Every year the Festspielhaus in Bayreuth, Germany presents a 5-week series of operas, a famous festival celebrating the works of Wagner, for which tickets are coveted, deemed impossible to obtain by some foreigners.
During my last year in Bayreuth I accidentally stumbled upon one of the most interesting musical jobs of my career. Not having regular access to a piano, I walked into Hotel Rheingold, Austraße 2, simply asking to move my fingers a little. The timing of my visit was coincidentally perfect, being at the beginning of the festival, and the manager asked if I wouldn’t mind returning on a daily basis. The hotel offers their (Festspiel) guests a champagne hour between roughly 14:00-14:45, before the guests depart for the opera house.
I don’t consider myself a professional bar pianist – I don’t know thousands of songs from memory, let alone being able to skillfully improve, I play a mixture of classical literature (Bach preludes and fugues, Mozart sonata movements, Chopin waltzes), to using collections of written-out jazz arrangements (“Bar Piano Standards”, Schläger und Chansons”), even recently finding an anthology of musical theatre numbers and slipping in a few Disney classics into the mix (“Home” from Beauty and the Beast, “Colors of the Wind” from Pocahontas).
Every day is different, and sometimes I wonder what the impression is of the listeners. Jazz may be a standard, but these people are here for a dramatic, classical composer – do not most of them appreciate other classical music as well? Occasionally a stranger will give me a quick “th
ank you / danke” as they leave for the bus, one year a lovely madame from England actually recognized and was delighted that I was playing through several of the Bach prelude
s. The biggest reaction I’ve seen this year comes from Jean-Baptiste Lully – his suites for harpsichord seem very balanced and properly “atmospheric” for background music.
This is my third year playing for Rheingold. I wouldn’t mind at all doing it again next year, but I unfortunately don’t know where I will be.