Last night was the first concert of the PSO’s weeklong residency at the Musikverein in Vienna. The Musikverein is truly one of the great concert halls in the world, and it is a privilege to be able to perform there.
I had been in the Golden Hall of the Musikverein before, but last night was the first time I performed there. It was exhilarating.
You may have seen the Golden Hall of the Musikverein if you have ever watched the famous New Year’s Eve concerts of the Vienna Philharmonic. The hall is beautiful. It is painted throughout in gold. Beautiful paintings adorn the ceiling, from which brilliant chandeliers hang. Golden statues of guard the doors on the orchestra level. The stage rises in tiers to the organ at the back of the hall.
The Musikverein however is not a big hall. It seats 1744 people, plus up to 300 standing room. Real estate on the stage itself is quite cramped. Each tier is quite thin. The bottom level only really has room for the 1st violins on the left and the 2nd violins on the right. Normally when there is a piano concerto, the piano is placed in front of the conductor and orchestra, but as you can see from the picture below, in the Musikverein, the piano is precisely in the middle, no farther out than the violins.
Every piece of space onstage is used. I was surprised at rehearsal to look out and see a cellist in the back sitting next to a horn player, and a violist practically in the trumpet section. I have never been just a few feet away from the flute section onstage. As concertmaster, eye contact and visual communication with different sections and principals is crucial during performance. So during rehearsal I was looking around the orchestra, locating my colleagues so I would feel comfortable in performance.
Much of the rehearsal before last night’s concert was spent adjusting to the space and the acoustics. When playing different concert halls, I have ask myself various questions. Is the hall dry or wet? Do sounds resonate much on their own? Do I need to aim for extreme clarity in my playing, or must I focus on developing a warm sound? How soft (or loud) can one play in the space?
The Musikverein has legendary acoustics, and it is very rewarding to play there. I heard details emerge from the orchestral texture that I had never heard before in other halls. The atmospheric effects and rumblings of Steven Stucky’s ‘Silent Spring’ were striking. There is also an incredible warmth of the sound in the hall. Passages in the slow movement of Dvorak’s New World Symphony had a warm, golden sheen to them. As a player, it is wonderful to feel that you can develop and warm up a sound, and the space around you immediately reacts to it.
The concert was a success. Rudolf Buchbinder was the piano soloist for Gershwin’s Piano Concerto in F. He truly enjoys himself while playing, and his enthusiasm is infectious. I looked around during the piece and saw many of my colleagues reacting physically to the jazzy rhythms and syncopations. The capacity audience also responded very well to Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9, demanding multiple curtain calls from Maestro Honeck and the orchestra. We played two encores- the raucous Slavonic Dance No. 7 by Dvorak, and then the Intermezzo from Georges Bizet’s 1st Carmen Suite, which featured a beautiful solo by principal flutist Lorna McGhee.