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On February 19, 2009, the Vienna Philharmonic, along with Zubin Mehta began one of the longest tours, in regard to travelling distance, in its history. 50 years after the legendary world tour with Herbert von Karajan (between October 19 and November 23, 1959, the orchestra gave 26 concerts in India, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Japan, USA and Canada), the orchestra once again encircled the globe. Even though the past half century has seen a great improvement in travel conditions, a tour on this scale remains an immense undertaking, which is best undertand by looking at the technical details: 14 concerts in nine cities in six countries on three different continents; approximately 50 hours in the air, plus an additional 50 hours spent in busses, trains and airports; the clocks had to be adjusted 8 times totalling some 34 hours time difference, along with temperature variations of approximately 35 ° C.
The tour began with a concert in London in the newly renovated Royal Festival Hall on February 19th, which included Joseph Haydn's Symphony in D major, Hob. I:104, and Anton Bruckner's Ninth Symphony on the program. This program was repeated one day later at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, where the Orchester was greeted by Dominique Meyer, long-time director of the house and designated director of the Vienna State Opera, who also invited us to the traditional reception following our concert there. The next concert was on February 24th in the Verizon Hall in Philadelphia. After Richard Wagner's Overture to "Rienzi", Lang Lang, who studied at Philadelphia's Curtis Institute of Music with Gary Graffman, performed the Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor, op. 21, by Frédéric Chopin. Constituting the second part of the evening was Franz Schubert's Symphony in C Major, D 944, with an encore of a fast polka which has been performed twice previously on the New Year's Concert: "Leichtfüßig" by Josef Hellmesberger, a former concert master and chairman of the Vienna Philharmonic.
In February/March of 1989, under the direction of Herbert von Karjan, the first "Vienna Philharmonic -Week in New York" took place. From this experimental endeavour resulted a permanent date in our yearly performance calendar as well as that of Carnegie Hall, and to honour the 20th year anniversary of this event, four concerts, instead of the obligatory three, were given this year. On February 25th was a benefit concert for the National Academy Foundation, which along with the "Rienzi" Overture and Chopin's 2nd Piano Concerto, works of Johann Strauss were featured. On the regular concert evenings of the "Vienna Philharmonic Week" on February 27, 28, and March 1, the following works were performed: Arnold Schönberg, "Transfigured Night" - Anton Bruckner, Symphony No. 9; Hugo Wolf, Italian Serenade - Josef Marx, Songs for Orchestra (Soloist: Angela Maria Blasi) - Franz Schubert, Symphony No. 8 in C Major, D44 (Encores: Johann Strauss, "Tritsch-Tratsch", Fast Polka, op. 214; "Unter Donner und Blitz", Fast Polka, op. 324); Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Overture to "The Marriage of Figaro" - Joseph Haydn, Symphony in D Major, Hob. I:104 - Richard Strauss, "Ein Heldenleben", op. 40 (solo violin: Rainer Küchl; Encores: Hellmesberger, "Leichtfüßig" and Eduard Strauss, "Bahn Frei!" Fast Polka, op. 45).
Immediately following the last concert, we flew to Los Angeles, the residence of our longest serving conductor, who shared with us the satisfaction of finally making an appearance together with us in his home town, and who demonstrated his pleasure upon this occasion in a most touching and generous way. On March 2nd, Zubin Mehta and his wife, Nancy, invited the entire orchestra to lunch at their house, and one day later at the end of our first concert, which included Hugo Wolf, Josef Marx and Anton Bruckner on the program, the maestro turned to the audience and said, "Since 1962, I have dreamed of being able to perform with this orchestra for you." - an occurence unique in our 167 year history. On March 4th in the Walt Disney Hall, Wagner's "Rienzi" Overture, the 2nd Piano Concerto of Chopin with Lang Lang as soloist, as well as Schubert's "Great" C major Symphony were on the program, followed by the encores: "Leichtfüßig" and "Tritsch-Tratsch".
The journey continued with a 14 hour flight to Peking, where our orchestra performed for the fourth time, following appearances in 1973 (conductors: Claudio Abbado, Willi Boskovsky), 1996 (Zubin Mehta) and 2004 (Seiji Ozawa). In the newly built, spectacular National Center for Performing Arts on March 8th and 9th, Schönberg's "Transfigured Night" and Strauss' "Ein Heldenleben", as well as Mozart's Overture to "The Marriage of Figaro", Joseph Haydn's Symphony in D Major, Hob. I:104, Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 2 and Schubert's Symphony in C major were played (encores: Johann Strauss, "Wo die Citronen blüh'n". Waltz, op. 364, Hellmesberger's fast polka "Leichtfüßig" and respectively "Tritsch-Tratsch" and "Unter Donner und Blitz").
On March 11th there followed another emotional highpoint. After 2003, we appeared for the second time with Zubin Mehta in his birthplace, Bombay, which was also a stop-over on our 1959 world tour. Mozart's "Figaro" Overture opened the evening, and Lang Lang made his concert debut in India with Chopin's F minor Concerto, before the official program closed with Ludwig van Beethoven's 7th Symphony. Two works of Johann Strauss served as encores: the "Emperor Waltz", op. 437, and the "Tritsch Tratsch" Polka. The world tour ended with another first time event, a guest appearance of the Vienna Philharmonic in the United Arab Emirates. On March 13th in an open-air concert in Al Ain, Schubert's "Great" C major Symphony as well as compositions of the Strauss family were performed. On the next day in Abu Dhabi, the "Rienzi" Overture, Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 2 and "Ein Heldenleben" made up the program, and the final piece played on the tour was the "Figaro" Overture as an encore.
During the course of these 25 days there were several accompanying events. On February 23rd, Joseph Haydn was the central focus in a chamber music concert at the Austrian Cultural Institute in New York, whereby Clemens Hellsberg gave a short presentation regarding this classical master, who died 200 years ago. He was then joined by Dieter Flury, Rainer Honeck, Gerhard Marschner, Tamás Varga and Robert Nagy in performing works of Joseph Haydn and his student Ignaz Pleyel (1757-1831) and Ludwig van Beethoven. At the "Abu Dhabi Classic Festival" our collaboration with the music pedagogue Hanne Muthspiel-Payer was continued on an international level, with children and young people of the Raha International School and the British International School making a study of Mozart's childhood, which, after four days, resulted in the soundscape, "Mozart's Journey", focusing on the carriage journeys of Wolfgang and Nannerl. In addition the school orchestra of the British International School performed the Wedding March by Felix Mendelssohn Barthody. Mendelssohn's Octet in E-flat Major, op. 20, was the focus of a family concert moderated by Hanne Muthspiel-Payer at which Wolfgang Breinschmid, Charlotte Balzereit, Eckhard Seifert, Isabelle Ballot, Johannes Kostner, Martin Klimek, Gerhard Marschner, Thomas Hajek (Viola, Orchestra Vienna State Opera), Tamás Varga and Wolfgang Härtel performed works by Mozart (among them the Menuett, KV 1) and Beethoven, as well as joining the children and young people on "Mozart's Journey" and the Wedding March.-- Dr. Clemens Hellsberg