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Classically Trained: Vienna Philharmonic to make rare appearance

February 21, 2011|By Bradley Zint

We of the Newport-Mesa are a lucky bunch. Players of the world's great classical music come to us. That said, it's always noteworthy when one of greatest orchestras comes to our doorstep.

The Vienna Philharmonic — the famed Austrian orchestra routinely touted as one of the top five worldwide — will be playing Mahler's Symphony No. 6 at 8 p.m. March 3 in our own Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall. There will be a 7 p.m. pre-concert talk with Rich Capparela.

This one-night-only concert is thanks to the Philharmonic Society of Orange County, the Irvine-based nonprofit that brings the county such high-class art.

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This orchestra doesn't tour often, given its busy musical demands in Vienna, the Philharmonic Society says. It will be the orchestra's first Orange County performance since 2002, and before that, 1997.

The reason this orchestra is so famous is multifold. For one, it was formed in 1842 in the capital of the Western music tradition — Vienna — where many big names of the eras have strong ties: Beethoven, Mozart, Haydn, Schubert, Mahler, Brahms, Bruckner, Schoenberg and the Strauss family.

Second, it has had no principal conductor since 1933. Since that time, it's been relying on a multitude of guest conductors — a list that is a real who's-who in the classical world — including Russian-American conductor Semyon Bychkov, who leads the March 3 performance.

It is also democratically self-governed.

Third, its players use modified instruments from the standards found in most major orchestras. Some are older models, while others are unique to the orchestra, the combined efforts of which reach back for a sound emulating the styles of the late 18th century. Indeed, this is a group that prides itself on being a musical monument to its city's own rich musical history.

Fourth, and most controversial, is that the Vienna Philharmonic is, for the most part, comprised only of men. And of the men chosen, most are from Austria and its environs. The orchestra maintains that its male-dominated sound is unique because it is males only, but some slow progress is being made to accept more women into the club.

Tickets can be hard to come by for this group, even in its hometown. As of Monday, most of the concert hall's 2,000-some seats were sold out. The only ones left were on the orchestra-level floor, costing either $150 or $165 a piece.

Visit http://www.philharmonicsociety.org/Vienna for more information or to buy tickets.

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