Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Another one ticked off the list....

Having to stay over in a city away from home on a Friday night is normally a pain, but I have to say that there are a lot worse places to be stuck than Vienna. Last week it worked out that it would cost me - and ultimately my client - over £500 to fly to Vienna, conduct an in-depth interview, and fly back on the same day. Yet it would cost little more than half of that sum for me to stay over and come back Saturday - and that smaller cost included my hotel and breakfast. A no brainer really.

However, last Friday was a long day, but one of those really good ones that make this job worthwhile. A 4.45am alarm call for a 7.35am flight to Vienna is not my favourite way to start the day, but the sun was shining on the heart of the Hapsburg empire, and my visit to IBM on the banks of the Donnau Canal was fruitful.

By 4pm my work for the day was done and I could pack up the laptop and go out exploring. Baroque and Biedermeier architecture shone out all around me, the weather was warm and the cafes inviting - if expensive. I knew I was going to be on my own for the evening, and I speak next to no German, so wanted to find something to do that needed no language skills.

I knew the Vienna Philharmonic had one of their subscription concerts arranged, and wondered if that was an option. My knowledge of classical music is pretty much on a par with the German language, but luckily, the VP has a website in English. I checked it out. It stated that the Subscription season has a waiting list of 13 years for weekend concerts! But it also stated that there may be a few commission tickets available.

So, I wandered out of my hotel behind the wonderfully-named RatHaus, and wandered around the Ring to the VP's offices. I managed to snaffle the very last ticket available, for a mere 66 Euro.

Now that seemed a tad expensive to me, but there again I've never been to a top-notch classical concert in Vienna. I didn't realise that tickets are a little more prized than gold dust, and that Vienna takes its concert going very seriously indeed.

I stopped into a cafe for a beer and a platter to while away the time - and managed to end up with a beef sandwich having conspicuously fallen down on my restaurant German and vague waving at what the guys on the next table were enjoying... Still, it filled a gap, and I sauntered back to the concert hall in my nice Camel Active jacket, open necked shirt and jeans.

The Musikverein is a fantastic building, and the main 'Golden Hall' pictured above is stunning. I first got a taste for going to prestigious music venues when I had a solo writing trip to Berlin a few years ago, but this was something else.
I was the scruffiest person in the room. When Viennese society goes to town, they do it in style. Hair was teased within an inch of poodlehood; Prada mixed with Lagerfeld with Armani. I was definitely one of the younger members of the audience, most of whom appeared to have a close connection with the Hapsburg Court.
Wealth and standing were the order of the day. Little ostentation, but a definite feeling that the old wealth of the City, wealth that had survived and thrived through Vienna's turbulent mid 20th century flirtation with Nazism and subsequent Allied occupation, was out to have a good a refined and understated way.
Somehow it was ironic that the soloist for a first half of Beethoven was Yefim Bronfman, an acclaimed Jewish, Russian/Israeli soloist. I'm told the older generation of Viennese burghers still have little time for the Jews, but any anti semitism was swept aside for a while as this knowledgeable audience relaxed to the sweeps and swirls of a top orchestra supporting an artist on top of his game.
But the truest support of this audience was for the VP's conductor, the eminent and venerable Sir Charles Mackerras. While I'd vaguely heard of him, I knew almost nothing about this octogenarian. What I do know is that he still wields a mean baton, and even sitting down to conduct coaxes stellar performances from his players.
The second half of the performance moved a little further east with music from the Hungarian composer Kodaly and some of Mackerras' beloved Czech music, this time from Janacek.
Clearly the conductor felt on home ground here and the audience rose to his subtle treatment of the score.
Seven times they called him back at the end of the night - not bad for a bloke of 80-odd. It was only after getting back home that I realised how lucky I was to see a great orchestra in a superb venue led by one of the world's leading conductors. It's definitely another significant event to tick off my life list. More than that, I've been out and bought a couple of CDs as an evening in Vienna has opened up new composers for me to get to know.

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