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By Katharina Rabillon • Updated: 14/07/2022
The musicians of the legendary Vienna Philharmonic devote their lives to music, but what does it take to play in one of the world’s greatest orchestras?
Karin Bonelli Flutist
Richard Strauss once declared, “All praise of the Vienna Philharmonic reveals itself as understatement.”
Upholding that standard of excellence clearly demands countless rehearsal and performance. On average the orchestra performs more than 300 operas and 100 symphonic concerts a year.
Principal harpist, Anneleen Lenaerts, says, “No single day is ever the same, but that makes it extremely exciting because then you never actually have a routine.”
The Vienna Philharmonic is frequently on tour, while many of its musicians also teach, making their profession more a way of life than simply a job.
“I think it must be a vocation because we spend so much time with our profession,” explains flutist Karin Bonelli.
“Everyday life is a word I find very difficult to use because our lives are so diverse. We play in the opera, we play philharmonic concerts, we’re on tour, then we’re at the Salzburg Festival. There are days when we have rehearsals in the morning, rehearsals in the afternoon, an opera in the evening, and in between many of us teach and that's what makes it so beautiful and so varied,” Bonelli adds.
History and mission
The musical legacy of the Vienna Philharmonic is handed down from one generation to the next. Its rich heritage is documented in the orchestra’s historical archive.
Sylvia Kargl guards this treasure trove which includes thousands of unique objects, letters, and photos.
Unveiling one item she says: “Here is a particularly valuable piece by Ludwig van Beethoven. It’s a piano excerpt from his opera Fidelio. And this is a very rare edition. I think there are only five copies in the world.”
One of the archive's most valuable documents sheds light on the orchestra’s origins.
“It doesn't look very spectacular, it's more of a memo, but it’s in fact the founding decree of the Vienna Philharmonic, written in 1842 by Otto Nicolai,” Kargl explains, adding: “It contains the most important principles that are still upheld by the Vienna Philharmonic today.
“The musicians elect the conductors themselves according to a democratic process and this at the time was something quite new.”
Flutist, Vienna Philharmonic
The orchestra is still self-governed today, managing its own ticketing, programmes and tours.
Daniel Froschauer, Chairman and first violinist of the Vienna Philharmonic believes that self-governance is as crucial today as when it was conceived.
“I think the self-administration is the most important virtue that we have, because if everyone can decide with whom they play, when and where, that's something beautiful. Of course, with 148 members you get 300 opinions. That’s a challenge which I like very much.”
Principal harpist Annaleen Lenaerts agrees: “I think what’s also good is that every musician feels responsible for the quality of the orchestra, for what we stand for.”
Karin Bonelli says the orchestra's structure “strengthens the sense of community and sense of responsibility and identity.”
After years of hard work and dedication, she became the orchestra's first female wind player in the orchestra.
“It’s a childhood dream come true. Since the age of four, I sat in front of the TV on January 1st and said, “I'm going to be there one day”, mummy. And she always said, “Yes, yes, let's see!” Then at 23, this dream came true. That was incredible.”
Concert and opera
The musicians of the Vienna Philharmonic are also in the orchestra of the Vienna State Opera, splitting their time between the pit and the concert stage.
“Working in the opera has become indispensable for me. We have the same breathing technique as singers, and we can learn so much and I just enjoy it immensely,” says Bonelli.
World-renowned tenor Juan Diego Flórez values the orchestra’s excellence.
“In the Vienna State Opera they have to play a lot of different titles, so they need to listen. They need to have this sensibility to follow a singer, to be with them, to breathe with them and they know how to do this.
“A singer needs to feel that the orchestra is with you there. The sound that is supporting you comes to you and you feel the emotions also from the orchestra and this is wonderful.”
Summing up, Daniel Froschauer says: “To experience all that in a community, is something really great and now with so many young colleagues, who are so wonderfully committed, that's the most beautiful thing.”