Diversity in the programme of the Musikverein

The city and its society are changing, traditions want to be checked for their future viability. The Musikverein has therefore decided to look to the future in an active, varied, diverse, open and inviting way.

“It is a central goal for us at the Musikverein to open up even further to Vienna’s diverse urban society,” says Stephan Pauly, the Artistic Director of the Musikverein. “We are happy for all the visitors who attend our concerts, for our subscribers and our members. But we are also aware that many people who live in Vienna do not have access to our services, and we want to change that.” And that, according to the artistic director, is easier said than done – because there are many reasons why people don’t find their way to the Musikverein. For some people, the tickets are too expensive, others have had no contact with classical music in their educational biography, or they do not feel addressed by the way the Musikverein communicates.

For some, on the other hand, the journey to the Musikverein is simply too far, or the 1st district is unfamiliar territory. And still other people have a health condition that makes it impossible to attend concerts. “In addition,” says Stephan Pauly, “many of the programmes we develop do not address the strengths, needs and interests of many people.” So there are hurdles, uncertainties, thresholds and fears of contact to overcome. But how does that work? How do you do that as an institution of music? “We have decided on a comprehensive diversification process over several years, in order to further open our house, with its entire tradition and immensely rich history, to people in a rapidly changing society, in order to achieve more variety, diversity and cultural participation. And we are doing this together with a strong partner, the Brunnenpassage,” says Stephan Pauly.

A strategic partnership
Gordana Crnko speaks of a “great paradigm shift”. She is a curator and head of the music section of the Brunnenpassage. Initiated in 2007, this “laboratory of transcultural art” at Vienna’s Brunnenmarkt operates as an open art and cultural space in a former market hall. Over the years, many methods have been developed and further evolved to create art formats in which people from different biographical contexts can discover what connects them. For Gordana Crnko, the “times of established institutions, which are primarily accessible to certain interest groups, have changed, because the people of Vienna’s heterogeneous urban society want to be considered. They want to be invited, to feel represented on stage and in the institution.” She sees “institutional opening and diversity development as a necessity. The only question is, where do the individual institutions want to be in this process? To what extent do they themselves help shape these changes and are they willing to question, reflect and open up to themselves?”

In order to find answers to these questions, the Musikverein and Brunnenpassage have entered into a strategic partnership in order to jointly develop varied, diverse projects in the Musikverein and to jointly plan and implement the process of opening up to a heterogeneous society. “It is important to us not only to shape the process of opening up society according to our own ideas, but also to actively seek and allow new perspectives, in partnership with the Brunnenpassage,” says Stephan Pauly. “I am convinced that such a path of opening up and diversification has the best chance of success if a cultural institution is accompanied by diversity professionals. That’s why I’m very grateful for the partnership with Brunnenpassage.” From Gordana Crnko’s perspective, a partnership of this kind between the Brunnenpassage and the Musikverein is “something of a cultural-political experiment. Two institutions with completely different working methods, structures, attitudes and teams come together. The differences are enormous, and this is where it gets interesting,” Gordana Crnko is convinced: “Many of the issues we encounter in our collaboration are a reflection of negotiation processes in our society in general. We are working on developing methods and showing ways to do this. How it can work.”

The project of diversity development is also largely due to the partnership between the Musikverein and Brunnenpassage.

A large-scale project with a lasting impact
With “Viennese Voices”, the first main project of the co-operation with the Brunnenpassage, initiated by artistic director Stephan Pauly, will manifest itself as early as the 2021/22 season. On 4 June 2022, six Viennese singers from different musical and biographical contexts will be on stage in the Great Hall of the Musikverein and perform their music and their songs together with the Tonkünstler Orchestra of Lower Austria. In this joint project with the Musikverein, the Brunnenpassage and its team provide the expertise as a “source of inspiration, curatorial advisor, vessel for reflection and companion in the challenging processes that have already started and are yet to come,” says Crnko.

