5 Questions: Rick Steves
5 Questions is a series by Steve Duffy –
Guidebook author and travel TV host Rick Steves is America’s most respected authority on European travel. Rick took his first trip to Europe in 1969, visiting piano factories with his father, a piano importer. As an 18-year-old, Rick began traveling on his own, funding his trips by teaching piano lessons. In 1976, he started his business, Rick Steves’ Europe, which has grown from a one-man operation to a company with a staff of 100 full-time, well-travelled employees at its headquarters in Edmonds, Washington, near Seattle. There he produces a best-selling guidebook series on European travel, America’s most popular travel series on public television, a weekly hour-long national public radio show, a weekly syndicated column, and free travel information available through his travel center and ricksteves.com.
SD: What can you tell us about “A Symphonic Journey”?
RS: This project is a collaboration with the Boston Pops Orchestra that mixes together my love for music, Romantic-era art, and European travel — along with my mission to broaden the perspectives of ethnocentric Americans. “A Symphonic Journey” is a spirited concert that’s really a musical tour of six different European countries. As the orchestra plays Romantic favorites, I get to be the tour guide, setting the historical and cultural context and sharing vivid footage from my public television show. Each piece was composed in the same generation (the late 19th century) in a different nation. After starting with the Star-Spangled Banner (to stoke our national pride), we learn what stokes the national pride of each society we visit: Grieg in Norway, Elgar in England, Wagner in Germany, Strauss in Austria, Smetana in the Czech Republic, Verdi in Italy and Berlioz in France. Then, for a grand European finale, it’s the anthem of the European Union: Beethoven’s Ode to Joy.
SD: What is your personal relationship between music and travel?
RS: My two loves are music and travel. I’ve only had two jobs in my life: piano teacher and travel teacher. On my first trip to Europe, I traveled with my father (a piano importer) to the great piano factories of Germany and Austria. I love how any art lover can waltz through the ages and celebrate high culture with both their eyes and ears.
SD: What songs take you back to a specific time and place?
RS: The grand space of a church is the nave. Italians call the triangular bits between the ribs in a Gothic ceiling the vele. Of course, the nave is a boat, and the vele are the sails. I like how a powerful pipe organ provides the spiritual and musical breeze to fill those sails and power the entire vessel. Music does many things. I like how music has long partnered with alcohol, from tavernas in Greece to pubs in Ireland, to bring out conviviality in a community. And music works with national spirits, too. Whether it be choral groups singing for freedom to peacefully help Estonia escape Soviet rule, the drone of bagpipers inspiring clansmen into battle in Scotland, or patriots calling for Italian independence by standing on seats at the opera and singing Verdi’s aria together, as if waving the then-forbidden Italian flag. Music has long been a weapon when it comes to freedom.
SD: Is there one place you think everyone should travel to?
RS: The place everyone should travel to is “out of their comfort zone.” My mission is to inspire Americans to venture beyond Orlando, to get to know people who see things and do things differently, to realize that us Americans are not the norm and that the only thing exceptional about us is our ability to think that we are exceptional in God’s eyes. When we travel thoughtfully, we gain empathy for the other 96 percent of humanity and come home with the greatest of all souvenirs: a broader perspective.
SD: How has social media changed the travel industry?
RS: Americans like to follow the crowd — to eat at the place that’s ranked #1 on TripAdvisor, to vote for the politician who’s up in the polls, to line up for the for the sight everyone’s talking about. Social media works to homogenize our outlooks and make our joys both predictable and the same. And with our little screens such a big part of our lives, many find it almost impossible to actually be in the moment. Imagine enjoying the Mona Lisa without fighting your way through a sea of people taking selfies. Imagine being on a gondola with your lover under a full moon on the canals of Venice, capturing the image of that magic moment only in each other’s eyes…and that image being just for you, and just for now. It is an option.
For more information about Rick, visit www.marcsummerstv.com. To purchase tickets to Rick Steves’ A Symphonic Journey at Symphony Hall on June 13th visit www.bso.org