Sunday, 1 July 2012

L’isola semi deserta: classical Vienna in July/August

In July and August the Wiener Philharmoniker and most of the Staatsoper decamp to Salzburg, the Wiener Symphoniker to Bregenz, and the Tonkünstler to Grafenegg. Because the collapse of the record industry has made them such paupers, the Wiener Philharmoniker have also taken to cruising around the Mediterranean in the time between Salzburg and close of season here (as the brochure earnestly assures us, ‘all cabins include an ever-ready Nespresso machine for those spontaneous coffee moments’, because after Dominique Meyer’s onboard lecture guests may well feel the need). Also out of town over the summer is Nikolaus Harnoncourt, whose annual Styriarte festival has already started in Graz, the corollary to which is that the residents of Vienna’s Piaristengasse may temporarily go about their daily lives in peace.

All this preamble is to say that with ensembles outside of the capital most of Vienna’s major musical institutions go dark over the summer, though pickings, however slim, remain. In town the biggest attraction is the Theater an der Wien, which resumes its usual summer schedule after last year’s renovations, and with, after all the money was on another FWM/Dominique Meyer Regie dust-up this season, Intendant Roland Geyer’s Hoffmann restaging (the problem with the original production being, as I wrote here, that Geyer had expected more depth from a Hollywood director). We shall see about this one! Geyer claims Hoffmann experience here but is untested as an opera director, and then there is the short notice factor. I have been shown the notorious ‘Geyer is a liar’ letter Friedkin circulated to some journalists at the time, which shows that Geyer had a few thoughts about the Konzept which Friedkin wasn’t open to and these minor differences escalated out of control in ways which a responsible Intendant shouldn’t have allowed. Friedkin’s tone is however quite petulant and very litigious, so I will stop there... Geyer’s ‘new production’ premieres on the 4th with Marlis Petersen in all four roles. Also premiering at the TadW over the summer, a new production of La donna del lago conducted by Leo Hussain and directed by Christoph Loy.

August and early September also give you the opportunity to hear members of one of the world’s finest contemporary music ensembles perform for free. The Klangforum Wien continue their summer residency at the charming Zacherlfabrik in Vienna’s 19th district with music by Klaus Lang, Georges Aperghis, Bernhard Gander, Johannes M. Staud, and a new work by Katharina Klement (on the 19th). On September 5th they repeat the Klement work, ‘einen Moment bitte’, which then, judging by the programme, will go on to have some afterlife as a sound installation with the not at all incongruous addition of a lecture by a Jesuit priest. Needless to say I love programmes like this. The Zacherlfabrik is on the Nußwaldgasse at the foot of Hohe Warte, so you can fit in the Beethoven/Heiligenstadt walking tour before the concert and take your pick of the local Heurige after. More information here

Staying with contemporary music, and Klaus Lang in particular, I have been going to as many events in this inaugural Sound Barrier festival over the last couple of days as time has permitted, which is, sadly to say, not too many. The venue isn’t in as leafy a suburb as the 19th, though it really is heartening to see a project like this going on in the 16th district and especially at the Brunnenpassage, as much a community space as an artistic one, and one which performs such a critical public outreach role during Wien Modern.

The TadW and Klangforum not enough? Schloss Grafenegg is located in wine country about an hour’s drive west of the capital and hosts events over the summer which fall into two tranches: the ‘Musik-Sommer’, already underway, and the ‘Musik-Festival’, which runs for around two weeks starting 23rd August. Programming for the Musik-Sommer mainly involves Lower Austria’s Tonkünstler orchestra and occupies popular classics territory, though even for the brilliant young Daniil Trifonov the open-air Wolkenturm remains too impoverished an acoustic proposition for me. Typically the more highbrow Musik-Festival takes place in the acceptable if rather bright-sounding Auditorium, but while writing this post it has been upsetting to learn that this space will barely be used this year. I could have sworn when I ordered Thielemann/Bruckner 7 tickets the venue was listed as the Auditorium. We can only hope for rain. Anyway, James Macmillan is composer-in-residence and seems to have made more of an impact on programming than Nali Gruber did last year; the steady stream of visiting orchestras includes Oslo, LPO, Rotterdam, Cleveland, Gewandhaus, LSO, and the abovementioned Sächsische Staatskapelle. If you are staying in Vienna, be aware that the only ways to get back to the city after the concert are by car or the €12 Musikverein-Grafenegg return bus. Places on the bus have been known to sell out so do book this at the same time as your concert ticket. [Update: a reader emails to claim that the number of coaches matches demand. Yes and no. Book in advance and Grafenegg will adjust to meet demand, but the cut-off is ten days before the concert. After that you are at the mercy of remaining availability and some people I know got caught out last year. Also, those booking cheap tickets for the Wolkenturm might want to check out the none-too-friendly T&Cs (in German and English) for bad weather conditions HERE and think twice about booking anything below Category 6. Cat 6 in the auditorium is scraping the ceiling but I’m informed that for the price it’s a good deal with decent sight lines and sound.]

Even closer to Vienna is the Aron Quartett’s annual chamber music festival at the moated Schloss Laudon, a place you may recognize from TV as the venue for those contrived Romeo and Juliet-style ballet sequences broadcast during the New Year’s Day concert. There is, as always, a strong vertriebene/vergessene Musik focus (programmes here), but I find the tickets pricey (€38 or €35 for students) in view of how much sponsorship and public subsidy the series attracts.

Classical Vienna may take a breather over the summer but this blog won’t: I will be writing about some of the events listed here, and Salzburg and Bayreuth too. Any readers or fellow bloggers who are around and want to meet up in these places, just drop me a line.


  1. "Nikolaus Harnoncourt, whose annual Styriarte festival has already started in Graz, the corollary to which is that the residents of Vienna’s Piaristengasse may temporarily go about their daily lives in peace."
    What's this??? Harnoncourt bashing, once more?

    1. No, not bashing, just you in an irony-free zone. I am not the first to observe that Harnoncourt is one of Josefstadt's more 'colourful' residents...

    2. irony-free? I hope I do understand irony ;-)
      But where is the irony if you imply that someone's presence disturbs the peace of a neighbourhood?
      Does he do percussion sessions?
      (And isn't his main residence in the countryside, anyway -- St.Gilgen, I believe?)

    3. Well, Adel and multiple homes go hand in hand... Incidentally, nobody objects to his presence in Josefstadt but rather his antics, and as one of my closest friends in Vienna has her apartment directly under his I hear about most of these. Perhap some would find them charming, but the way they get related to me he sounds like the neighbour from hell.

    4. Adel and multiple homes?
      You certainly know that everything he may own now has nothing to do with his "Adel".

  2. Friedkin vs. Geyer: Two sides with different views.
    It depends whom you believe.
    You seem to take the side of Friedkin, but the truth may be in the middle ...

    1. I never said that Friedkin was blameless and that letter really was something. But the buck stops with the Intendant, who handled this very inelegantly and is now making his directorial debut under the riskiest of circumstances. That Kurier interview was basically him dodging questions about his hubris and that is the impression he has managed to establish of his actions, regardless of where the truth may lie. Of course if the risk pays off then good for him...

      I might also add here that the Kammeroper was not a fait accompli handed to Geyer by the officials of MA7, as has been suggested in a few places.

    2. @Kammeroper: I do not know about the options, but obviously something had to be changed after the ministry stopped to pay.

    3. Yes, the subsidy needed to be renegotiated. Not the management hounded out.