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Home > Orchestra : Orchestra


Das Philharmonische Tagebuch

Sun, 06. March 2016

Silvia Kargl



Nikolaus Harnoncourt and the Vienna Philharmonic

The special collaboration between Nikolaus Harnoncourt and the Vienna Philharmonic had an unique beginning. Even though most conductors make their debuts with the orchestra outside of the subscription concert series, Nikolaus Harnoncourt conducted his first Philharmonic concert on December 8, 1984, as a part of this venerated series which the orchestra has presented independently since 1860. On this program were works by composers who later were to play a prominent role in the mutual collaboration of this conductor with the Vienna Philharmonic: the "Paris Symphony", KV 297, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; his Violin Concerto featuring Gidon Kremer as soloist as well as Franz Schubert's "Tragic Symphony", D 417. Previously, recordings had been made with Gidon Kremer. 

Twenty years to the day after that first concert, on December 8, 2004, Nikolaus Harnoncourt was made an Honorary Member of the Vienna Philharmonic, the highest honor bestowed by the orchestra. Clemens Hellsberg, chairman of the Vienna Philharmonic between 1997 and 2014, described the convergence of the orchestra and Nikolaus Harnoncourt in the following manner: "It seemed like a gradual coming together from two opposite ends of a spectrum; a slow process of developing mutual understanding which was successful only because both sides demonstrated a willingness to hope for something which seemed impossible."

Until 1991, it was primarily Mozart who united Nicolaus Harnoncourt with the Vienna Philharmonic. Harnoncourt's novel interpretations of well-known and respected compositions provided rousing, enlightening and often provocative musical experiences which in the ensuing concert seasons quickly developed into much sought after highlights. Later, Joseph Haydn entered into the mutual repertoire as part of a concert for the Vienna Festival and Schubert's "Unfinished" was also heard in this constellation for the first time, a composition which would in time prove to be a key component of this artistic collaboration.

Ludwig van Beethoven followed in 1996, beginning with a performance of his 8th Symphony. Then came Alban Berg's Violin Concerto in 1997, again with Gidon Kremer, as well as Johannes Brahms' 2nd Symphony, which had been premiered by the Vienna Philharmonic in 1877. In 1999, Anton Bruckner's 7th Symphony was performed, as well as concerts with music of Johann Strauss in celebration of the 100th anniversary of his death. In 2000, there was a performance of Franz Schmidt's oratorium, "Das Buch mit sieben Siegeln (The Book with Seven Seals)". In 2001 and 2003, Nikolaus Harnoncourt conducted two unforgettable New Year's Concerts which were characterized by the depth and instrumental finesse found in the music of the Strauss Dynasty.

Anton Dvorák's 9th Symphony in 2001 can be described as a voyage of discovery and in that same year, the very successful performance of Bedřich Smetana's "Má Vlast", represented the first complete performance of  all six movements of this cycle in the history of the Vienna Philharmonic. In 2002, Johann Sebastian Bach's "St. Mathew's Passion" was performed and, at the Salzburg Festival, Mozart's opera "Don Giovanni" was on the program. A "discussion concert" featuring Bruckner's 9th Symphony, which included the fragments of the closing movement, was met with much approval.

At the Salzburg Festival in 2003, Mozart's "La Clemenza di Tito" was performed, as was Haydn's "Die Schöpfung (The Creation)" in Rome. In 2004, Giuseppe Verdi's "Messa da Requiem" was heard in new sonic garb. On January 27, 2006, Harnoncourt and the Vienna Philharmonic inaugurated the "Mozart Year" in Salzburg and, in the summer of that year, was followed by "Le Nozze di Figaro" at the Salzburg Festival. In 2007, "Ein deutsches Requiem (A German Requiem)" by Johann Brahms was followed by the Vienna Philharmonic's first performance of Robert Schumann's "Das Paradise und die Peri" in 2008. It was not only Harnoncourt's detailed scholarship, but also the tangible and vivid manner in which he was able to communicate his knowledge of music that made him unique. 

The performance of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 1 in 2010 provided an introduction to Lang Lang, which later led to the recording of the "Mozart Album".  In 2013, Nikolaus Harnoncourt conducted Haydn's "Die Jahreszeiten" with the orchestra in Salzburg. In addition to concert engagements in Vienna and Salzburg, there were numerous highly successful tours. The first led to Switzerland and Germany in 1997. This was followed by tours to the USA in 2003 and 2010, as well as to Japan in 2006.

The performances of Schubert's Incidental Music to "Rosamunde" and once again the "Unfinished" in 2014 comprised, together with one last Schubert program for the Mozart Week in 2015, the unplanned, yet all the more moving conclusion to an impressive musical collaboration which extended for a period of more than three decades. In December of 2015, after having performed 154 concerts with the Vienna Philharmonic, Nikolaus Harnoncourt took his leave from the orchestra as conductor with the following words: "Here is not the place to ponder our great, long-lasting and exciting collaboration.... the "Unfinished" in Berlin, I will hear eternally.....".

Among the many mutual award-winning recordings are, in addition to the New Year's Concerts, Mozart's five violin concertos with Gido Kremer; the Sinfonia Concertante, KV 364, featuring Kim Kashkashian; Mozart's "Le Nozze di Figaro" and the opening concert of the Salzburg Festival in 2009; "The Mozart Album" with Lang Lang; Bruckner's Symphonies Nos. 5 and 9; "Ein deutsches Requiem" by Brahms; Smetana's "Má Vlast"; Schmidt's "Das Buch mit Sieben Siegeln"; Haydn's "Die Jareszeiten"; and Verdi's "Messa da Requiem" as well as his opera "Aida".

Silvia Kargl
Historical Archives of the Vienna Philharmonic



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