Vienna Philharmonic Ball

The History of the Philharmonic Ball

"When the Philharmonic adds a new tradition by presenting a ball that becomes a society event, it strengthens the self-confidence of the musicians."

Author: Alexander Wunderer, Chairman of the Vienna Philharmonic, 1924

The first Vienna Philharmonic Ball was held in 1924, and set precedents which the ball committee has maintained to this day. The ball was held annually from 1924 to 1931. After a hiatus from 1932 through 1948, the ball resumed again in 1949 and became a permanent highlight of the season's festivities. All together it has now been held 79 times, and was cancelled only once, in 1991, due to the Gulf War.

Anton Wildgans, prominent Austrian poet and director of Vienna's Burgtheater, authored a poem for the ball booklet which was presented to the ladies on that very first evening in 1924. His prologue begins with the introductory words to the orchestra "The homeland loves you, the world honors you", and this tribute has remained over the years an unofficial "Ode to the Philharmonic". Richard Strauss, who collaborated artistically with the orchestra for many years, composed a festive fanfare for the first ball in 1924, and this work has been performed at every ball since that time.

For every ball, a prominent conductor is invited to lead the Philharmonic in a performance of a popular composition from the orchestra's repertoire. In the past, this function has been carried out by conductors such as Claudio Abbado, Leonard Bernstein, Herbert Blomstedt, Karl Böhm, Willy Boskovsky, Pierre Boulez, Placido Domingo, Gustavo Dudamel, Christoph Eschenbach, Adam Fischer, Wilhelm Furtwängler, Sir John Eliot Gardiner, Daniele Gatti, Carlo Maria Giulini, Daniel Harding, Mariss Jansons, Herbert von Karajan, Leonidas Kavakos, Carlos Kleiber, Clemens Krauss, Lorin Maazel, Zubin Mehta, Riccardo Muti, Seiji Ozawa, Georges Prêtre, Sir Simon Rattle, Franz Schalk, Carl Schuricht, Sir Georg Solti, Richard Strauss, Christian Thielemann, Felix von Weingartner and Franz Welser-Möst. 

Ever since 1924, the ball has featured several prominent personalities from the world of art, politics, and society who make up the Patronage and Honorary Committee. Over the years this committee has been made up of such individuals as Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Lotte Lehmann, Franz Schalk, Leo Slezak and Richard Strauss at pre-war balls, and Agnes Baltsa, Rudolf Buchbinder, José Carreras, Placido Domingo, Elīna Garanča, Edita Gruberová, Jonas Kaufmann, Angelika Kirchschlager, Lang Lang, Anna Netrebko, Michael Schade, Peter Simonischek, Bo Skovhus und Heinz Zednik, as well as many other artists, in more recent years.

The selection and supervision of the dancers of the Debutante Committee is just one of the many duties of the President of the Ball. This honorary function was carried out by Mrs. Maria Mautner-Markhof from 1949-1980, and by Mrs. Elisabeth Waldheim from 1985-86. Between 1981-84 and 1987-89 there was no ball president, but Mrs. Eva Angyan was President of the Ball from 1990–2010. In 2011, this function was carried out by a Ball Committee consisting of Mrs. Rotraut Konrad, Mrs. Marjana Lipovšek, Dr Hannes Androsch and Director Dominique Meyer. From 2013 to 2017, the Ball Committee was made up of Mrs. Rotraut Konrad, Mrs. Madeleine Rohla-Strauss, Mr. Rudolf Hundstorfer and Director Dominique Meyer. The ball organizer is tubist Prof. Mag. Paul Halwax.

Since 2000, Professor Thomas Schäfer-Elmayer has provided the choreography for the opening procession and waltz as Master of Dance.