They impart the sort of awe you would feel if the great-great-grandniece of Johannes Brahms came to town to give a piano recital, or if you toured the studio of a wise old violin maker whose line of instruction reached directly to Antonio Stradivari. In a word: transmission — a living link to the past, an unbroken inroad to a source of brilliance.
The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra (VPO) is widely regarded as the special custodian of the Austrian capital’s musical genius, and that birthright is no small mantle to bear. The A-list of composers who have lived and worked in Vienna includes Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Liszt, Brahms, Wagner, Mahler, the Strausses, and Schönberg. But the authority of the VPO is much more than a matter of geographic coincidence. The orchestra came to birth 172 years ago, when musicians from Vienna’s court opera began performing artistically worthy concerts of Beethoven’s and Mozart’s symphonic works. An independent philharmonic association was established, and to this day, the democratically operated VPO remains a private association of select musicians from the Vienna State Opera, completely free of state and corporate influence. Put simply, what was begun with civic pride, responsibility, and love has remained so. Beethoven’s preface to his Missa Solemnis, “From the heart, to the heart,” serves as the group’s guiding motto.
But the proof is in the sound, and you can hear the Viennese difference, in style and instrumentation. The orchestra utilizes special clarinets and bassoons, smaller-bore trumpets and trombones, and piston-valve horns, and the use of vibrato by wind instruments is governed by the Viennese style. The orchestra made its Santa Barbara debut three years ago under the baton of Semyon Bychkov, and on Wednesday at the Arlington Theatre, the VPO returns to town, led by Lorin Maazel, an American conductor who has stood before the orchestra for more than 50 years. Maazel was practically born with a baton in his hand. Son of musician-educators, the child prodigy first conducted at age 8, and three years later conducted the NBC Symphony Orchestra. VPO President Clemens Hellsberg kindly answered a few questions by email.
The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra made its Santa Barbara debut only three years ago. May I assume there is something especially alluring about a California tour to have brought you back so soon? We have the very best memories of our California tour in 2011 and are grateful to have been invited once again to perform in this great state.
Can you tell us something about the pairing of the two works on the program, Mahler’s Symphony No. 4, and Schubert’s “Unfinished”? The combination of compositions by Schubert and Mahler has proven itself time and time again and is appreciated by musicians and audiences alike as a typically Viennese program.
There have been attempts to complete Schubert’s Symphony No. 8., but efforts like this, it seems, are always controversial. I would imagine that the Vienna Philharmonic stays with the two completed movements? Of course, we perform the two-movement version. The symphony is not only one of the most important in music history, but also a poignant record of Schubert’s life. In this sense, it is a completed masterpiece.
Can you say something about the Orchestra’s relationship with soprano Juliane Banse, who will be singing “Das himmlische Leben” in the fourth movement of the Mahler? She gave her debut at the Vienna State Opera (where we perform in the pit as Vienna State Opera Orchestra) in 1993 as Pamina [in Mozart’s The Magic Flute], and she has performed at concerts with us for 20 years — beginning with concerts under Claudio Abbado [who passed away in January] until the recent ones under Franz Welser-Möst.
UCSB Arts & Lectures presents the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra at the Arlington Theatre (1317 State St.) on Wednesday, March 5, at 8 p.m. Call (805) 893-3535 or visit artsandlectures.sa.ucsb.edu for tickets and info.