Hostel to Golden Hall: a Viennese whirl
James Lane | AAP | June 4 2017
It's meant to be an early night back to a hostel near Vienna's Hauptbahnhof (central station) before a long drive to Prague the next day.
But a post-dinner ride on the U-Bahn derails our plans in the best way. I'm with a friend and we're just about to get off at our stop when a distressed Japanese woman approaches us.
"My friend is sick and we can't attend a Mozart concert at the Musikverein tonight. Please take our tickets [each worth $A250] - it's only just started," she says.
The Musikverein's Golden Hall is the most monumental concert hall in the Austrian capital. Each New Year it's showcased when the Vienna Philharmonic performs the traditional January 1 concert.
This year's concert was watched by an estimated TV audience of 50 million people in 93 countries.
With this in mind we console the Japanese duo and smile gratefully (read: gleefully) before quickly catching the next train back into the city on a balmy summer evening.
The Viennese are renowned as the most elegant and best-dressed in Europe. They also take social etiquette seriously.
Willy Elmayer-Schaefer, Austria's equivalent of June Dally-Watkins, lists the cardinal errors of attending live classical music to include eating, chewing gum, blocking the view of others, letting in gatecrashers, stealing floral decorations, sitting on fire extinguishers, taking off one's jacket and arriving improperly dressed.
On that score we easily commit four errors as we take up our excellent balcony seats.
I'm unshaven, dressed in a grotty Nick Cave T-shirt and shorts. My friend looks only slightly better in a faded polo shirt and jeans. We are dishevelled and so out of place it's hideous, but with a traveller's mix of chutzpah and cheekiness we take in the Golden Hall's excess of gilt and architectural detail. The actual performance of the Vienna Philharmonic is almost an afterthought.
Just about every part of the Golden Hall's surface is crammed with ornamentation: from the crenellated, gilt-edged balconies to the over-the-top allegorical paintings on the ceiling, not to mention 50 golden, topless female sculptures stationed around the perimeter of the hall. Is neoclassical nudity racy? The whole shebang is a riot of detail.
When it comes to sound, the Musikverein seems to set its own rules. It's as if there's something in the air that is coaxing and cosseting the process of music-making. I'm far from an expert on acoustics but we sit agog, lost in a dreamy meditation and marvel at the glorious symphony produced in this much-venerated space.
As a blow-in scruff, I try to go unnoticed but the Golden Hall does me no favours by keeping the lights up throughout the whole concert. I guess like Milan's equally-opulent La Scala opera house, a big part of the show at the Musikverein is its interior and aesthetics.
Knocked-out by the experience, we linger long enough after the final bows to savour what seems like a giddy dream. We take our cue as we feel the glare of the Viennese glitterati. Disdainful looks tell us our time is up.
We seek refuge by finishing the night at one Vienna's oldest coffee houses - Cafe Central - a pseudo-Gothic haunt of intellectuals, politicians and the literary set. Regulars included Freud, Hitler, Trotsky, Lenin and Tito.
We spend our last euros ordering an "obermayer" - a big cup of mocca with a thin layer of cold cream on top. It's named after a musician with the Vienna Philharmonic. As we enjoy our coffees, we shake our heads in disbelief at our luck and raise a toast to a night which we dine out on every New Year's Day when the concert airs on TV. Memorable.
IF YOU GO:
GETTING THERE: Emirates operates flights each day from Australia to Dubai with daily connections to Vienna. For further details visit: www.emirates.com/au
PLAYING THERE: The Musikverein, located on Musikvereinsplatz, is Vienna's most famous centre for classical music. A 45-minute guided tour is held every day except on Sundays and provides an opportunity to learn about the history of one of Europe's great concert halls. Details see: www.musikverein.at and for tickets email: email@example.com
STAYING THERE: A&O Wien Hauptbahnhof is a hostel on Sonnwendgasse and is a short walk from Vienna's central station. It provides free wi-fi while the rooms and some dorms have TVs. Buffet-style breakfast is complimentary. For details visit: www.aohostels.com/de/wien/wien-hauptbahnhof/
* The writer travelled at his own expense.
(image credit: larisa-birta-102093/unsplash.com)