Dumbing down at the Vienna Boys Choir

Dumbing down at the Vienna Boys Choir


norman lebrecht

May 30, 2021

The concert hall of the Vienna Boys’ Choir, known as MuTh, is mixing up its programming next season with a punk band a plenty of crossover in an attempt to recoup Covid losses.

Locals are unhappy.

Read here.


  • John Borstlap says:

    Signs of the times:

    ‘Classical music isn’t cool enough, let’s get rid of it.’

    ‘Music is something to be served at audiences like food in a restaurant, and classical music isn’t anything different.’

    ‘It isn’t education that keeps society upright but appetite satisfaction.’

    ‘Classical music is elitist old fart entertainment and doesn’t reflect the real concerns of our own time. Pop does, TV does, video games do.’

    Etc. etc….

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      You are so right!! But you’ve failed to mention Generation Fragile which must have its ‘mental health’ needs attended to and everything just right in life to cater to their needs. Naomi Osaka is a typical example of this fragile generation of snowflakes, er, princes and princesses. “Hear me roar”? Whoa; what the hell is roar?? “Hear my needs” more like it.

      Classical music; too demanding by half for Generation Fragile.

      • Paul Carlile says:

        Disagree strongly on the irrelevant Naomi Osaka aspect of your comment. I go to hear music and do not wish to hear embarrassing mumblings of certain great (or even lesser) artists “interviewed”…..they express mostly thru their art (or sport). The Obligatory Press Conference is frequently a horror of asinine rhetorical questions, revealing nothing, stressing the subject of the inquisition. In my view, she is fully justified in calling this circus into question. Certain artists and sportives revel & bask in the limelight; why not: Vytas Gerulaitis, Andy Roddick, Djokovic, Na Li, Serena (sometimes!), all have offered memorable & humorous performances in interview, (to speak of tennis alone), others handle it all well (Federer, Wilander, Navratilova…), but Nadal, for instance has learned the hard way and is still ill at ease and i remember an early Pete Sampras interview with squirming awkwardness. In music, some of my favorite artits have been hopeless in word communication; Shura Cherkassky sounded like a moron, Horowitz & Bolet hardly better and don’t expect to get any revelations from Martha or Yuja. Let these marvellous artits “speak” with their art (or sport), and don’t conflate “snowflake” aspects where there are none.
        Beast rearguards.

    • Ashu says:

      [‘Music is something to be served at audiences like food in a restaurant, and classical music isn’t anything different.’]

      What is so threatening and demeaning in the thought that you just like what you like, like everyone else, even the lower orders?

  • Matthias says:

    As a local, I could not care less.

    Not every concert space in Vienna needs to be dedicated 100% to classical music.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Of course not. But this is a classical music choir with a classical music venue paid to provide classical choral music with an agelong classical music tradition in a city with an agelong classical music history and an international classical music cultural identity. I hope it’s clear that it’s about classical music.

      Conclusion: you can’t be a real Viennese. I am, and I am not even living there.

      • Matthias says:

        I am indeed not a real Viennese, I’m just a ‘Zuagrasta’. 😉

        Anyway, nobody’s denying the Sängerknaben opportunities to perform classical music.

      • Viennese says:

        The hall cannot be exclusively filled with concerts by the choir itself. There is simply not enough audience or choir boys. But there are 365 days in a year, 365 days where the staff needs to be paid etc. The construction of the hall was controversial to begin with for that very reason, as they questioned the need for their own hall. The fact, that they already had other ensembles perform there is a testament to that.
        Now you have the situation that they suffered massive losses last year, have reduced capacity, less tourists who would ususally flock to these concerts and provide most of their audience. Therefore they need to find ways to fill in the many, many caps in their performance schedule to make up some of their losses. In my mind, they have a duty to find new ways to fill the hall, as they’re survival was ensured by public money.
        To demand to leave the hall empty rather than have non-classical concerts is snobbery and detrimental. Don’t be alarmed, there are enough venues that are almost 100% classical music. If you ever come to Vienna for real, you may experience some of them.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Well, the Eurovision contest has shown us in the recent past the other side of ‘classical music’ Vienna!! Thanks, but no thanks.

