MuTh: Music for the Next Hundred Years

The Vienna Boys’ Choir now has its own concert hall: ‘Musik & Theater’ in the Augarten

The Sängerknaben’s new stage will be Vienna’s premiere venue for theatre and music performances for and by young people | Photo: Lukas Beck

MuTh shows courage pairing the old architecture with the new | Photo: Lukas Beck

The interior of MuTh Photo: Niki Witoszynskyj

vienna choir boys

The Sängerknaben’s new stage will be Vienna’s premiere venue for theatre and music performances for and by young people | Photo: Lukas Beck

After 514 years of wandering from stage to stage, the Vienna Boys’ Choir (Sängerknaben) finally has a place to perform that they can call their own: the MuTh concert hall, which was inaugurated on 9 December. The date was just a few weeks shy of a century since the last major concert hall opened in Vienna, the Konzerthaus, built in 1913.

The MuTh celebrations were impressive, beginning with a matinée concert of the Choir accompanied by the Vienna Philharmonic under the baton of Franz Welser-Möst, and followed by an open house the rest of the day. Champagne flowed, and the hall and its various attached vestibules, corridors and foyers were thronged in an atmosphere of good cheer and happy expectation.

 

Honouring the Augarten’s past

From without, the new 400-seat hall looks like a colossal leviathan rising behind the old walls at the Augarten’s “Spitz”, the narrow southern corner of the 2nd District park. Designed by Johannes Kraus and Michael Lawugger of the Viennese architectural firm Archipel, the shiny structure covered with grey titanium zinc scales has a form that can only be described as decontructivist, with a 90-degree angle hard to find. But there is a remarkable flexibility to the lines and slopes of the building; geometry has been forced to dance.

To the chagrin of some, the building starkly contrasts the Baroque Palais in the background, or the restored gateman’s post in front. The Augarten dates originally to the 17th century, a pleasure garden and hunting grounds for the nobility laid out in a swampy area to the east of the city walls. In 1775, it was opened to the public by Joseph II, one of the great monarchs of the Enlightenment. Today it contains the oldest Baroque garden in Vienna, and is one of the city’s loveliest parks. Here you are allowed to step on the grass and picnic; in the summer it is a paradise for amateur funambulists, tightrope walking between the chestnuts.

When Joseph II threw open the park gates to the Viennese, nightingales were released to nest above the pathways. Although the songbirds have long since disappeared, the sweet sound of singing has become a fixture: The Augarten Palace has been home to the Vienna Boys’ Choir since 1948. Except when they had a performance and had to go elsewhere.

 

Overcoming local protests

The process of building MuTh was not a smooth one. The first planning efforts were marred by rather vehement protests, with a group of area residents objecting to anything being built on land that had been reserved as a park. Supported briefly by the Green Party, the protesters generated an “occupy movement”, with candle-light vigils, guerrilla gardening, and a tent camp erected outside the walls of the Choir Boys’ home.

MuTh shows courage pairing the old architecture with the new | Photo: Lukas Beck

MuTh shows courage pairing the old architecture with the new | Photo: Lukas Beck

On the other side, the Film Archiv Austria, housed in the renovated 18th-century outbuildings along one side of the Spitz, presented a counterproposal for an underground cinema.

In the end, the Choir and its long-year and far-sighted sponsor, Peter Pühringer, managed to get the political go-ahead, and the hall was built and named after the Vienna Boys’ Choir’s late director, Dr. Eugen Jesser, one of the project’s original planners.

The wild dance of spectacular angles continues inside the building, but the interior of the concert hall itself is surprisingly warm and lush. The walls have rich walnut panelling and the seats (some of the most comfortable concert seating in all Vienna) are deep red. And most important: The acoustics are excellent.

“MuTh” stands for Music & Theatre. But in German, it is also a nice play on words: “Mut” means courage. What better image for a stage that has been conceived as a place for the youngest generation of performers to first present their craft?

 

A theatre dedicated to young people

So MuTh will be the performing home of the Vienna Boys’ Choir – as well as the children and youths attending its attached (co-ed) kindergarten, elementary and high school. A particular focus will be on children’s opera.

But a number of collaborations have already been established with other institutions educating young people in the performing arts or whose targeted audience is under 20 years old. These include the Dschungel Wien Theatre for Young Audiences, the Jeunesse music network, and the children’s opera programmes of the Vienna State Opera, the Volksoper and the Wiener Taschenoper.

In addition, various groups of up-and-coming instrumentalists will be performing here, including the orchestra of the Vienna Musik Gymnasium (Music High School), the Junge Philharmonie Wien, and the winners of Austria’s most important music competition, “Prima la musica”.

MuTh has also become the new home of the Wiener Kindertheater. In mid-December they performed Ferdinand Raimund’s Der Verschwender (The Spendthrift) on their new stage. With what grace and clear diction did the child performers give voice to the florid language of the early 19th century, and form to its beauty!

MuTh will thus be a concert hall dedicated to young people, in whose education the performing arts should play such an important part. And why is that?

The interior of MuTh | Photo: Niki Witoszynskyj

The interior of MuTh | Photo: Niki Witoszynskyj

The answer is complex, ranging from self-confidence to respect for one’s audience. It involves understanding one’s raw materials intimately, learning how to perform to high standards in real time and on demand, and of course discipline. But it is also connected to learning to comprehend, appreciate and love the traditions of a culture.

As Gerald Wirth, music director of the Vienna Boys’ Choir, says: “MuTh sees itself as bridging the gap to the modern cultural heritage of Vienna.” Let us all applaud.

MuTh
2., Obere Augartenstraße 1E
(01) 347 80 80
www.muth.at

Just published: 
Concert Hall of the Vienna Boys’ Choir
photos by Rupert Steiner
Verlag Anton Pustet
www.pustet.at

 

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