The Vienna Philharmonic, currently in residence at the Salzburg Festival, nipped over to the nearby town of Seekirchen for a quick footie match on Saturday.
The Philharmonischer Fußballclub Wien trounced their rivals 9-3, raising €333 for charity in the process. After tooting their victory horns, they were back in the Grosses Festspielhaus for a 7.30 start of La bohème.
"We are probably not the Facebook generation", said CEO Dieter Flury in a joint interview with Chairman Clemens Hellsberg. They don't know who runs the Facebook account in the 171 year old Wiener Philharmoniker's name - and they don't care. The imposter can rest safe that the Philharmonic don't intend to take legal action.
Nor will the official Wieners offer any competition. Some of London's orchestras and opera houses now employ more digital media staff than bassoonists, but the trend is unlikely to spread to Vienna, where no Facebook or other social network presence is currently planned.
Most orchestras allow 'the ladies' to wear whatever they like - as long as its black. The results vary, with the stylish likes of the LSO's Maxine Kwok-Adams sadly a minority in a sea of faded T-shirts and nylon slacks.
The Vienna Philharmonic on the other hand has long restricted its female members to simple black trouser suits with matching black tops and patent shoes.
Now they're going one step further with the introduction of a smart new ladies-only uniform created by Vienna fashion student Markus Binder, who won a competition to design it. The brief - homogenous and functional. Echoing the suit worn by the men, the design incorporates a curvy black jacket, pinstripe pants, a grey cutaway waistcoat and crisp white shirt. Hardly killer chic, but coming from a 150 year old organisation which only admitted women for the first time in 1997 maybe that's not so surprising.
Vienna Philharmonic / Thielemann - Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, Paris, 16 November 2009
An all-Beethoven programme may sound like the most conventional scheduling ever. But in London, the fear of being labelled anything less than cutting-edge means it's the last thing you're likely to hear.
No such reservations for the Wiener Philharmoniker, who are taking a whole series of Beethoven concerts around Europe with Christian Thielemann over the next few months, culminating in a back-to-back cycle at Berlin's Philharmonie next December. Mit CD/DVD tie-in (alleged production cost - $1m) natürlich. Sadly London is not included on this particular tour - the ineradicable Lorin Maazel will, yet again, prepare our annual helping of Wiener.
All the better for Christian Thielemann, a Beethoven specialist and famously resistant to the lure of the new. Thielemann is on something of a high at the moment in the German media. Recently voted Germany's most popular conductor by a mile in a newspaper poll (though he'd probably pwn the least popular title too), he's also just been appointed next chief conductor of the Dresden Staatskapelle and, something of a coup, has snatched a coveted Xmas TV concert slot from the mitts of Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic. All this is big stuff in Germany, a country that actually cares who runs its orchestras and how.
The artistic understanding between Thielemann and the Wieners is evident not just from the musicians' total attentiveness (and a few doggily adoring glances). Thielemann spins the music out in long, polished phrases, sculpting each section with dramatic shifts in tempo and dynamic. The orchestra breathe with him, the rapport is absolute. Each idea emerges with utter clarity.
From their London performances it can hard to fathom why the Vienna Philharmonic are often called the world's greatest orchestra, but on this showing they exceeded any reasonable expectation. Thielemann bounded on with a hypercaffeinated energy that he maintained from the con brio first movement of the 8th right to the end of the night. The one-bar jokes of the Scherzando second movement were actually funny, and the contrapuntal brilliance of the third was captured in perfectly balanced crystalline layers, in exquisite contrast to the luxurious sonic carpet the Wieners rolled out for the last movement.
The 7th became a roller coaster ride, a gem of immaculately juxtaposed contrasts. From an introductory adagio so molto it nearly ground to a halt, Thielemann launched the vivace theme of the 7th's first movement at an exhilarating pace. The second, 'slow' movement is actually marked allegretto, and that's exactly what we got, not the usual funereal trudge but something curiously evocative of a cha-cha. And it ended with a wildly driven dance - Wagner's famous words incarnated.
