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Vienna Philharmonic ‘will steer a new course’

June 30, 2017 by norman lebrecht

20 comments.


Daniel Froschauer, newly elected chairman of the Vienna Philharmonic, has told the tabloid Kurier that he wants to steer the orchestra on a different course – backwards, apparently. In the course of the short interview, he manages to dodge every direct question, an important talent.

His key statement:  Ich finde, dass man das Schiff in eine andere Richtung steuern sollte.


Comments (20)

  1. mr oakmountain says:

    I just read the article, and I am not sure what question it was he is supposed to have dodged. He was clear about opening and strengthening the VPO archive, looking critically at their history, and also looking very closely at what projects and gigs are good and important for “The Viennese Sound”, as well at conductors they should work with in the future. The only one he dodged was about his new boss at the State opera, which under the circumstances is probably wise.
    https://kurier.at/kultur/die-plaene-des-neuen-philharmoniker-chefs/271.257.115

    1. Stephen Dedalus says:

      All this is really about attempting to restore the orchestra sound to what it sounded like way back in the 1950s, for example using Sellner oboe. Having heard them at a matinee concert in 1955 under Bruno Walter for the reopening of the Wiener Staatsoper when they performed Beethoven’s ninth and Bruckner’s Te Deum it will be interesting to see if they can recapture the sound, which has changed considerably since.

  2. John Borstlap says:

    In the article concerned, Froschauer says that he wants the orchestra to focus on its particular sound, implied is: its performance tradition, instead of non-musical themes, I don’t see how this could be backwards:

    https://kurier.at/kultur/die-plaene-des-neuen-philharmoniker-chefs/271.257.115

    The orchestra is not just a regular international ensemble, but a typical Viennese one, and intentionally so, and protective of its local heritage. In the musical global world of today, preserving local traditions seems a very wise thing to do, instead of exposing the players to eroding international sameness. In former times, orchestras did not so much touring as nowadays and due to lack of direct information and thus, comparisons, orchestras developed their own characteristic sound. That is not a matter of being provincial, but of personality. Such diversity seems an advantage to me.

    It seems to me that preserving the orchestra’s performance culture would also imply avoiding performing modernist works, where the characteristics of the VPO have no meaning and which could not be very rewarding for both players and local audience.

    Years ago, on the website of the VPO there could be read an interesting essay about the orchestra’s performance culture, explaining that its tradition was not so much centered on the sound as such, but on sound as a carrier of interior expression, a middle-European performance tradition rather different from the French and Russian traditions where colourful explorations are much more important. In other words: they prefer Beethoven, Brahms and Mahler to Debussy, Stravinsky and Prokofiev, because then the players can better implement their innate expressive qualities. It is the difference between introversion and extraversion. Nothing wrong with that and it has nothing to do with progressiveness or conservatism, but with the nature of certain musical traditions. You see the same preference with audiences: Bartok and Stravinsky are in Munich not so popular as Bruckner and Beethoven, because the audience prefers music that is more ‘interior’ to the more extravert types of music. In other music centres you can find the opposite tastes. Etc. etc.

    1. Wolfgang Lachemann says:

      Herrn Bortslap you must understand that audiences prefer Beethoven and Bruckner to Bartok and Stravinsky not just in Muenchen, but also in Wien, Stuttgart, Berlin, London, and other places, why? Because their music is so much better, can be followed easily by their brains as they contain defined tunes. Bartok and Stravinsky on the other hand have neither and sound rather like an old angle grinder with a worn out blade!

      1. John Borstlap says:

        Many works by Bartok and Stravinsky are very tuneful. Bartok: Concerto for Orchestra; violin concerto and viola concerto; the 3rd piano concerto (a classical master piece); Music for Strings Celesta and Percussion. Stravinsky: Firebird; Petrushka; Sacre (beautiful out-of-tune tunes); Apollon Musagetes; violin concerto; Symphony of Psalms. And these are only a handful of examples. Bartok and Stravinksy are in a harmonic / tonal sense more complex and more sophisticated but that does not mean they are less melodious. In some works however, they focussed upon rhythm and sound, which is more grinding to the ear, but also that does not mean they are less good. Melody is only part of music. And yes, Prokofiev is often very melodious too.

