VIENNA, AUSTRIA — The Musikverein wasn’t everything Danny Jin expected. It was better.
Jin, 24, was appointed assistant principal of second violin of the Chicago Symphony by the retired music director. Riccardo Muti Fresh out of undergrad. He had previously performed in Vienna with the Curtis Institute of Music orchestra. But never here, in the holiest hall of classical music. He says his voice is something he will never forget.
“The first thing that came to me was the ringtone. Maestro (Muti) has mentioned before that goals should always be on the more rounded side. You don’t need to be overly direct or aggressive like you have to be in some theaters,” Jin told the Tribune after a rehearsal at the theater on Jan. 22. “It’s like playing a very expensive instrument.”
Whether a debutant like Jin or a seasoned orchestra member, returning to the Vienna Musikverein, home of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and where it has premiered countless now-canonical works, is a guaranteed high point in the CSO’s European tours. Their visits on Jan. 22 and 23 felt even more miraculous a few years after COVID quieted the performing arts world. The NGO has not traveled to Europe since January 2020; In the uncertain seasons following the pandemic shutdown, the orchestra focused on touring North America.
On the NGO’s current European tour, it appears the powers that be are keen to make up for lost time. The orchestra is scheduled to perform 14 concerts in 11 cities and seven countries between January 11 and 29; This is the busiest tour in recent history. Her 1998 European tour Former music director Daniel Barenboim is in second place, having given 13 concerts in eight cities over 17 days.
For Muti, the Musikverein is nothing more than a second home. Since 2011 he is an honorary member of the famous organization Gesellschaft für Musikfreunde, which owns and operates the Musikverein building. The CSO’s most recent touring performances marked its 200th performance at home since its 1973 debut.
Muti returns in May to lead the bicentennial performance of Beethoven’s Ninth at the invitation of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. If there is a greater honor in classical music, it is difficult to find. At both Musikverein concerts with the CSO, Muti was greeted like a matinee idol, the crowd applauding loudly every time he returned to the stage to take a bow.
Small world coincidences are almost inevitable in the music city of Vienna. On January 23, the four CSO series will perform Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 1 in the former Lobkowitz Palace. He gave a performance of 4 open only to patrons. The cozy, opulent Baroque room was the site of the premiere of a score by the same composer: a small poem we call the “Eroica” symphony.
The day before, Marin Alsop, who led the CSO’s summer residencies at Ravinia, surprised the musicians by attending their rehearsal and performance on January 22. He was in Vienna to conduct the production of Bernstein’s “Candide” at the Theater an der Wien and to conduct his own Musikverein program on January 24 with the Vienna Radio Symphony, of which he is the principal conductor.
The CSO’s tour repertoire, derived from the programs of the last two and a half seasons, is as challenging as its program. On any given evening, the orchestra will perform Philip Glass’s “Triumph of the Sequoia,” Florence Price’s Symphony No. 3, Mendelssohn’s “Italian” Symphony No. 4, Richard Strauss’ “Aus Italien,” Igor Stravinsky’s “Firebird” suite, Sergei Prokofiev’s 5th Symphony and Anatoly Liadov’s “The Enchanted Lake,” as well as a one-off Brahms 2. Pek in Frankfurt. Many concerts also featured one of two encores as bookends: the Intermezzo from “Manon Lescaut” commemorating the 100th anniversary of Puccini’s death and Verdi’s “Giovanna d’Arco” and the national anthems of the host countries.
It would have been unimaginable that both the Glass commission and the Price symphony would enter the tour list and have their Musikverein premieres as soon as the last tour. Many of those who attended the January 22 and 23 concerts were old enough to remember that Glass’s music was booed in much less prestigious halls, and that Price had difficulty getting his scores in front of professional orchestras after the CSO premiered his first symphony in 1933. The music of both composers became one of the biggest turning points of his final chapter in Chicago.
“Obviously these pieces mean a lot to Maestro Muti. But it is extremely important for us as Americans to represent our country’s great composers,” said principal clarinetist Stephen Williamson. “I never knew Florence Price. “I am so grateful that recent movements have opened our eyes and ears to some of these incredible composers who have not been given the opportunities they deserve.”
