Hi from Rick: My High-Brow Journey
Watching my newest TV special, I wondered for a moment — who's that guy in the fancy suit and tie? Oh, it's me.
My mom always told me it's worth dressing up for a special occasion, and this one certainly fit the bill: sharing the stage with a symphony orchestra and its suave conductor, introducing America to Europe's most soul-stirring, heartbeat-quickening, patriotic music.
This month's Travel News features a preview of my most unusual — and most personally satisfying — public television project in years. Starting as one of those crazy "sketched on a napkin" ideas, I had the pleasure of collaborating with the Cascade Symphony Orchestra and Music Director and Conductor Michael Miropolsky. Together we brainstormed, planned, rehearsed, and embarked on a symphonic journey through 19th-century Europe, touching down in seven different countries.
Beginning with our own Star Spangled Banner to set the mood, we weaved together works by Johan Strauss, Jr., Richard Wagner, Bedrich Smetana, Giuseppe Verdi, Edward Elgar, Edvard Grieg, Hector Berlioz, and Ludwig van Beethoven.
Demonstrating our tour-guiding passion for making high culture accessible, I got to set up the historic and cultural context of each piece with a 90-second introduction. You see, it's much more than pretty music. Each piece is a snapshot of the turbulent 19th century that changed the world — when common people rose up, demanding to be free from tyrants, to be equal to nobles, and to govern themselves. The composers who inspired them were unshackled by convention and passionate about their homelands. They became champions of freedom.
On the big screen above the orchestra — as each piece was performed before a live audience — we conveyed that deep love-of-country with beautiful scenes from each composer's nation: Austria, Germany, the Czech Republic, Italy, Britain, Norway, and France.
My longtime TV producer Simon Griffith and editor Steve Cammarano created the stunning visuals, filmed the performance, then went on to turn it all into an impressive one-hour special for public television. Check your local station's listings for the performance near you.
In addition to Rick Steves' Europe: A Symphonic Journey (which my staff sees as my "high-brow journey") this month's Travel News includes performances by The Queen's English, Sleeping Alternatives, A Helping of Hamburg, Persistent Bad Weather and WWRSD — plus details on my 12-city Road Trip USA tour in March. Don't miss it!
Today's Europe enjoys unprecedented peace and unity — an enormous accomplishment, given its turbulent history. Its official anthem is Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" — the grand finale to our Symphonic Journey concert, and an inspiring theme for Europe's ongoing journey of freedom. I can't help but sing along.