the music director of both the Orquesta Sinfónica Simón Bolívar and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.  He is also honorary conductor of the Gothenburg Symphony in Gothenburg, Sweden.


Gustavo Dudamel in the European Tour, 2008


The program wasn’t exciting, but I came because I wanted to see and hear the orchestra and conductor and experience the hall.  On the program was Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll, Haydn’s Symphony #96, and Schumann’s Symphony #3.  Why all these Teutons occupying an Italian concert hall, I wondered?

That said, the performances were superb.

Richard Wagner’s (1813-1883) Siegfried Idyll was composed as a present to his wife, Cosima, after the birth of their son Siegfried in 1869.  It was first performed on a Christmas morning by a small ensemble as Cosima awoke to the music.  Wagner's later opera Siegfried, which was premiered in 1876, incorporates music from the Idyll.

Dudamel’s tentative, leisurely tempo seemed to draw out every component of the subcutaneous counterpoint in the Wagner score.  His sensitive conducting of this dreamy work reminded me of floating through a cloud mist refracted into many hues.

Opening with an innocent ascendancy, the perpetual motivic development begins to turn inward on itself.  Periodic harmonic eddies momentarily slow the progress.  Then, inversion, new themes, and, eventually, a return to the initial idea.  A pleasant aubade.

The program’s pace quickened with Joseph Haydn’s (1732–1809) bright, sprightly, Symphony No. 96 in D major (the Miracle Symphony), first performed in London in 1791.  Perhaps being familiar with the premiere of this work, it was fitting that Renzo Piano included no crystal chandeliers in this auditorium.  (A discussion of this work can be read in a recent blog entry— Papa Haydn Part 5, 28 March 2014).

Robert Schumann’s (1810–1856) Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major, Op. 97, (premiered in 1850) also known as the Rhenish, is actually his No. 4, but due to its being withdrawn and later revised, the numbering is out of order.  While it stands as a classic, the work has an accumulation of rather ponderous moments, and it is not a surprise that Schumann had questions about it even to the end.  Win a few, lose a few.

The concert was being filmed and we happened to be sitting near a camera.  The cameraman had cue sheets and he would leisurely zoom to ascertain the frame when he was off line (I was close enough to see the view-finder).  But when the red light on his camera came on, he snapped to attention with alacrity!

I enjoyed Dudamel’s conducting.  He directs with a passion and energy befitting his age but seems to have musical understanding beyond his years.

He is very economical.  He is a master of the face cue.

When the concert was over, we noticed a mob heading toward the bus stop, so we ran to get ahead.  The very second that we got on the bus, it left the stop.

There on the M bus was our French friend.  He was such a kind man with a ready smile.  I greeted him, and then made a little joke that I thought he would appreciate, his being French.  « Bon soir, monsieur.  Aimez-vous le concert ce soir ? [Good evening, sir.  Did you enjoy the concert tonight?  ]»  He said « Oui, » and then I commented, referring to the all-German programming, « Comme Erik Satie a dit, ‘Il-y-a trop choucroute dans la musique!’ [As Erik Satie said, there’s too much sauerkraut in music!]. »

 We both laughed out loud.

 After 13 stops we got off at Calabria and walked to Sicilia-Fiume.  Then we took the #63 bus and got off after ten stops at Via Torre Argentina.  We came to a consensus that the Parco della Musica is a long bus ride from center of Rome.

 Waking from the bus stop, we had water thrown on us from an upper-storey window near our hotel.  It seemed to be an act dating back to the Middle Ages, and we reluctantly added it to our collection of experiences in Rome.




The photographs used in this blog, unless otherwise noted, are by Curt Veeneman.

Related Posts (Italy)

Who started Travel Con Brio®?

Composer, scholar (in music theory, ethnomusicology, and music history), performer, educator, conference organizer, and entrepreneur, Curt Veeneman received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley.

His additional interests, subsumed in wonder at the beauty of God’s entire creation, include art (he was an art major before the balance tipped ever-so-slightly toward music), literature, architecture, photography, mathematics, history, languages, cultural studies, world-cuisines, and, of course, travel.
photograph by Colleen Veeneman

In founding Travel Con Brio®, Curt was eager to synthesize all of these interests to create imaginative, stirring, and enlightening experiences to be enjoyed by both young and mature travelers alike.  The tours that he organizes reflect his extensive travel experience and familiarity with the art, music and culture of numerous countries, with each tour being richly enhanced by local experts.

Curt and his wife Colleen live near San Francisco.  They have three children.

What is this blog about?

Culled from a number of trips abroad, this blog compiles various experiences in an attempt to reveal the cultural nuances of places visited on Travel Con Brio® tours.  Sometimes humorous, sometimes serious, Curt’s observations are intended to describe and appreciate the personalities, character, idiosyncrasies, conventions, mood, and ambiance of places visited.  Contemplations of topics ranging from language and customs to climate and bureaucracies are freely offered alongside art and music reviews.  Any cultural issue, if illuminating, can become the focus.

These musings on the personal impact of various cultures are offered so that you, as a traveler, may compare and contrast your own impressions with them.  Do you share a similar interest?  Do you agree with a specific conclusion?  Or is there a fine distinction to be made regarding a particular point?  You are invited to leave your comments; please, however, be respectful of other readers.

And last, a caveat:  flukes, asymmetries, and twists of fate may suggest more about Curt than about any foreign culture under discussion.

What are some of Curt Veeneman’s musical activities?

As a composer, Curt has spoken and/or his works have been performed throughout the United States, in Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Poland, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Bulgaria.  He is the winner of several awards, including the ASCAP-Hubbell Award for composition.

Curt Veeneman's compositions include Les Cloches, inspired by the life of Joan of Arc (premièred by the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra), The Wiry Concord for 5-string banjo, dulcimer, cimbalom, harp, harpsichord, piano, viola and percussion (available on Capstone Records), Mountain Thyme, based on Bulgarian folk music (recorded by the Sofia Symphony Orchestra), Alcuin's Riddle, for orchestra and 15 soloists who cross the “audience-river,” Hommage for voice, flute, 'cello, piano, and percussion, Windmills, computer music featuring sampled wind turbines on California's Altamont Pass, and Pneuma for solo flute, (also available on Capstone Records).

Of this last work, the following comments have been made:  “J’ai beaucoup apprécié le lyrisme et la rigueur de Pneuma pour flûte de Curt Veeneman”  (I greatly appreciate the lyricism and the precision of Curt Veeneman’s Pneuma for flute) —Gérard Condé, Le Monde, Paris, 29 August 1996; “a well written piece”  — Robert Dick, flutist, author of The Other Flute; “it is quite exciting!” — Molly Alicia Barth of eighth blackbird; and “strong and imaginative” — Jules Langert, San Francisco Classical Voice, 13 March 2006.

As a new music promoter, he directed the new music ensemble Sonor Borealis at University of Alberta, Canada, and founded and directed the concert series, PACIFIC MARKET: Fresh Music From Around The World, at the University of the Pacific.  As a performer, Curt Veeneman is recorded on Music and Arts.

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