Among the violinists at the 7th's first performance was Ludwig Spohr, who noted of Beethoven's conducting style, "As a sforzando occurred, he tore his arms, previously crossed upon his breast, with great vehemence asunder. At piano he crouched down lower and lower to show the degree of softness. If a crescendo entered he gradually rose again and at a forte jumped into the air." Thielemann would be the last to follow the emaciated 'historically-informed' school, but I did wonder if Spohr's well-known words influenced Thielemann's gymnastic gesticulations on the podium, at variance with his usual Thunderbird puppet style. Whatever it was, it worked.
Prom 74: Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra / Mehta - Royal Albert Hall, 11 September 2009
There's no doubt that the Vienna Philharmonic are one of the world's greatest orchestras, but that's no guarantee of a spectacular performance every time. Their reputation rests on their celebrated musical skills, which are of course beyond question. The problem, according to Vienna State Opera boss Ioan Holender, is their less widely-discussed venality and sheer bloody-mindedness, landing them with a workload incompatible with consistently high standards. Add a conductor roster that mixes the genuine greats with the mere box office draws, and it becomes clearer why they don't always deliver the goods.
Their last Proms appearances, a couple of years ago with Daniel Barenboim, were a highlight (perhaps the highlight) of the season. This performance didn't come close. The swooning elegance of the opener, Webern's early Passacaglia, promised a vintage night. But Zubin Mehta, conducting without a score, couldn't capture an ounce of the wit in Richard Strauss's Don Quixote, and Brahms's Fourth was fleet but perfunctory. Sure, the playing was refined to a fault, exquisitely balanced, the strings polished to an unmistakable and luxurious sheen, but it had the personality and immediacy of a pre-recorded announcement.
Only the encores, Hellmesberger and Strauss polkas, showed the orchestra at something close to their sparkling best. Hair was down, autopilot was off, and for a few minutes you could think you were listening to the best orchestra in the world.
Summer is nearly over, and at last the concert calendar is filling up.
Proms and alternatives The Proms seem to have gone on forever, but it'll all be over for another year on 12 September.
Remaining highlights include Mariss Jansons with the Concertgebouw, Riccardo Chailly with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, and the Vienna Philharmonic with Zubin Mehta and Franz Welser-Möst (replacing the scheduled Harnoncourt).
On 4 September there's an unmissable double header - first Matthias Goerne and the Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester in Mahler, Ligeti, Schoenberg and Strauss, then a late-night George Crumb special.
Incidentally, operatic highlights for the 2010 Proms - you heard it here first - are expected to include Die Meistersinger with Bryn Terfel, Glyndebourne's Don Giovanni, and a substantial chunk of Tristan und Isolde from the Orchestra of the 18th Century with Ben Heppner.
If you want to skip the ghastliness of the last night - something I cannot recommend too highly - alternatives include the Wigmore Hall season opener which is Die schöne Müllerin from Mark Padmore and Paul Lewis.
Or there's a FREE screening of the 1929 silent movie Piccadilly on an outside wall (don't blame me if it rains) of the Royal Festival Hall accompanied by a new score from composers Suki Mok and Ruth Chan. Following the screening, the score "will become the lynchpin of a cross-artform work incorporating dance, drama and video against a backdrop of the original silent movie".
Opera The Royal Opera House season opens on 7 September with two concert performances of Donizetti's Linda di Chamounix conducted by Mark Elder and featuring Alessandro Corbelli alongside the hotly-tipped Eglise Gutiérrez and Stephen Costello.
Don Carlo has started rehearsals and promises to turn out even better than first time round. Semyon Bychkov conducts, Jonas Kaufmann is in the title role, and the rest of the cast is much the same as it was first time round, with Marina Poplavskaya, Simon Keenlyside and Ferruccio Furlanetto reprising his definitive Philip.
Don't expect much on stage except the singers in born-again minimalist Christof Loy's new production of Tristan und Isolde. Tristan is Ben Heppner and Isolde Nina Stemme, with Matti Salminen, Michael Volle and Sophie Koch completing the cast. Pappano conducts.
English National Opera's season opens with the much-travelled, highly-praised production of Ligeti's Le Grand Macabre by La Fura dels Baus.
