GWO in Europe 2010, Day 12, Vienna

Posted on February 5th, 2010 by

Day 12 – Vienna

City Hall overlooking Rathauspark, Vienna, Austria

Gothic-styled City Hall overlooking Rathauspark, Vienna, Austria

Writing about our visit to Vienna in a few short paragraphs, especially about the experiences of 75 musicians, is an impossibility. Around us are centuries of history in the buildings, architecture, concert halls, theatres, opera houses, museums and parks, each of which deserves its own story. After a tour around and through the city, we stopped for a visit in Schonbrunn Palace, the “Little Versailles,” the home of the Hapsburg Dynasty. We visit only 20 of the 1441 rooms in the palace and each, again, has its own story. With all of this splendor around us, we know that in a few hours we will be the center of attention as we present our afternoon concert in the L’Orangerie, the former greenhouse, at the eastern end of the palace.

And again, the room we set for our concert has its own story. The concert hall at L’Orangerie is the site of the only recorded musical competition or “Wettstreit” between Viennese composers Mozart and Salieri. In early February 1786, the two composers set on opposite ends of the large building and presented, simultaneously, new works for Emperor Joseph II. On that occasion,  Salieri’s work was judged to be the better and had, as recorded by the critics, “deserved the acclaim.” “However,” they continued, “Mozart is for the ages.”

The Gustavus Wind Orchestra at Schonbrunn Palace, February 1, 2010

The Gustavus Wind Orchestra at Schonbrunn Palace, February 1, 2010

Early February 2010 is the Gustavus Wind Orchestra’s date with Viennese history. And even in Vienna, a city with centuries of musical history, a mid-afternoon concert by an American wind ensemble is a tough sell. Would we have an audience? Apprehension was high and the members of the GWO understood the challenge as they prepped for the concert. By 3:00, the concern was gone. By 3:05, the hall manager was delivering extra chars to add to the 300 already in place and the audience continued to arrive. It seems that this unusual American ensemble, a “wind orchestra,” had raised some interest. Knowing that the beneficiary of ticket sales was a Romanian orphanage further added to the interest. At 3:20, another 50 chairs arrived and the wall between the concert hall and the lobby was removed.

The Gustavus Wind Orchestra at L'Orangerie, Vienna, February 1, 2010

The Gustavus Wind Orchestra at L'Orangerie, Vienna, February 1, 2010

At 3:30 at L’Orangerie, the site where Mozart and Salieri competed at the request of Joseph II, the Gustavus Wind Orchestra took their places on the stage and opened the concert with Jim Stephenson’s AMERICAN FANFARE. The woman seated next to me jumped as the first chord sounded and she did not sit still for the next 75 minutes. She was quite short and had to stretch to see above the audience in front of her and she was stretching to see throughout the concert. She moved her hands as expressively as a conductor as she closed her eyes and moved with each dynamic and tempo change. She even seemed to be holding her breath with phrases as they grew and diminished. Like a child at Christmas, she couldn’t wait to applaud or, worse yet, wait for the next piece to begin. I found myself watching her as much as I was listening to the concert. She knew that I was with the orchestra and she was constantly giving me the universal sigh for “OK.” (Excerpts from L’Orangerie, Vienna)

After the concert, she stopped me to say that she had never heard such sounds from an orchestra before and she spread her hands apart to express the depth, not the volume, of the music. A friend sitting next to her said something in German. “She says ‘What a beautiful afternoon’ and I agree.” Then she smiled, patted my arm in a grandmotherly sort of way and left the hall.

Choreographer Martha Graham wrote that she believed that life was not defined by the number of breaths you take but rather by the number of moments that take your breath away. This was such a moment.

This is Vienna, the city of Mozart. A city that knows music. And it was a very beautiful afternoon.

 

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