For the 2022/23 season, a new dimension, a further development of this project, is now on the agenda, because “Viennese Voices” will not remain a one-off project. What began as a joint grand kick-off last season will be continued in 2022/23 as a new, separate cycle with six concerts at the Musikverein and in this way is to be sustainably anchored in the house’s programme: The six singers: Alexia Chrysomalli, Marjorie Etukudo, Basma Jabr, Nataša Mirković, Golnar Shahyar and Sakina Teyna, will each perform their own concert in the Glass Hall with their voices and their own ensembles, in artistic dialogue with soloists of the Tonkünstler Orchestra, who will participate as guests at the concerts and thus continue the musical dialogue that began in 2021/22.

In the New Halls, all of this is further deepened in word-music programmes. Well-known actresses recite texts from works by authors who speak the same first languages as some of the “Viennese Voices” singers. The Turkish writer and human rights activist Aslı Erdoğan (* 1967), who has lived in exile in Germany after political persecution, wrote the novel “The City of Red Pelerine”, which is read as well as the bestseller “Blue Hibiscus” by the Nigerian Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (* 1977). Nava Ebrahimi, an Iranian born in 1978 and winner of the Ingeborg Bachmann Prize in 2021, will read from her novel “Sixteen Words”. This sets a new programmatic accent in the word-music cycles in the New Halls, which are enormously popular with the audience, in which very different literary voices have their say and enter into a dialogue with music.

The focus is on people – new formats
In the 2022/23 season, the partnership between Brunnenpassage and Musikverein will be in its second year – and this will be taken as an opportunity to take another big step artistically and deepen the focus on diversity. For the Musikverein Festival, which revolves entirely around Ludwig van Beethoven’s medicine spoon, a participatory project is being developed in which the focus is not on artists, but on the visitors themselves. In this project, people are invited to bring a piece of music that is important to them and tell the story that goes with it. This creates space for personal narratives and many different voices are heard. Also as a sign of appreciation for the entire heterogeneity of Viennese urban society, which is reflected in their stories.

The opportunity to experience music stories in personal exchange is also the goal of another, new concert format that Brunnenpassage and Musikverein will develop together: concerts played by a musician for a single listener. A whole series of 1-to-1 concerts is under development, in order to make this unique experience possible for as many people as possible and thus also to be able to rediscover the sound spaces of the Musikverein.

Co-operation with Klangkunst and the Wiener Festwochen
A new concert format will also be created in a project of the Wiener Festwochen 2022, in whose opening concert the Musikverein is a co-operating partner. The focus is on newly built instruments and the people who will play these instruments. Born in Beirut in 1980, the electronic musician and sound artist Tarek Atoui was invited by the Wiener Festwochen to develop a participatory project. He makes a new series of his extraordinary instruments, which fascinatingly expand the spectrum of playing. He is also inspired by old instruments from the collections of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde. In the project entitled “Souffle Continu”, the instruments built by Tarek Atoui will be played by both professional musicians and amateurs, and there will also be a collaboration with people who are deaf or hearing-impaired. For example, the instruments use sound as vibration, and these vibrations are physically perceptible. In his artistic work, Tarek Atoui has consciously planned and sought diverse, multi-layered encounters: “That’s the great thing about art: everyone can participate in it, no matter what background, no matter what skills he or she has. The important thing is to be curious and willing to absorb and learn new things,” says the artist. The opening concert will take place in the Glass Hall of the Musikverein, and the follow-up concerts as part of the Festival programme will then move on to various locations in Vienna, from the Ruprechtskirche to the WERK on the Danube Canal to the 1210 Vienna Football Club. From the very beginning, the idea was to reach as diverse an audience as possible. “We are delighted to be co-operating with the Wiener Festwochen on the opening concert of this project,” says Stephan Pauly. “The encounters with Tarek Atoui, with Christophe Slagmuylder, the artistic director of the Festival, and with his team have given us great pleasure, new perspectives have emerged for us. It is a wonderful enrichment for us to be able to contribute to this special project that will involve so many different people.”