The Arcola Theatre's variable but occasionally brilliant (and cheap) Grimeborn opera festival continues until 5 September. Handel, Poulenc and Mozart are included amongst the mostly contemporary works.
There's an opportunity to hear Rossini's rarely-performed Il Signor Bruschino and La Scala di Seta as well as The Rake's Progress from British Youth Opera between 4 and 12 September.
In a combative interview with Gilbert Kaplan of WNYC, he details his problems with the legendarily-bolshy Vienna Philharmonic (also the opera's house orchestra). They don't listen to him, they don't listen to the conductors, and all they want is more dosh.
The pre-recorded interview is due for broadcast tomorrow 5 April - more details and a full transcript here.
Some choice extracts:
"I had a lot of discussions with Simon Rattle when he came to conduct Parsifal, and he comes now back next season with Tristan. And I try to say without any success, to members of the orchestra, “We don’t like how this man is conducting Salome. This is not our style.” And I say to them, “You have to play as he conducts, if you like it or you don’t like it. You must give the respect to the conductor to play his interpretation. And, not he has to conduct as you like it.” This is a fundamental thing, by the way, by this orchestra. And this, I go, but this is the biggest problem what we have, and I told to Welser-Möst and Dominique Meyer if they don’t resolve this problem, it wouldn’t work out. Because today you cannot make music so, they know it, I know it, let’s go ahead with it. The time is over with this. An orchestra must try to play as the conductor is conducting. These nice jokes from Vienna, “What the man conducted yesterday?” And the answer is, “I don’t know what he conducted, we played Beethoven’s Fidelio.” "
"They wrote an agreement from 1952 - are ten Philharmonic concerts, and somebody changed ten with a pencil with 12. That’s all. Today, we don’t pass one day that they are not playing somewhere, something - in Vienna, as you say, or out of Vienna. The record time is dead for the moment or for the moment also for the future years surely. The records - what they did was - in Vienna, done in Vienna in the afternoon, and they didn’t have to leave the town. The world is full of money today, much more as it ever was, and all the cities can pay everybody. This is the biggest problem from the interpretive arts. Caruso sang at the Metropolitan. In his life, he sang two performances at the Vienna State Opera; he sang for La Scala, but he didn’t go all over the world. Today, from Abu Dhabi and Dubai, to India and to China, and to Japan, not only Tokyo, and, and, and, and they want the best of the best. All the world can pay the best of the best, The Vienna Philharmonic is the best of the best, so they go also to Australia, and they are more away than here."
"As more they do there, as less they are here, the more tired they are, is less times they have to study, to read, to prepare themselves. That’s how they make chamber music, which is very important. Then they teach, which is very important. Now they have a fantastic contract with Rolex, but for this fantastic contract they get a lot of money, but for a lot of money they have to do also something. The Musikverein is the best concert hall for Vienna, as you know they cancelled now five concerts in the Musikverein, to do it somewhere else, where there is more money. And newspapers write about this as the situation is really very, very, very bad."
"I regret that I couldn’t resolve, really deeply all the problems with the orchestra about what we spoke."
On 18 December, the mighty Alfred Brendel gave the last concert of his farewell tour, and the very last of his career. The venue was Vienna's Musikverein, chosen I suspect not because the longstanding British resident wanted to return to his own homeland, but because that's where the music was born. Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, the classical titans who form the backbone of Brendel's repertoire, are all indelibly connected with Vienna. And for Brendel, the music is always greater than the man.
I couldn't be there - not for want of trying. Apart from Alfred Brendel's own guests, the audience was packed with journalists and Austrian politicians. Even longstanding Musikverein patrons had to fight for seats. Truly the hottest ticket in town.
Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger managed to snaffle a seat - here is his report. And for German readers, there's a more detailed one from Wolfgang Sandner for FAZ, here (imagine living in a country where a critic can drop a term like 'tonic-dominant relationship' into a mainstream newspaper and expect readers to get it. Sigh.)
Channel 4 News ran a little feature on the concert - below find a video profile of Alfred Brendel and a chat with lucky spectator Alan Rusbridger (try here if the videos don't work for you). More photos below as well.
