02 December 2018

Europe Tour Diary 2: Vienna

In our 2018 European Tour, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra will perform 12 concerts in seven countries in some of the most magnificent halls in the world. Emma Dunch, CEO, is on the road with the orchestra and writes to us from our second stop, Vienna.

There was an audible intake of breath as we walked into Vienna’s beautiful Konzerthaus, which was opened in 1913 and is a stunning assemblage of polished wood, gold leaf and crystal chandeliers. We all felt the weight of history of the many musicians and conductors who had taken the same stage before us.

We quickly learned that the concert platform itself was not designed for the contemporary MacMillan Percussion Concerto No.2 that we would be performing. Austrian soloist Martin Grubinger travels with a separate truck for his percussion equipment for the concerto, and it takes hours in each venue to jigsaw him and his instruments onto the front of the stage while leaving enough room for the orchestral forces required for the second half.

In the Wiener Konzerthaus, things were very cosy indeed, with musicians climbing over one another to reach their seats, Chief Conductor and Artistic Director David Robertson squeezing between two sets of hanging cowbells to reach the conductor’s podium, and a standing mirror erected onstage to help Martin and David see one another during the performance. Grubinger’s two rolling racks of brightly coloured kitchen pots and pans attracted attention — specially selected for their musical pitches when struck with a series of mighty thwacks throughout the concerto. Based on the complex stage jigsaw that we witnessed, we were convinced that our Sydney Symphony Orchestra production team could easily win an international Lego competition. 

Our patrons joined the tour in Vienna and attended the rehearsal, where our jaws hit the floor as the music started – a great wave of sound rolled over our heads and completely enveloped us as the orchestra began playing. This concert hall is rightly acclaimed for its extraordinary acoustics – each of us heard new details in the music that we never knew were there.

After the rehearsal, there was a brief opportunity to walk around town, and a group of us made a beeline straight for Mozarthaus Vienna, the museum created inside Mozart’s apartment where he spent the final years of his life and wrote The Marriage of Figaro, The Magic Flute and the Requiem, among other works. The museum is presided over by the government and is full of heritage items, including original artefacts from Mozart’s time and musical sheets written in his own hand. It was thrilling to be so close to history and to wander through the actual rooms where Mozart spent his last days.

It was a full house in Vienna for the concert that evening, and we were delighted to be hosted by the Australian Ambassador to Austria, the Honourable Dr Brendon Hammer, and a host of dignitaries, including representatives from Principal Partner Emirates. This was our first performance of Prokofiev’s Symphony No.5 in Europe and it was very well received. A post-concert reception for Australian government guests, patrons, VIPs and the orchestra musicians capped off a busy but exhilarating day.

Pictured: Wiener Konzerthaus, © Lukas Beck

Europe Tour Diary 2: ViennaEurope Tour Diary 2: ViennaEurope Tour Diary 2: Vienna