On Kartnerstrasse, in the heart of Vienna, a musician has set up his “stage,” and begins playing his violin. Arm extended, bow at the ready, he’s facing a souvenir shop named Mostly Mozart. Further up the street, a riot of posted flyers announce a month’s worth of musical events — all of them happening tonight. Bewigged — and often iPod’d – “Mozarts” are everywhere, hawking concerts.
It’s easy to see why Vienna calls itself the world capital of music. Home to the famed Vienna Boys Choir (who lift their angelic voices on Christmas Day at the Hofmusikkapelle) and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra (whose New Year’s Day concert attracts a worldwide audience), this regal city is also famous for it eponymous waltz. Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert, Strauss, and, of course, Mozart all lived and worked here — and there’s a house museum for each one to prove it.
But, for me, the most unique attraction is the House Of Music, where on my last visit I “conducted” the Philharmonic. There I stood on the podium, baton in hand, coaxing the orchestra to unleash Mozart’s distinctive opening of “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik”. Each time I lifted my baton, the musicians responded exactly on cue to my tempo and rhythm. When the piece ended, I was rewarded with the sound of enthusiastic applause. It’s all part of the computer-controlled “Virtual Conductor,” which as of this Nov. 28 unveiled an enhanced experience and updated programming.
The Haus der Musik’s site is a grand mansion, perfectly situated between the Opera and St. Stephen’s Cathedral, where the founder of the Vienna Philharmonic once lived. (It now also houses the orchestra’s archives.) Its multi-media exhibits, developed in cooperation with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, cover everything from music history to the origin of sound to interactive play like Virtual Conductor.
On the first floor, an exhibit details the illustrious history of the Philharmonic; while upstairs, the “Sonosphere” presents tonal and sound phenomena in varied ways, starting with a pre-natal whooshing. The third floor is devoted to famous composers who lived in Vienna, as well as the Virtual Conductor. On the next floor, “Brain Opera” devised by an MIT professor, focuses on the future of music and music-making, allowing visitors to try their hand at composition.
Whether it’s composing or conducting that soothes your savage breast, you can do it all at this museum — and, as in the rest of Vienna, you can do it 365 days a year, from 10am to 10pm. Now that’s what I call a stroke of genius!