All you need to know about Vienna Philharmonic, conductor Riccardo Muti during their visit to Egypt

Ati Metwaly , Saturday 20 Nov 2021

The world-famous Vienna Philharmonic orchestra gives two concerts at the City of Arts and Culture's new opera house in the New Administrative Capital, with renowned Italian conductor Riccardo Muti leading the concerts scheduled for Saturday and Sunday.

Vienna philharmonic
(Photos: Reuters)

Entry with invitations is set for 20 November, while entry with tickets is scheduled for 21 November.

The concerts will open the new opera's main concert hall in the largest state-of-the-art edifice in Egypt.

With the orchestra having arrived in Egypt on Thursday, the concerts feature works by Mozart's Symphony no. 35 in D major 'Haffner' and Schubert Symphony no. 9 in C major 'The Great' on the first day, while the second day presents Schubert Symphony no. 4 in C minor 'Tragic', Stravinsky's Divertimentio, Suite from Ballet 'Le Baiser de la Fee' and Mendelssohn-Bartholdy Symphony no. 4 in A major 'Italian'.

The biggest in the Middle East, and built according to Egypt Vision 2030, the new opera is part of a large complex that comprises numerous other stages, a contemporary art museum, a movie theatre, a huge library, among other cultural edifices.

While some of the locations are yet to be inaugurated, the concert hall that has a capacity of over 1000 audience. The opera's main hall has a capacity of 2,500 audience and is equipped with the highest global technical and artistic standards implemented to serve as a catalyst of Egypt’s focus on the importance of providing high quality musical experiences to Egyptian, regional, and international audiences. 

In its first grand concert, the hall gives its stage to the Vienna Philharmonic (Wiener Philharmoniker), one of the world's finest orchestras with a history that goes back to 1842. 

The orchestra's first conductor was Otto Nicolai (1810-1849), who was the ensemble's artistic and administrative leader. With Nicolai leaving Vienna permanently in 1847, the young orchestra's days of glory ended. Following over a decade of stagnation, the ensemble was revived in 1860 quickly reached its golden age under the baton and artistic leadership of Hans Richter (1843-1916), who conducted at least 243 concerts lifting the orchestra's renown to world class status.

Other conductors who led the orchestra during the 20th century include Gustav Mahler, Joseph Hellmesberger Jr., Felix von Weingartner, Arturo Toscanini, Wilhelm Furtwängler, and Richard Strauss. The biggest names that marked the post-WWII history of the Vienna Philharmonic are honorary conductors Karl Böhm and Herbert von Karajan, alongside honorary member Leonard Bernstein.

The orchestra "is not only Austria's most highly coveted 'cultural export,' it is also an ambassador of peace, humanity, and reconciliation, concepts which are inseparably linked to the message of music itself. In 2012, the Vienna Philharmonic was named Goodwill Ambassador of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis. The orchestra has received numerous awards for its artistic achievements, gold and platinum disks, national honours, and honorary membership in many cultural institutions," the orchestra's website reads.

In September 2021, Classical Music, a BBC Music Magazine, listed Vienna Philharmonic among the world’s 10 best orchestras, placing it next to the ensembles of Los Angeles Philharmonic, London Symphony Orchestra, Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, and Berlin Philharmonic.

The article presents the Vienna Philharmonic as the ensemble known for its refusal to appoint a permanent principal conductor – which means that its players rule the roost. The article adds that, "on the surface, the VPO sounds different from most orchestras simply because it uses a higher-pitch tuning and different instruments including its clarinets (German Öhler system), a special ‘Wiener’ oboe and the ‘Vienna’ horn. But these aside, the VPO is still a crack orchestra, admired across the world. The orchestra performs its world-famous Johann Strauss-themed New Year’s Day concerts each year, broadcast to millions across the world."

Today, Vienna Philharmonic's busy schedule includes concert recordings on film and record and tours all over the world. According to the official press release announcing the Vienna Philharmonic’s concert in Egypt, the ensemble has first visited the country in the 1950s, an experience that had not been repeated until present. Its arrival to Egypt 70 years later comes at the end of the orchestra’s international tour across the Far East, where it recently performed in numerous cities in Korea, Japan, and China.

Conducting the orchestra during this tour is one of the world’s top musicians, Riccardo Muti.

The 80-year-old Italian conductor is currently in charge of two renowned orchestras: the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Orchestra Giovanile Luigi Cherubini. His previous posts include at the Maggio Musicale in Florence, the Philharmonia Orchestra in London, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Teatro alla Scala in Milan, and the Salzburg Whitsun Festival. His performances with many orchestras are often entwined with international tours during which he attracts thousands of listeners to concert halls.

One of the world's leading conductors of his generation, Muti has received many awards and honours, including two Grammy Awards, for Best Classical Album and Best Choral Performance for Verdi: Requiem (2010). In fact, Muti is considered one of the greatest living conductors leading Verdi’s operas.

In 2011, he was awarded the Birgit Nilsson Prize, the largest given in the world of classical music, amounting to $1 million, and Prince of Asturias Award for the Arts offered by Spain’s Foundation (since 2014 known as the Princess of Asturias Foundation). This was followed by Praemium Imperiale (2018), the World Culture Prize in Memory of His Imperial Highness Prince Takamatsu of Japan.

Other recognitions include honorary memberships in renowned music institutions, such as the Royal Academy of Music, doctorate "honoris causa" by the Universitat de Barcelona, the highest recognition for contribution to music and arts from France, Russia, Ukraine, and Japan, among other orders.

Among Muti's important recordings are those of the first Beethoven symphony cycle, the symphonies of Brahms and Scriabin, and selected works of Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev.

The master of Verdi operas, Muti is also praised for concerts featuring the works of Puccini, Mozart, Wagner and numerous other composers and their less known works, which he abundantly explored when conducting Teatro alla Scala’s Orchestra in Milan.

In 2010, Muti published an autobiography, which was translated into English the year after, under the title Riccardo Muti: An Autobiography: First the Music, Then the Words.

Muti’s cooperation with the Vienna Philharmonic spans over half a decade, during which he led the orchestra through many concerts. He has also conducted Vienna’s famed New Year concerts that are broadcast to millions of viewers worldwide, on six occasions, with the most recent being in December 2020.

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