      • Matthias says:

        Should we send the Sängerknaben next year?
        I’m of the firm opinion that nobody should watch Eurovision under any circumstances.

  • mary says:

    “Locals are unhappy.”

    Well, ticket sales prove otherwise.

    Reminds me of locals who bash products “Made in China”, well, SOMEbody is buying up these products, if not you, your neighbors.

    So yes, of course these things are cheap and tacky, but enough locals are enjoying them, even if it’s on the down-low.

    • Armchair Bard says:

      Mary, that is a *very* nice use of “on the down-low,” an expression I last heard on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Will you have my babies? I promise to look after them. AcB

  • FrankInUsa says:

    Where is the controversy. A certain hall in Vienna will present several different programs. It’s not as the Vienna Boys Choir is being thrown. It’s a big world and we should work to keep classical a part of it but it will never be 100%. Different strokes for different folks. Whatever floats your boat. So forth.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Another chap who doesn’t understand the post, but his excuse is that he is from the USA.

      The point is, that it is a classical music ensemble. You don’t expect a chess players team in a baseball stadium, I guess? Or a Roman Catholic congregation to discuss a new edition of the missal in a brothel. Or… no, this should do.

      • R. Brite says:

        Why this insistence that it’s a classical ensemble or classical venue, John? It’s a private organisation. It can perform or host whatever it wants.

      • Viennese says:

        You don’t seem to understand enough german to know what is going on. The choir is not part of any of these activities. Did you think, that they performed there every night? We have working laws in this country, that prevent that in children’s ensembles. Even the many sub choirs cannot cover more than a fraction of the nights.

  • Marfisa says:

    Another headline designed to stir up the dinosaurs!

    The MuTh has always “mixed up its programming” It was intended to be a venue for all sorts of music — classical, crossover, rock, jazz, and so on — as well as theatre, with the Vienna Boys Choir allotted 1/3rd of performance time. Nothing to do with Covid, nothing to be ashamed of. Non-classical music can be good (and classical music can be bad!).

    • M says:

      If from being forgotten forever you had to save either Beethoven or Beyonce, would you struggle to decide? In real life the stakes aren’t so extreme for music, rather it is we ourselves who are eventually lost forever, so the cumulative effect of the music we choose to listen to (to love) while we live is no less absurd than the apparently hyperbolic hypothetical initially posed.

  • MacroV says:

    It’s a performance venue. And Vienna is not exactly a city of people walking around in long coats and 18th-century powdered wigs; there’s a paying audience for punk – their money is as good as anyone else’s. Heck, rent out the Musikverein if it’s gonna pay the bills!

    • Robin Worth says:

      Vienna is (or was) full of people walking around in long coats and 18th century gear. They were all salespeople for pop classical concerts for tourists

  • FrauGeigerin says:

    Honestly, the vienesse could not care less about the Wiener Sängerknaben. It is not relevant in the city, not music-wise, not education-wise. Actually, the Wiener Sängerknaben is four choirs, one of which is always touring…. there is more interest overseas than in Austria. I, personally, could not care less about that institution.

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    Isn’t the Vienna Boys’ Choir going to be re-badged as the Vienna Childrens’ Choir with girls to be admitted to the ranks? Didn’t I read about that here on SD?

  • SucreSweete says:

    Good move. Far to little hip-hop in their repertoire.

    They also need more diverse members: where are the crippled boys; the blacks; the philippinos, the muslims, the trans-gender etc.?

    Get with the times, or be attacked for being an old white man’s club.

    • Robert J. Scharba says:

      I’ve seen many of their touring concerts. They’re already racially diverse…some of them might even be Muslim as well. Haven’t seen any “cripples” so far, but one little guy fell backwards off a tiered platform last time I saw them here in Chicago…perhaps he’s halfway there?

  • Viennese says:

    Well, most of these events are additional events, that are trying to make better use of the hall. Esp. as there ensembles from abroad still cannot travel as usual. Most of the other concerts are covered by local groups. None of the normal events will be cancelled for them. The article does not state any reaction by the locals.