For anyone wanting to find out more about Alfred Brendel's approach, or just about playing the piano generally, I cannot recommend highly enough his essay collection Alfred Brendel On Music.
The Austrian Mint started making pure gold Wiener Philharmoniker coins in 1989. They're not just a collector item. In a country which favours hard cash (some supermarkets still don't accept credit cards), bank windows can advertise the Wienergold in place of the baffling array of 'products' the UK banks are so keen to flog. The sales pitch? Gold ist sicher (Gold is safe).
Angela Hewitt - Cadogan Hall, 3 September 2007 and Prom 66: Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Barenboim - Royal Albert Hall, 3 September 2007 and Prom 68: Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Barenboim - Royal Albert Hall, 4 September 2007
The refinement of Angela Hewitt's playing was matched by her frock choice for this lunchtime recital, a slinky teal jersey sleeveless gown and pants paired with teetering stilettos in matching satin (a risky choice for an hour at the piano?). But as it turned out she pedalled minimally, allowing the bright, pinging tone of her Fazioli piano to illuminate her midday programme, which sandwiched a couple of Scarlatti sonatas between two Bach Partitas.
She characterised each dance in the opening Partita no 1 with a clarity and delicacy that flowed through the whole programme. A little hesitancy and some uncharacteristic fluffs in this opener weren't repeated in the closing Bach Partita no 4, each phrase shaped with complete focus and attention.
Although Domenico Scarlatti was a contemporary of Bach, the two sonatas performed, K9 and K29, sound as if they come from another century, even another planet. Their sparky playfulness and invention provided just the right amount of contrast with the Bach.
Unfortunately, the BBC radio recording destroys the delicacy and intimacy of Hewitt's performance with a cavernous quality that wasn't at all apparent at the recital. But if you're curious about what a piano might sound like at the bottom of a well, it's worth a couple of minutes attention.
They opened with Schubert's light and Mozartean fifth Symphony, composed when he was just 19. Finessing that tricky blend of assurance and freshness, the Vienna Phil gave the most charming and delightful performance.
Having no doubt drilled these consummate musicians to perfection in rehearsal, Barenboim simply waved his arms in the air now and again as if he was waiting for his deodorant to dry.
The main course of the evening was Bruckner's Symphony no 4, which according to the programme was performed in the original 1874 version. I didn't notice any differences from the more usually played 1880 version so I'm a bit baffled by this.
Anyway, who cares, it was a marvel from start to finish. Barenboim's conception had the air of confidence - no muddle and no theatrics. From the moment the horns reached out over the rippling strings in the opening bars through to the blazing finale there was not a second's drop in concentration. The burnished sweep of the string section was the foundation for some immaculate and inspired playing from the wind and brass as they shaped the long melodic phrases.
It really is impossible to pick out any one of the finely-crafted moments or any musician for special praise. Sometimes a great performance seems to be constructed in front of you from the base up - this one felt as if it had been born perfect, fully-formed, and simply unveiled to us slowly, second by second.
The tube strike finally managed to get its claws into the Proms with the Vienna Phil's second and final Prom the next day. There were great toothless gaps in the stalls seats, and even the arena could have squeezed a few more standing customers in.
It would have been unreasonable to expect anything of the intensity of the previous day's Bruckner, and indeed this was a much more relaxed affair.
If the previous night had focused on architecture and construction, this one was about painting. The huge textural differences between each of its four sections were what really leapt out from a surprisingly abrasive take on Bartók's Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta. Ligeti's brief Atmosphères was similarly rough-hewn, its curious shapes grinding up against each other.
The other two pieces, Kodály's Dances from Galánta and Enescu's Romanian Rhapsody No. 1 were delivered immaculately, and with tremendous verve. But despite their common Central European ancestry, their dancing rhythms seemed to belong on a different programme from the Bartók and Ligeti. Then again, perhaps that was the point.
The almost inevitable thundering ovation drew a couple of lively Strauss encores - the Vienna Phil as comfortable with these as with everything else they'd played.