A unique institution of Austrian musical life does a bit of looking back and a whole lot of looking forward

ORF Radio Symphonieorchester Wien
ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra ©Theresa Wey

“We’re celebrating our fiftieth birthday with lots of little surprises and lots of partnerships. And we need, welcome, and enjoy having the many strong partners who are joining us in realising this jubilee season,” says a happy Christoph Becher, orchestra director of the Vienna RSO—and he’s especially happy about the orchestra’s cooperative arrangements with the ORF, the cinema Stadtkino Wien, Superar, and the mdw. “In a very concrete way, I consider the mdw to be the central musicians’ institution in Vienna. Many of our musicians were trained at the mdw and have also returned there to teach. We’re like communicating vessels—with impulses affecting both sides, for which reason it’s important that we work together closely.” The orchestra’s first concertmaster Peter Matzka, solo trumpeter Johann Plank, and tympanist Josef Gumpinger all teach performance students at the mdw. mdw student Tudor Paduraru, who studies with Elisabeth Kropfitsch, recently won the audition for a position as 1st violinist.

This ensemble was formed as the ORF Symphony Orchestra from members of the former Großes Orchester des Österreichischen Rundfunks plus additional musicians on 19 September 1969. The orchestra’s first principal conductor, Milan Horvat, led its first concert at Vienna’s Funkhaus (the broadcast centre now known as the ORF RadioKulturhaus) with works by Gottfried von Einem, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Igor Stravinsky.

Christoph Becher
Director Christoph Becher ©www.stefanjoham.com

With an eye to the five decades since then, the orchestra will spend this year repeating highlights of its programming history—such as compositions by composers including Paul Hindemith, Philip Glass, and Friedrich Cerha that were given their first Viennese performances by the Vienna RSO. But newer music and special commissions for the orchestra’s jubilee year will also be heard. “Particularly in this jubilee year, we also want to show very clearly who we are and what we’re there for. This means that we’ll be strongly emphasising our focus on new music, which is built into our DNA,” explains orchestra director Becher. And he continues: “It’s important to me to play a large number of such works—including brand new works by Austrian composers—and to take these works along with us when we play concerts outside of Austria.”

Marin Alsop
Marin Alsop ©Grant Leighton

It’s for other reasons, too, that 2019 is a significant year for this orchestra, which is now (particularly where contemporary music is concerned) viewed as a permanent fixture of Viennese and Austrian concert life. This year, the present principle conductor Cornelius Meister—who’s led and left his mark on the Vienna RSO over the past eight seasons—will be followed by the first woman to assume this prominent post. Beginning in September, Meister will be succeeded by the American conductor Marin Alsop. Her contract is initially for three years and includes concerts, opera productions, tours, and radio, CD, and DVD recordings. Alsop is quite clearly aware of her status as a role model, having been the first woman to conduct various big-name orchestras—and, as music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, the first woman to become head of a major orchestra in the United States. In recognition of this, the Vienna RSO is planning an extended series of events on women in musical professions, initiated by Marin Alsop and slated to begin in April 2019. For the Vienna RSO’s orchestra director, in any case, she’s the person who’s best suited for the job: “She matches the ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra as does no other. Marin Alsop is curious and open to the world, and she’s always keen on getting to know new music. She’s already worked very well together with the orchestra and its musicians in the past, and she contributes some new aspects to the orchestra’s profile: a strong anchoring in the Anglo-American music of the present and a close and fruitful working relationship with Naxos. She also has a heart for social concerns, and especially for young audiences that don’t necessarily have such an easy time approaching classical music.” In September 2019, Alsop will officially begin her tenure with the Vienna RSO, and 24 October will witness her opening concert with a programme that revolves around Paul Hindemith.

With all this in mind, we wish Marin Alsop the very best in her new position, congratulate the Vienna RSO upon its birthday, and wish them both continued success in programming music of the present day!

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