How Art in Vienna Moves Me
I live in a city where classical music was birthed. In a city where the museums are plentiful. Where sculptures grace most corners and there are Roman ruins just outside the palace gates. I mean the access to beauty is abundant and the venues plentiful. Baroque architecture reaches high and every which way one turns a brilliant surprise awaits. And still I find myself gasping in disbelief as I stroll through the city streets. Literally. Even if I have seen that particular alleyway or hidden gem before. I hope I continue to do so until the day I leave. I don't ever want to take this for granted.
That said, last month I had two separate experiences to be a consumer of the arts in different ways. The first was at the Opernhaus for a ballet. Le Corsaire, the ballet loosely based on Lord Byron's poem, "Corsair," was being performed and I purchased tickets for my mother and I to attend. A bit of a disclaimer here; it had been decades since I had been to the ballet. I honestly wasn't quite sure I would make it through the entirety, so I chose the most inexpensive seats, other than the standing room section. Not certain if we'd even have a view of the stage, I was pleasantly surprised when we did, as well as above reproach access to the orchestra pit, including the harpist. Never before had I viewed a performance from that perspective. While we had to lean and even stand occasionally to take in the dancers, I was captivated. Completely in awe of the talent displayed, the clear dedication to the craft and the precision with which the story was told.
Aside from an exceptional ballet, the Opernhaus building is exquisite in its own right. Unfortunately, over eighty percent of the building was destroyed or damaged in World War Two, but what remains of the original structure is magnificent: a foyer with frescoes and marble columns, staggered staircases and a grandiosity that I've come to expect from Vienna. I had the privilege of taking a tour here with visitors of ours a while back. We were given privy to the expansive stage, backstage gear and the sheer depths of it all. Details ranging from the number of employees and stage hands, to the selection of the operas and ballets that are performed on their stage. I won't share all the minutia with you here, but I highly suggest being a tourist and visiting the Opernhaus.
The Opernhaus also has one of the largest standing room sections in the world with over 500 available places. Although in order to secure tickets in this manner intense dedication is required as the process is quite lengthy. You must arrive two hours before the performance time, wait in line to get inside, que once again for the ticket booth, mark and save your place with a scarf or other notable clothing item and then return for the actual opera or ballet itself. The standing room viewing section did appear to have a rather impressive place and proximity to the stage. So that is a bonus!
The second encounter with the art scene here in Vienna came with Yo Yo Ma announcing his concert locations. Mr. Ma has been touring the globe performing Johann Sebastian Bach's six suites in what he has titled, "The Bach Project". I was immediately taken with this concept of music uniting people historically and universally. On his website, he explains that each concert is accompanied by a day of action. This day of action includes collaborations and conversations in an effort to initiate change by way of culture. Isn't that beautiful? I was on board with this motivation and was eager to hear Yo Yo Ma live. An aside, my four children grew up watching Arthur, the TV series appearing on PBS. Every afternoon when they returned from their school day, Arthur was on as they decompressed from their day's activities.
On one particular episode, Yo Yo Ma made an appearance and played his music. I was awestruck. I admit that was my first encounter with his brilliance and one I won't soon forget. His classical renditions have been piped through our family's speakers throughout the years. Listening to Ma's interpretation of Bach's suites is powerful and moving and quite remarkable. So, tickets were purchased, again the only ticket available in my price range was "standing room,” a mere seven Euro. Yes please! This performance marked me. No pause, over two hours of consistent playing, solo cello, all six suites.
Each note assumed a life of its own as it filled the stately Musikvieren. The Musikvieren has called Vienna home since 1870 and has quite the history. Different than the typical Baroque styled buildings here in the city, the architect chose High Renaissance and brought forth a classical sense. Musikvieren has been hosting concerts since the beginning and was commissioned by the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde. On their website you can find extensive information along with an informative timeline sharing the history of this organization and its involvement in the music culture today; Franz Schubert was a member and Beethoven an honorary member at one time. All that to say, my view may have been nonexistent for Mr. Ma's display but once again the design and environment that was created for moments such as this was other worldly. With the enormous crystal chandeliers, red marble columns and rich wood accents, I was transported back to the time of the monarchy and high society.
That is what causes the lump in my throat I find after encounters such as these. Apparent gifting in the arts and the ability to share them with an audience. Boldy. Bravely. Fully committed to the process and experience, from both sides. And spaces which were created for this specific purpose. For artists, of every medium, to be able to freely offer their work to an audience. Without constraint. Or censorship. Beautifully maintained structures housing opportunity. All this is widely accessible here in this city. I for one, am aware of the high privilege I have to call myself a consumer of the arts and to be a resident in a city that holds all of this with high regard.
About the Author: Leanna Hanson
Gathering people around the table, sharing stories and welcoming all to that space are some of Leanna’s favorite things. Living in Vienna since 2018, Leanna also is learning to navigate the logistical and emotional journey of her three adult daughters residing in the United States (her home country). Additionally, with having experienced multiple moves, she is no stranger to the mental and emotional challenges related to living life in a foreign place - whether that be a new city, state and/or country. Leanna shares her journey on her blog, The Six Hansons.
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