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Classical Notes: Symphony travels to city of music and dreams

Vienna has many times been voted the world’s most livable city.

The seventh largest city in Europe, during the age of Viennese Classicism, it was named the “City of Music.”

It hosted Strauss Jr., Mozart, Haydn, Brahms and Richard Strauss (no relation to Johann.) But it was also known as “The City of Dreams” after the psycho-analyst, Sigmund Freud.

Hardly surprising that Vienna is known for music and romance.

On Sunday, the Okanagan Symphony performed a programme rich in waltzes and love songs, celebrating Viennese tradition.

As the last great capital for 19th century-style balls, Vienna still hosts over 200 annual balls, some with up to nine orchestras. They are held all night in beautiful palaces, and are certainly places for romance.

This was the environment in which Austrian composer Johann Strauss Jr. became Vienna’s darling for dance music. Known as “The Waltz King,” he was responsible for the popularity of the Viennese waltz.

Vienna was also a centre for operetta.

These, usually short, are considered less serious than “real” opera.

Strauss Jr. was also the most prolific composer of German operetta. His third, Die Fledermaus, has became the most performed operetta worldwide.

Other Viennese composers featured on Sunday were Franz Lehár, Franz von Suppé, Richard Heuberger and Oscar Strauss, Johann’s younger brother.

Rosemary Thomson, OSO musical director and conductor, introduced the evening’s music as “ear candy,” and started with von Suppé’s Morning, Noon and Night in Vienna.  The dramatic opening led to a beautiful slow waltz on cello. It finished at a gallop, with glorious timpani reminiscent of the steam organs on carousels.

She then introduced Taylor Pardell (soprano), one of four alumnus from the UBC Opera Ensemble, with Lehár’s My Lips, They Kiss So Hot. This had a Spanish flavour, yet sung (as was all the pieces) in German.

Chelsea Rus (soprano) and Aaron Durand (baritone) followed with Heuberger’s We Go in the Chambre Separee, a deliciously flirtatious duet:

“Patience, my treasure, come with me awhile apart, in cozy corner made for two.”

The fourth singer, Martin Sadd (tenor), gave us Happily Have I Kissed The Women, Lehár’s account of Paganini’s infidelity.

But undoubtedly the best known piece of the evening was Strauss’ Blue Danube Waltz.

One of the most consistently popular in the classical repertoire, its premiere was hardly successful. Strauss later lengthened it for the World’s Fair in Paris, and this version is the one most commonly performed. As the unofficial Austrian national anthem it’s broadcast by all official TV and radio stations at midnight on New Year’s Eve.

Thomson explained how Strauss’ wife, Adele, approached Brahms with a request that he autograph her fan. Brahms, instead of the usual practice of adding some of his own music, copied a section from the Blue Danube, and wrote beneath it: “Unfortunately, NOT by Johannes Brahms.”

Used by Stanley Kubrick for his film 2001: A Space Odyssey, the waltz celebrated man’s development of space technology, comparing the intricate docking procedures of an approaching space ship with the role of dancers in a waltz.

Jim Elderton is a freelance writer and filmmaker who reviews the Okanagan Symphony season for The Morning Star.

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