        The best melodies can be found in J.S. Bach. Everyone tried to emulate these in his wake.

      2. M2N2K says:

        First, there are plenty of “defined tunes” in both Bartok and Stravinsky. Second, if whatever “can be followed easily by their brains” is the determining measure of musical quality, then pop songs are the finest music ever written. Third, you seem to be insulting all those Western Europeans by suggesting that they are not very smart if some of the best music from early last century is too hard for “their brains”.

  3. Pianofortissimo says:

    The Vienna Philharmonic sound is more than just A4=443 Hz. Let us hope their wonderful tradition will be preserved.

    1. Anton Bruckner says:

      Yes. Let’s hope that their tradition of white over aged males who play stale repertoire while longing for the good old times of pre war Europe be well preserved in some time capsule museum. And in the meantime let’s enjoy modern orchestras with updsted repertoire.

      1. John Borstlap says:

        In cultural, musical and – in the broadest sense – artistic terms, when you look not only at music but also at literature, poetry, and painting, the period ca. 1880 – 1914 was, in Europe, the last great flowering of the arts, comparable with the Italian Renaissance. Much of that period, at least in music, still remained until 1940. Any nostalgia for prewar musical culture is a sign of progressiveness – except for the payment of orchestral players which was abyssmal, and which made extensive rehearel time and large orchestras possible which in turn made music like Debussy’s, Stravinsky’s (Sacre!) and Mahler’s and Strauss’ possible.

      2. Max Grimm says:

        Could you name some of the ensembles you consider “modern orchestras with updated repertoire”?

      3. Sue says:

        The very comment I’d expect from Bruckner.

  4. Bruce says:

    I always found “the Vienna Philharmonic sound” to consist mainly of:

    – stunningly gorgeous strings;
    – mostly rich, mellow brass (with a tendency to become strident in louder/loudest passages);
    – horrendously out-of-tune, unblended woodwind playing.

    It was always a weighing of these factors against each other when I was deciding whether to buy a recording by the VPO: the greatness of the repertoire or conductor vs whether I could stand listening to the orchestra.

    If they want to hang onto their “traditional” sound instead of playing in tune, that’s great. They seem to be doing just fine without me.

    1. John Borstlap says:

      Woodwinds everywhere play out of tune when wearing too tight trousers and sitting in front of the brass.

      1. Morse says:

        Tight trousers suggests a bad tailor. I hear they are getting Viv Westwood, ugh! They should go to Dunmore & Locke of St.James, they are the last real tailor left in London all the other outsource to sweat shops in HK, India.

      2. Bruce says:

        Woodwinds everywhere play out of tune when they don’t listen to themselves or their colleagues. (Actually that’s everyone, not just woodwinds)

  5. Mike Beverland says:

    This concern over change in the VPO, reminds me of our excellent late Rector an authority on Irish Illuminated Manuscripts, who once told us in a sermon during Morning Prayer that during a meeting of the General Synod, he informed the Synod that he had seen much change in the Church of Ireland in his 60 years service and had voted against all of them! In other words little change is good, no change is better

    1. Bruce says:

      Reminds me of a definition I read somewhere: “A conservative is someone who believes nothing should ever be done for the first time.”

      1. John Borstlap says:

        Hilarious….!

        1. Sue says:

          And I like this one about progressives…”a change doesn’t necessarily yield an improvement”.:-)

  6. Gerhard von der Linde says:

    “In the course of the short interview, he manages to dodge every direct question, an important talent.”

    Mr Lebrecht, why is it not being important for you to understand texts in languages, you can not yourself speaking? You can perhaps ask a German speaker for help, for understanding the words and sentences.


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