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The International Writers Magazine: Music and Travel

The Vienna Philharmonic on the Baltic Sea
Elizabeth Schotten Merklinger
I had an incredible musical experience, a 10-day (7-17 July) music cruise on the Baltic Sea with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. Travelling in an intimate way with one of the world's leading orchestras made Sea and Music an unforgettable musical adventure.

The key events were superb on-shore concerts. The first of these on July 9 was in Tallin, Estonia, in a beautiful park setting amidst the walled city remains on Tower Square, where Ildiko Raimondi, a member of the Vienna State Opera, accompanied by Die Wiener, an ensemble from the orchestra, sang a lovely medley of Austrian melodies.

They began with Mozart and Haydn, then continuing with others from the Vienna Waltz virtuoso Josef Lanner and operetta composer Carl Milloecker, and concluding of  course with the Strauss dynasty. An interesting addition was the moderation of Professor Dr. Herbert Zeman, Ildiko Raimondi's husband, who added wit to an historical account.

The next concert on July 11 took place in St.Petersburg in the sumptuously restored Marinsky Theatre (formerly known as the Kirov). Here the incomparable Valery Gergiev, who has been described as carrying a disproportionate share of the music world on his shoulders and who is something of a national hero in Russia for having kept the Marinsky Theatre alive after the collapse of the Soviet Union. He conducted a magnificent concert of Tchaikovsky (Serenade for Strings in C major, op.48) and Beethoven (Piano Concerto No.5 in E-flat major, op.73). It was also our first opportunity to hear the splendid Austrian pianist Rudolph Buchbinder scheduled on this cruise to perform all five Beethoven piano concertos. By the end of the performance I was so inspired that I wanted to go home with the intent of finding a piano teacher .

The third on-shore concert took place July 12 in Helsinki, where Buchbinder, called «the Viennese oracle on the core literature of Haydn, Beethoven and Brahms », played three Beethoven Piano Concertos (No.2 in B-flat major, op.19; No.4 in G major, op.58; and No.1 in C major, op.15).  This event took place in the stark modern Finlandia Hall, designed by the famous Finnish architect, Alvar Aalto, and named after Sibelius' best-known work, the symphonic poem Finlandia. Entirely built of Carrara marble, Finlandia Hall is the most popular venue for classical music in Helsinki.

Sweden The fourth on-shore concert on July 13 was in the Stockholm Konserthuset. Rudolph Buchbinder played three Beethoven Piano Sonatas (the Pathetique, No.8, in C minor, op.13; No.3 in B-minor, op.58; and the Appassionata, No.23 in F minor, op.57).

The last on-shore concert, conducted by the world renowned conductor, Christian Thielemann, on July 15 was an hommage to Otto Nicolai, founder of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, a man to whom the orchestra and classical music owes so much, and whose birthday was celebrated in Koenigsberg (Kaliningrad). How strange that a Prussian was the founder of the Vienna Philharmonic! The orchestra played Nicolai's Overture to The Merry Wives of Windsor, followed by Ildiko Raimondi singing an area of Lady Fluth, and Rudolph Buchbinder playing Beethoven's Piano Concerto No.3 in C minor, op.37.  The orchestra ended the evening with Beethoven's Symphony No.7, op.92.

But these major concerts were only a part of the offerings. On the ship an additional four chamber music concerts were presented. We heard a cello chamber concert by the Wiener Celloquartet, another chamber concert by the Wiener Wind Ensemble (Blaeserensemble), a concert by Die Wiener (mainly Mozart, Strauss and Brahms) and a final concert again by the Wiener Wind Ensemble with Rudolph Buchbinder. Two beautiful pieces were played, Mozart's Quintet in E-flat KV 451 for piano and winds and Beethoven's Quintet in E-flat, op.16, also for piano and winds.

And between on-shore and on-ship concerts a number of rehearsals were offered. Everyone was invited and we were able to observe the orchestra and the conductors working informally.

The unique experience of living, travelling and listening to one of the greatest orchestras of the world was a rare treat for all of the nearly 2000 passengers on board Mein Schiff, a TUI cruise ship chartered for this very special occasion by the Austrian tour operator MS6 Travel and Music.

For further information please contact MS6 Reisegesellschaft MbH, Miessthalerstrasse 14, 1920 Klagenfurt, Austria.  Telephone 43-463-57920 (

© Elizabeth Schotten Merklinger - RIP
Ottawa, ON  Canada

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