The Summer Night Concert is an extraordinary event held in a breathtaking location. So extraordinary that audiences of 100,000 turn up to see one of the finest orchestras in the world, the Vienna Philharmonic, perform in the grounds of the Schoenbrunn Palace in the Austrian capital.
And this year the surprise guest was the Star Wars soundtrack by John Williams – highly fitting given the theme of "Music – Planets – Stars." On the podium was Maestro Franz Welser-Möst. The unusual theme was chosen this year – "Moon – Planets – Stars" – and sixty television channels worldwide broadcast the result. A planetary success – behind which was a lot of careful preparation. If the programme was varied and unconventional for a traditional orchestra like the Vienna Philharmonic, it was no accident – rather the result of a specific cultural policy objective, as senior viola player Heinrich Koll explains. He has been with the VPO for 30 years.
"We have tried to bring something very popular to the people who never attend concerts," he said. "It's fun for us to do such a different thing once a year like Star Wars." If tradition is normally one of the pillars of the Wiener, the Orchestra can also boast an intangible element, be it the city itself, which is synonymous with music, or the commitment of its musicians.
Ian Bousfield, a member for the past decade, explained. "There is nothing musically in the whole world like Vienna, it is planet Vienna, musically. Music is played in Vienna like a dialect, like an accent, like a lilt. It's not definite, it's just beauty that's created in the moment," he said.
The summer residence of the Habsburg dynasty is an extraordinary location, but provides the musicians with quite a challenge. "It's an open-air concert, and that's sometimes difficult," explained Koll. "We're playing in the direction of the Schoenbrunn Castle, and we have a strong echo, after every fortissimo the music comes back again and hits you in the next thing you play. But sitting there and having a large crowd is like being a king overlooking his people."
For Bousfield too, it is an incredible experience. "Every time we sit on the platform every single member of the orchestra would die for every last note that's in front of them," he said. "There are no office workers here, there are no people just doing their job, this is not a job, this is a life! The Vienna Philharmonic has not forgotten that music is a communication art form, and every time they sit on the platform they try and get a connection with the audience, so the audience feels as though they are being spoken to by the orchestra musically."
The concert included the following pieces: Star Wars: Main Title; Princess Leia's Theme; and Imperial March, by John Williams. Sphärenklänge, Walzer, op. 235, by Joseph Strauss. Wiener Blut, Walzer, by Johann Strauss.