There is perhaps no other musical ensemble more consistently and closely associated with the history and tradition of European classical music than the VIENNA PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA. In the course of its 166-year history, the musicians of this most prominent orchestra of the capital city of music have been an integral part of a musical epoch that – thanks to an abundance of uniquely gifted composers and interpreters – must certainly be regarded as unique.
The orchestra’s close association with this rich musical history is best illustrated by the statements of countless pre-eminent musical personalities of the past. Richard Wagner described the orchestra as being one of the most outstanding in the world; Anton Bruckner called it “the most superior musical association,” Johannes Brahms counted himself a “friend and admirer,” Gustav Mahler claimed to be joined together through “the bonds of musical art,” and Richard Strauss summarized these sentiments by saying: “All praise of the Vienna Philharmonic reveals itself as understatement.”
When Hans Knappertsbusch said that the Philharmonic was “incomparable,” his comment was correct in more ways than one. One notable aspect of this incomparability is certainly the unique relationship between the Vienna State Opera Orchestra and the private association known as the Vienna Philharmonic. In accordance with Philharmonic statutes, only a member of the Vienna State Opera Orchestra can become a member of the Vienna Philharmonic. Before joining the Philharmonic, therefore, one must first successfully audition for a position with the State Opera Orchestra and prove oneself capable over a period of three years before becoming eligible to submit an application for membership in the association of the Vienna Philharmonic. The engagement in the Vienna State Opera Orchestra provides the musicians a financial stability that would be impossible to attain without relinquishing their autonomy to private or corporate sponsors. The independence that the Philharmonic musicians enjoy through the opera is returned in kind by a higher level of artistic performance gained through the orchestra’s experience on the concert podium.
Since its inception through Otto Nicolai in 1842, the fascination that the orchestra has exercised upon prominent composers and conductors, as well as on audiences all over the world, is based not only on a homogenous musical style carefully bequeathed from one generation to the next, but also on its unique structure and history. The desire to provide artistically worthy performances of the symphonic works of Mozart and Beethoven in their own city led to the decision on the part of the court opera musicians to present a “Philharmonic” concert series independent of their work at the opera, and upon their own responsibility and risk. The organizational form chosen for this new enterprise was democracy, a concept that in the political arena was the subject of bloody battles only six years later.
Over the course of one and a half centuries, this chosen path of democratic self-administration has experienced slight modifications, but has never been substantially altered. The foremost ruling body of the organization is the orchestra itself.
The Vienna Philharmonic has made it its mission to communicate the humanitarian message of music into the daily lives and consciousness of its listeners. With concerts at home and on tour around the world, today’s Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra is much more than Austria’s most coveted “cultural export.” The orchestra’s members are considered ambassadors, expressing through their performances the ideals of peace, humanity, and reconciliation with which music is so inseparably bound, and regularly donating services to create events that promote peace through music. Examples of this include the orchestra’s historic performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 with Sir Simon Rattle in 2000 at Mauthausen, the former site of Austria’s largest concentration camp during World War II; the 2002 concert in New York City’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral in remembrance of victims of terrorism; annual benefits in New York City benefiting the American Austrian Foundation/Salzburg Cornell (Medical Seminars); and, beginning in 1999, the annual donation of partial proceeds from the VPO’s New Year’s Concerts to a variety of humanitarian organizations. The Vienna Philharmonic, since 2005, have been Goodwill Ambassadors for the World Health Organization, and, in 2006, became supporters of the “Hear the World” initiative, a hearing awareness campaign. As of November 2008, Rolex is the worldwide presenting sponsor of the Vienna Philharmonic.
The musicians of the Vienna Philharmonic endeavor to implement the motto with which Ludwig van Beethoven, whose symphonic works served as a catalyst for the creation of the orchestra, prefaced his Missa solemnis: “From the heart, to the heart.”