Retracing Musical History in the “Venice of the North”

©Vsevolod Konovalov

“It won’t be easy, but we’re going to try uniting the Viennese tradition with the Russian sound.” It was with these words that conservatory director and conductor Alexej Vasiliev commenced rehearsals for a joint concert by students of the mdw and of the N. A. Rimsky-Korsakov Saint Petersburg State Conservatory. This performance, which took place in the Rose Pavilion at Pavlovsk Palace near St. Petersburg on 8 September, featured the music of Johann Strauss; Pavlovsk was where Strauss spent his summer months during the late 19th century, making music with an ensemble nearly every day and premièring works including his Pizzicato Polka.

Ten members of the Webern Kammerphilharmonie (concertmaster, contrabass, two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, and two trumpets) joined Conservatory students to rehearse a programme that included what are probably Johann Strauss’s most popular waltzes and polkas. The idea of staging a joint concert came about during a visit to the Saint Petersburg State Conservatory by mdw Vice Rector Christian Meyer early in 2018, Austria and Russia’s bilateral “Year of Music and Cultural Routes”.

The “Venice of the North”, as St. Petersburg is sometimes called, also offered the Webern Kammerphilharmonie’s members an opportunity to immerse themselves in Russian culture: outside of rehearsals, there was ample time to visit sights as well as to enjoy a wide range of Russian food and drink. The concert itself saw the Rose Pavilion packed to the last row, and the audience’s response to the concert was overwhelmingly positive.

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