One night in Vienna

We all waited patiently outside the artist’s entrance at the Musik-verein in Vienna. The students and I spent almost every other evening waiting in this area that was once a coachman’s entrance for horse and carriage. Out would come all the orchestra members from the Vienna Philharmonic and various orchestra that would come into town. The year was 1972, and you could hear Von Karajan’s Learjet screaming overhead as he would pass over Kartnerstrasse on his way to Swechwat airport.

In its own way, Vienna was the most happening unhappening town in the world, and that’s probably why the students from the Hochschule fur Musik und

Darstellende Kunst Wien had no nights of debauchery as would college students in a normal college town. Nightlife for us meant meeting up after concerts with some of the world’s best musicians and taking them to Grinzing in the 13th district. Keep in mind, the only pole dancing in Vienna is that which comes in the form of a horizontal bar and leotards with pointy little shoes. This is not the town where a carton of American cigarettes and nylons get you very far.

This, of course, is in sharp contrast with London and its artist scene, where you can come out of seeing a brilliant production of “Aida” and two paces away in Soho is a man standing in the street beckoning you to come in his fine establishment and watch a woman performing bizarre acts with aquatic creatures. All this, of course, is going on while you’re dressed in your tuxedo, and for a brief instance, you and your date are seriously considering his curious offer. ?

Vienna has its cheerier side as well. That would bring us back to Grinzing, known for its wine-tasting and beer tasting – no make that “swilling” – till all hours of the morning. Sorry, no side shows. Just dirndls, lederhosen and antlers. Lots and lots of antlers.

This is hardly the environment you would imagine to be perhaps the best place on earth to study music, but for those of us buried in the somber atmosphere of dry music academia, it was a tremendous boon for education in general.

One night in Vienna the Royal Philharmonic happened to be playing at the Musik-verein. And as always, myself and about a dozen other students were waiting outside the artists’ entrance in order to invite some of the orchestra members to be our guests at Grinzing. We’d all pile into our cars – mine happened to be a 1964 Citroen 2cv deux chevaux, known as the “French beetle”– and go off with five or six musicians (and their instruments!) in this little 18-horsepower car. Grinzing was about 30 minutes away from the center of Vienna.

This was our opportunity to ask real working musicians about different compositions they were playing – what they liked, what they didn’t like. Quite often they would whip out their charts and show us right there at the bar exactly what went right or what went wrong in the piece. You would have been very surprised to hear what some musicians had to say about some of the pieces that listeners believe are written by God himself. Some pieces of music that we wouldn’t really think too much about as listeners would actually be praised very heavily by the musicians. It’s a bit like jazz in that regard…or cricket. It’s one of those things that nobody likes to hear or watch, but it’s tremendously fun to actually play.

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