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CLASSICAL  July 2001

CLASSICAL July 2001

Subject:

A Vienna Museum for Would-Be Maestros

From:

Gretchen Ehrenberg <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Thu, 26 Jul 2001 12:49:27 +0000

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   JUL 22, 2001
   A Vienna Museum for Would-Be Maestros
   By PAUL HOFMANN
   ANYONE who has daydreamed about becoming a famous maestro can fulfill
   the fantasy at the House of Music, a museum that opened last year in
   the heart of Vienna.

   "Virtual Conductor," an interactive attraction, lets you step onto
   a mockup of a podium (there's usually a line) and take up the baton.
   On a giant screen in front of you, the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
   appears as if waiting for your directions.

   As you launch into Mozart's "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik" or a Strauss
   waltz, glancing at the score on a billboard to your right, the
   musicians on the screen follow your tempi and rhythm.  At the
   end they get up and reward you with applause for your inspired
   interpretation.  Yet if you were to hopelessly butcher the music
   they would interrupt the performance and protest vocally.

   The orchestra-conducting attraction, whose software was developed
   for the House of Music, is one of many multimedia wonders of the $55
   million six-story complex.

   Step into the sequence of halls and niches dedicated to the celebrated
   composers who were born or lived in Vienna, and you will hear some
   of the greatest music ever written.  It is continuously piped in
   stereo into the museum's rooms celebrating Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven,
   Schubert, the Strausses, Mahler, and the Second Viennese School of
   Arnold Schoenberg and his disciples Alban Berg and Anton von Webern.

   Oddly, Brahms, who lived in Vienna as long as Beethoven did - 34
   years - is missing.  So are Anton Bruckner, Hugo Wolf and that champion
   of the Viennese operetta, the Hungarian-born Franz Lehar.

   In the theme rooms you can listen to outstanding renditions of your
   favorite musical works, watch films on demand or consult databases.
   Or you can just wander around and view the exhibitions that describe
   the personality quirks and ways of life of the Viennese composers.

   Facsimile pages from Haydn's journal, with dictated entries about
   his activities on a given day, show how incredibly busy the seemingly
   relaxed master was.

   A letter from the 25-year-old Mozart to his father reads:  "My desire
   and hope is to earn honor, fame and money." Nearby is a reproduction
   of the last notes he wrote, 10 years later - broke, mortally ill and
   unable to complete his "Requiem." The tiny iron hearth on which
   Beethoven's oft-changing and much-scolded servants prepared his frugal
   meals is next to an array of his many ineffectual hearing trumpets.

   A Biedermeier spinet and views of early-19th-century Vienna take us
   into Schubert's world.  There are pictures of the ballrooms where
   Viennese couples whirled to Strauss waltzes; the rough trunk of a
   mountain pine alludes to the tree house in which Mahler used to
   compose during his Alpine vacations.  All labels are in both German
   and English.

   A somber memorial, "Exodus," on the same floor pays tribute to Viennese
   musicians who were driven into exile or murdered by the Nazis.

   On the fifth floor is "Futuresphere," the realm of electronic music,
   created in collaboration with the Media Lab of the Massachusetts
   Institute of Technology.  "Brain Opera," invented and composed by
   Prof.  Tod Machover of M.I.T., suggests possible musicmaking in the
   new millennium.  In a row of cubicles visitors can produce music of
   their own on "hyperinstruments" that are played by touch, gesture,
   speaking or singing.  Fingers wander over a "melody easel," a screen
   on which their pressure and position bring forth sounds and accompanying
   ghostly images.

   The third-floor "Sonosphere" is a parade of elementary aural
   experiences.  From a large diagram of the human ear you stroll to an
   audio gallery that ranges from the presumed sound perception of the
   unborn to a multitude of noises and tones:  the roar of a hurricane,
   the smack of a Ping-Pong ball, the Manhattan medley of Broadway
   traffic, the hiss of paper being torn.

   The museum, which was opened in June 2000, is a private venture,
   meant to reinforce Vienna's claim to the title of world capital of
   music.  Money for it came from the Vienna Civic Insurance Company
   and the Siemens Corporation without any public subsidies; its promoters
   hope that the operation will break even.

   Stefan Seigner, an industrialist and part-time impresario, with
   a team of five architects and a staff of experts and technicians,
   created the institution in only 18 months.  The project involved a
   thorough reconstruction of the late-18th-century palace of Archduke
   Charles of Hapsburg and installation of lots of high-tech equipment
   for both classical music and futuristic audiovisual adventures.

   The wedge-shaped museum, adjoining the Vienna State Music University,
   was once the home of Otto Nicolai, the composer of the opera "The
   Merry Wives of Windsor," principal conductor of the imperial theaters
   and, in 1842, founder of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.

   A life-size mannequin of Nicolai in period dress, striking a mischievous
   pose, graces a wainscoted hall of the Vienna Philharmonic Museum, on
   the second floor, transferred to the House of Music from its former
   seat in a nearby palace; it requires a separate admission ticket.
   Its high-ceilinged rooms are filled with historic concert posters,
   portraits of such guest conductors as Arturo Toscanini and Leonard
   Bernstein, and a wealth of other mementos.  Visitors can listen to
   records of outstanding concerts by the famous orchestra.

   The House of Music's top floor contains a hall, seating 130 people,
   for live performances and a practice room.  Regular events are held
   in collaboration with various groups and artists; young talent and
   avant-garde music are favored.

   The Musicantino Restaurant, also on the top floor, affords a charming
   view of the city's roofscape and of the 600-year-old Gothic steeple
   of St.  Stephen's Cathedral, Vienna's signature landmark.

   It wouldn't be Vienna if there weren't also a coffeehouse on the
   premises - on the ground floor, in the glass-roofed inner courtyard.
   It's a pity there is no cafe pianist - once almost obligatory - softly
   playing nostalgic tunes.

   PAUL HOFMANN, a native of Vienna, is the author of "The Spell of the
   Vienna Woods:  Inspiration and Influence From Beethoven to Kafka"
   (Holt).

   Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company

Gretchen Ehrenberg
Garmisch-Partenkirchen
Germany

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