During the CSO’s two appearances at the Musikverein, the subtle dynamic effects of Glass’s “Triumph” outperformed Price’s intense symphonic writing in the hall’s acoustics; There is nothing to say about its more stable performance. Pianos were ruined; castles were swallowed. That could go double for the wheezy Prokofiev 5 on January 23. Overcoming lackluster pilot performances in the CSO’s hometown, “Aus Italien” and “Firebird” crystallized beautifully in the Vienna performances, crowning the orchestra’s two-day stay.
No matter how fast the clip is, The NGO cannot escape all the dangers of life on the road. Williamson, who recently returned to the stage after quadruple bypass surgery in September, and principal bassoonist Keith Buncke fell ill during the orchestra’s stay in Vienna. While they stayed behind to recuperate, their CSO colleagues (clarinetist John Bruce Yeh and bassoonist William Buchman) and guest musicians from the Vienna Philharmonic (clarinetist Matthias Schorn and contrabassoonist Benedikt Dinkhauser) effectively filled out the Vienna and Budapest concerts.
In case of illness or other unexpected problems, Guido Frackers is on musicians’ speed dial. Dutch-born and California-based Frackers, TravToursA travel management consultancy specializing in symphony orchestra tours. CSO was TravTours’ first music customer in 1976. Currently, the company works with nearly 20 American ensembles, including the Boston Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony, and Los Angeles Philharmonic.
“There are five of us in the team: two of us keep the hotels moving forward, one of us looks after the team and their linguistic and practical needs, and two of us travel with the orchestra every day,” Frackers said. “From left to right, top to bottom, everyone is going to need something at some point. My phone number is on every orange tour tag and that phone can ring 24 hours a day.”
between the arrival Failures in climate justiceSustainability in Europe’s fine arts field, long prevalent in the United States, is becoming an increasingly urgent logistical consideration, Frackers and an NGO spokesman said. For now, these conversations are happening mostly behind the scenes: The collective bargaining agreements of most orchestras, including those of NGOs, limit how many hours a day can be devoted to travel, sometimes ruling out more climate-friendly options like buses or trains. If public transportation is not possible between cities, the orchestra must rent its own transportation, which means a serious additional cost.
“I think we need to take a hard look at ourselves and renegotiate our terms for the future of work. What are we willing to accept?” Frackers said. “Obviously there needs to be a balance because artistic integrity needs to be guaranteed. After leaving the hotel at six yesterday morning, I spoke to a colleague whose orchestra was coming to Vienna. They played a concert an hour outside of Vienna and the next morning jumped on a train in Poland to play another concert. “This is not a way in which artistic integrity can be guaranteed.”
With so many variables, one very welcome constant: Unlike the United States, where participation in the performing arts is still weak, NGO saw enthusiastic ticket sales at each of its tour stops. It was presented to a wide audience not only in Vienna, but also in Brussels, Paris, Essen, Luxembourg and Budapest in January.
William Garfield Walker was among those who filled the Musikverein. Listening to the CSO on both January 22 and 23 was a big throwback for the American-born chef. Walker attended Roosevelt University’s Chicago College of Performing Arts, where he studied with CSO cellist Richard Hirschl.
Today Walker lives and works in Vienna; Austrian premiere Price’s music – “Adoration” for string orchestra – in July 2020. He pointed out the importance of bringing a symphony by Price, which has long been ignored by the classical music community, to the most legendary venue of classical music.
“The Chicago Symphony premiered his music. That’s why it’s so special to hear them play here,” Walker said.
Price was a new name for Viennese Florian Karner, who attended both concerts.
“I met him while I was getting ready for the concert,” he told the Tribune after the Jan. 23 performance. “What an amazing life… It’s a little sad that he didn’t get the recognition he truly deserved throughout his life. And by sheer luck (most of it) was found at his summer home (in 2009, in St. Anne, Illinois) – otherwise perhaps it would have been all but forgotten.
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Although it was not Karner’s first experience at the Musikverein, it was also his first time hearing the NGO live. His father, Dietrich Karner, is honorary president of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde. He said the elder Karner and Muti made dinner plans together after the concert to welcome the honorary son of Vienna back home.
“(The orchestra) is distinctly American in sound. Yesterday was really interesting; It almost sounded jazzy at one point,” Karner said. “I can’t wait to hear them again.”
This is the first of two stories covering the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s 2024 European concert tour. Coming soon, a report from music director emeritus Riccardo Muti’s homecoming at La Scala in Milan, Italy.
Hannah Edgar is a freelance critic.
The Rubin Institute of Music Criticism helps fund our classical music coverage. The Chicago Tribune retains editorial control over assignments and content.