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The Vienna Philharmonic on the Baltic Sea

A Musical Cruise
7-17 July 2010

I have just returned from an incredible musical experience, a ten-day music cruise on the Baltic Sea with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra (7-17 July 2010). Travelling in an intimate way with one of the world's leading orchestras made Sea and Music an unforgettable musical adventure not to be missed.

The key events were superb on-shore concerts. The first of these on July 9 was in Tallin, Estonia, in a beautiful park setting amidst the walled city remains on Tower Square, where Ildiko Raimondi, a member of the Vienna State Opera, accompanied by Die Wiener, an ensemble from the orchestra, sang a lovely medley of Austrian melodies, beginning with Mozart and Haydn, then continuing with others from the Vienna Waltz virtuoso Josef Lanner and operetta composer Carl Milloecker, and concluding, of course, with the Strauss dynasty. An interesting addition was the moderation of Professor Dr. Herbert Zeman, Ildiko Raimondi's husband, who added wit to an historical account.

The next concert on July 11 took place in St. Petersburg in the sumptuously restored Marinsky Theatre (formerly known as the Kirov). Here the incomparable Valery Gergiev, who has been described as carrying a disproportionate share of the music world on his shoulders, and who is something of a national hero in Russia for having kept the Marinsky Theatre alive after the collapse of the Soviet Union, conducted a magnificent concert of Tchaikovsky (Serenade for Strings in C major, Op. 48) and Beethoven (Piano Concerto #5 in E Flat Major, Op. 73). It was also our first opportunity to hear the splendid Austrian pianist Rudolph Buchbinder scheduled on this cruise to perform all five Beethoven piano concertos.

Finlandia Hall

The third on-shore concert was in Helsinki on July 12. Buchbinder, called «the Viennese oracle on the core literature of Haydn, Beethoven and Brahms», played three Beethoven Piano Concertos (No.2 in B Flat major, Op. 19; #4 in G Major, Op. 58; and #1 in C major, Op. 15). The stark modern Finlandia Hall, designed by the famous Finnish architect, Alvar Aalto, and named after Sibelius' best-known work, the symphonic poem Finlandia, was the setting. Entirely built of Carrara marble, Finlandia Hall is the most popular venue for classical music in Helsinki.

On July 13 we heard Rudolph Buchbinder play three Beethoven Piano Sonatas (the Pathetique, #8, in C minor, Op. 13; #3 in B-minor, Op. 58; and the Appassionata, #23 in F minor, Op. 57) in the Stockholm Konserthuset.

The last on-shore concert, conducted by the world renowned conductor, Christian Thielemann, on July 15 was an hommage to Otto Nicolai, founder of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, a man to whom the orchestra and classical music owes so much, and whose birthday was celebrated in Koenigsberg (Kaliningrad). How strange that a Prussian was the founder of the Vienna Philharmonic! The orchestra played Nicolai's Overture to The Merry Wives of Windsor, followed by Ildiko Raimondi singing an area of Lady Fluth, and Rudolph Buchbinder playing Beethoven's Piano Concerto #3 in C minor, Op. 37. The orchestra ended the evening with Beethoven's Symphony #7, Op. 92.

But these major concerts were only a part of the offerings. On the ship an additional four chamber music concerts were presented. We heard a cello chamber concert by the Wiener Celloquartet, another chamber concert by the Wiener Wind Ensemble (Blaeserensemble), a concert by Die Wiener (mainly Mozart, Strauss and Brahms) and a final concert again by the Wiener Wind Ensemble with Rudolph Buchbinder. Two beautiful pieces were played, Mozart's Quintet in E-flat KV 451 for piano and winds and Beethoven's Quintet in E-flat, Op. 16, also for piano and winds.

And between on-shore and on-ship concerts a number of rehearsals were offered. Everyone was invited and we were able to observe the orchestra and the conductors working informally.

A Musical Cruise

The unique experience of living, travelling and listening to one of the greatest orchestras of the world was a rare treat for all of the nearly 2000 passengers on board Mein Schiff, a TUI cruise ship chartered for this very special occasion by the Austrian tour operator MS6 Travel and Music.

There are future plans for other music cruises. In 2011 (14-24 Sept) MS6 will have the Vienna Symphony Orchestra on a River and Music Cruise on the Rhone River. There will be two big concerts ashore and a number of smaller chamber ensemble concerts on the three river ships to be used for this occasion. But in addition the 450 passengers will have gourmet dinners and a chance to taste the splendid wine of the region. For further information please contact MS6 Reisegesellschaft MbH, Miessthalerstrasse 14, 1920 Klagenfurt, Austria. Telephone 43-463-57920 (

Copyright © 2010, Elizabeth Schotten Merklinger.