Opinion, Berkeley Blogs

Vienna Philharmonic at Cal Performances

By Matías Tarnopolsky


The utter silence at the end of the Vienna Philharmonic's performance of Mahler's Symphony No. 6 yesterday afternoon said it all. It seemed like an eternity before the audience finally, suddenly, erupted in rapturous, enduring applause. We had just experienced some incredible music-making by these musicians, magnificently conducted by Semyon Bychkov, the kind of music-making that comes along very rarely. I can remember few performances that have affected me so profoundly as yesterday’s did.

Maestro Semyon Bychkov rehearses the Vienna Philharmonic on Zellerbach Hall stage.

The Vienna Philharmonic makes music with a unanimity of purpose that is unique. They are at once over 100 musicians playing their individual parts, and at the same time a single entity, breathing as one. Their approach to making music owes as much to their hearts and their souls as it does to their unparalleled skills as instrumentalists. Every musician in the Vienna Philharmonic understands, feels and performs music in the same way.

They are a self-governing collective focused, above all, on musical excellence. When they are not playing in Vienna Philharmonic concerts, they play together in the Vienna State Opera, in numerous chamber music groups, or they teach. There is a teacher-student lineage among some of the musicians that goes back to the orchestra’s founding in 1842.

In addition to their main-stage performances at Zellerbach Hall, the musicians gave master classes to more than 50 of our student musicians in the UC Symphony Orchestra and performed a chamber music concert with free admission to area music students. Audience members heard three fascinating pre-concert talks which illuminated the history and traditions of this venerable ensemble. Cal Performances reached some 250 additional students with free tickets to these events and performances.

If their reaction is anything like mine was, in 1987, when I heard the Vienna Philharmonic for the first time, then they too will be forever touched by the transformative power of music-making as subtle, profound and visceral as what we heard over the last few days. That is what will resonate for a long time to come on our campus, and far beyond.

The Vienna Philharmonic just concluded a major residency under Cal Performances’ auspices.