A classic is something that everybody wants to have heard

I admit that since I arrived in Vienna, culture has not been my watchword.  Not least when it comes to music.  Thus far I’ve seen a jazz concert, an American folk singer and I’ll be going to see the Ting Tings this Saturday.  Yesterday, however, I redeemed myself.

One of my Irish friends, John, plays the double bass for orchestras in both Ireland and here in Vienna.  I saw him play just before Easter with the Uni Wien orchestra and he recently invited me to go and watch a performance by a professional orchestra, the Staatskapelle Berlin, perform Mahler’s 6th Symphony.  Feeling I should embrace the culture of the city, I said yes.

My view during the performance

My view during the performance

We had standing tickets and it was quite literally standing room only; the concert hall was so packed that we could not, in fact, see the performers.  I was surprised that the place had sold out, moreso that the demographics were pretty varied.  The audience seemed to range from my age to people in their golden years.  The other thing that I noticed was how warm a room can become when lots of people are standing together in a non-air-conditioned room, I was half asleep on my feet by the time the orchestra (allegedly) took the stage.

Because, of course, the music is the important thing here.  However, I always find myself facing a problem when whenever I hear classical music.  I can enjoy it, and appreciate the subtle melding of different melodies in a piece, but because there are no lyrics to explain what the song is trying to convey, I don’t really understand the emotion of what I’m hearing.  For example, the start of Mahler’s 6th was rather rousing, but I found it made me thing of the first Star Wars movie, I imagined a great power or evil chasing after a nobler soul and I found myself wondering what story the music was really trying to convey.  I felt that if I’d had a better understanding of what was happening I would have been able to better appreciate what I was hearing.

I’m curious if I would be able to follow along had I had a book explaining what the different staves meant, as I saw several people in the concert hall reading them.  As it was, for most of the performance I found myself zoning in and out and the most memorable moment was when a half-asleep old lady jumped out of her skin at a sudden crash of percussion.

This is not to say I was rude during the performance.  I was surprised to find that every squeaky floorboard seemed amplified even during the louder orchestral pieces and I was desperately worried of receiving disdainful looks from my fellow audience members every time I shifted my weight, even in spite of people committing the much greater classical music crimes of receiving phone calls or walking out of the concert hall doors during the performance.

I may be a philistine, but at least I am a respectful philistine.

Though I didn't enjoy the concert, the architecture in the concert hall was amazing!

Though I didn't enjoy the concert, the architecture in the concert hall was amazing!

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