When you mention Vienna to people, it is often a combination of the music and the image of fabulously dressed people waltzing in 18th century ballrooms that comes to mind for many. Knowing that Vienna was a major stop on our cruise, I myself had conjured up visions of glorious palaces like the one below where evenings captured in the painting beside it had surely taken place with great regularity during the time of Mozart and Strauss.
So, imagine our surprise when just past 5:30 in the evening on Friday July 5th, the Viking Lif began to slow on our approach to Vienna, and what you see below, was our first impression of the city.
I had such a romantic image of Vienna in my mind, that I think I was expecting something more along the lines of Budapest, rather than this modern skyline with high-in-the sky communications towers and funky-shaped modern buildings. This is not the Vienna I was expecting.
That said, Mary and I were extremely excited about the evening ahead of us, as we had pre-booked an excursion to attend a concert put on by the Vienna Residence Orchestra. We had a quick dinner on board the ship and then got ready for a 7:30 motor-coach ride that would take us along Vienna’s famed Ringstrasse and deliver us for an evening concert featuring some of the best known compositions of Mozart & Strauss.
I opted to not take photographs from inside the coach, and instead sat back and watched as the Vienna I had expected (and hoped) to see, began to present itself. The drive along the aforementioned Ringstrasse was remarkable, as we passed by glittering palaces (they really were glittering), elegant public buildings, and truly grand private residences. This was the romantic Vienna I was expecting and knowing that we were going to tour this area again the next day (Saturday the 6th), I smiled at the thought of how much fun that was going to be.
Before I knew it, we were pulling up in front of the Wiener Konzerthaus and I’ve included this stock picture (below) to show you what a magnificent building it was in its own right.
The Konzerthaus was inaugurated on 19 October 1913 with a festive concert attended by Emperor Franz Joseph I. After World War II, the Konzerthaus played an important role in reviving and renewing Austrian musical life and we felt most fortunate to be attending a private concert in the Schubert-Saal (Schubert Hall), one of five halls within this beautiful facility.
With just 320 seats, the Schubert-Saal is uniquely designed for chamber-music concerts, and being a classically-trained pianist (many years of Royal Conservatory lessons) I was as giddy as a child as we waited for the music to begin. At precisely 8:30, the house lights began to dim, and the musicians began to enter the hall.
I was quite taken by how young they appeared to be, but make no mistake, from the moment they started playing, it was clear they were world-class musicians. The conductor made a few opening remarks and then the Orchestra began to play the opening notes from Eine kleine Nachtmusik (if the name doesn’t mean anything to you, google it, listen and I’m sure you’ll instantly recognize it). The hair stood up on the back of my neck, I got goosebumps and I felt tears welling up – a series of emotional responses I was to have several times over the next hour.
After the first two compositions, we had our first surprise of the evening. The orchestra was joined on stage by a male tenor (he was excellent) for the first of several operatic numbers that would be interspersed throughout the concert.
He performed one piece with the orchestra, then they continued on with two more selections from Mozart.
We had our second surprise of the evening when the orchestra was joined onstage by a male dancer and a ballerina. They were to appear together three different times throughout the evening. They were excellent in their own right, and working in such tight quarters, I was really impressed.
As the evening wore on, we were introduced to a female soprano who was absolutely fabulous, and very charismatic. She and the male tenor we met at the beginning of the night went on to perform two duets during the course of the concert.
There were also several lighthearted moments throughout the evening involving various members of the orchestra, and one absolutely remarkable clarinet solo from the conductor himself.
The final piece of the evening was Johann Strauss Sr’s composition – the Radecki March. It was a piece that Strauss wrote and dedicated to Field Marshall Joseph Radetzky von Radatz, and it was first performed in Vienna on August 31st, 1848. It soon became quite popular among regimented marching soldiers who clapped and stomped their feet whenever it was played. This tradition, with quiet rhythmic clapping on the first iteration of the melody, followed by thunderous clapping on the second, is kept alive today by audience members. Tonight, we kept that tradition going much to the delight of everyone in the audience.
For me, the evening ended all too soon, and Mary and I couldn’t stop talking about it all the way back to the ship (she’s a classical music lover too, as well as someone who absolutely adores the ballet). Attending a concert like this in Vienna, and listening to some of the most famous and beloved Mozart and Strauss pieces played by a world-class orchestra, was something I will never forget.
Best of all, it delivered a large helping of the Vienna I had been expecting. An entire day in Vienna was on the agenda for Saturday (the next day), and it couldn’t come soon enough for me.