What a difference a day makes!
Last night the Boston Symphony performed at the Gasteig Hall in Munich. The acoustics there can be described as…existent. After a concert Leonard Bernstein conducted there in 1986, he was asked about the newly opened hall. His two-word opinion: “Burn it!” I wouldn’t go that far, but would say that a city as beautiful as Munich deserves a commensurately fine concert hall.
Fast-forward 24 hours and the BSO’s performance of the same program at the Musikverein in Vienna.
This hall, along with the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, is the Mecca of European concert halls. Add Symphony Hall in Boston and Carnegie in New York, and you have the four greatest venerable concert halls in the world.Not only is the Musikverein renowned for its rich acoustics and visual beauty. As home of the Vienna Philharmonic, it was where compositions by Brahms, Bruckner, and Tchaikovsky were premiered in the 1800s. Any musician who sets foot on its stage feels an extra layer of inspiration. You can feel the history, and almost have the sense of needing to do your best so you don’t let Brahms down. Until last night, we hadn’t performed at the Musikverein for eighteen years, so for many BSO members it was their first performance, and no doubt will be something they’ll remember for a long time.
Tomorrow night we’re bringing the coals to Newcastle by playing a Mahler symphony (the ninth) in Vienna. It takes a little chutzpah to do this, because the Viennese have a high opinion about their own opinion of anything Viennese. But the BSO is a very confident gang, so it’ll be very interesting to see what the response will be.
Another eyebrow-raising programing decision ended tonight’s concert: Ravel’s “La Valse.” For those who don’t know it, La Valse is an absolute masterpiece of orchestration virtuosity. What makes it a little edgy for Viennese audiences is that it’s an overt, explicit metaphor for the decadence and decline of Austrian society from the mid-19th century until the time Ravel composed it in post-World War I 1920.
The piece starts out with a throbbing heart beat and little by little this parody of a Johann Strauss waltz starts to spurt blood through its glossy surface as the waltz grows into monstrous proportions. A tough sell in Vienna, I think! Someone reported there was one “Boo!” [uncorroborated] but overall the audience responded as enthusiastically as they did to the rest of the program, which included music by the Hamlet Suite by Shostakovich, Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky numbers sung beautifully by soprano Kristine Opolais, and Debussy’s “La Mer.” Clearly there was no doubt the Viennese audience enjoyed the concert as they called for an encore, and the orchestra happily obliged.
After the concert, there was a fine reception for the orchestra hosted by the BSO management at the Ritz Carlton. Good food, good drink, and even the speeches were good! Representatives of management, the board, and the musicians had only the kindest words to say about each other, and the good part was, it really sounded like they meant it! The final speech was by Maestro Nelsons, who, even if he wasn’t such a distinguished conductor, has clearly won the support of the orchestra simply by his extraordinary level of empathy for the musicians and the organization.
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