A wide range of programmes for children, young people and families
The Musikverein enables people to experience live music, by real artists, with tangible instruments, directly and immediately on stage. And that’s where the adult audience is just as important as the young audience. Therefore, in 2022/23, new projects for children and families are on the Musikverein’s schedule, which are designed to address varied, diverse topics and reach many people.

The concert series “Agathe’s Magic Suitcase” accompanies children from the age of four on journeys to distant lands: In “We build a village”, the audience immerse themselves in the sound worlds of Syria, Iraq and other Arab countries, together with the Salah Ammo Trio. “Dream Journey”, on the other hand, takes us into the world of Indian ragas, classical Indian music, and introduces the associated instruments with bansuri, tabla and tanpura. “Agathe’s Magic Suitcase”, “Topolina” and “Sebastian and the Sound Telephone”, three concert series for young audiences, will not only play for subscribers, but also for kindergarten groups on separate concert dates. “Alberto’s Adventure”, a concert cycle for children from the age of five, is also offered to pre-school and primary school classes and is part of a co-operation with the association “Kultur für Kinder”, which enables specifically selected school classes from Vienna to actively participate in the cultural life of the city. The orchestral concert “Classical Hits in the Golden Hall” is aimed at elementary school classes and secondary schools, and selected dress rehearsal dates are open to upper school classes throughout the entire season, with free admission. This comprehensive range of concerts enables the Musikverein to reach several thousand children and young people from all districts of Vienna each season, regardless of origin and social status, and to bring them into contact with live music, some of them for the first time. Leaving the Musikverein, there are the multilingual concerts of “Rising Stars”. In co-operation with the Brunnenpassage, promising up-and-coming musicians from all over Europe play multi-lingual moderated concerts at Brunnenmarkt for schools in the immediate vicinity, enter into conversation with them and make music together.

Social concerns and community involvement
Diversity means diversity that should be made visible in all areas. “That’s why it’s important to us to broaden our view to another area of Viennese urban society, to people who, for health reasons, are unable to attend a concert in the current programme,” says Stephan Pauly. In the 2022/23 season, the Musikverein is taking a first step in this direction and will provide special offers for people affected by dementia and their relatives. Caritas Vienna has had the “Leisure Buddies” project in its program for several years. Volunteers spend a few hours of free time with people suffering from dementia in Vienna, thus enabling activities and at the same time relieving the burden on relatives. Whether it’s cycling or public transport, visiting pubs or museums, going to a singing group or gymnastics course, going to the football stadium or the zoo together – a lot is possible. Caritas already has many co-operating partners in Vienna in the “Free-Time Buddies” project, such as museums, sports or leisure facilities. The Musikverein will become a new co-operating partner, so that from April 2022 it will be possible for people affected by dementia to attend regular concerts at the Musikverein together with their free-time buddies. In addition, the Musikverein will work with experts to develop a new concert format of its own, which will be open to people diagnosed with dementia and designed in the best possible way for them and their needs. These concerts will start in the fall of 2022 and will be spread throughout the season. These new services are intended to contribute to the social and cultural participation and social health of people with dementia impairments.

Opening up society: also internally!
These are all strong signs of the outward diversification, which was also started at the same time within the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde. The Musikverein has invited Ivana Pilić, curator, cultural scientist and consultant in the field of Diversity & Arts, to lead this internal process. Ivana Pilić sees it as a “huge gain” that “some projects are already at an implementation level, because you can reflect on them right away”. The focus is on the question of how the institution can open up to a multifaceted urban society. Therefore, “you first look at who works in the house, who visits it, which artists perform here – and who is not there. In a second step, one then tries to invite those who are not present to become an active part of the house through different measures and at different levels,” explains Pilić. It is a great sensitization process to create awareness, “because the perception of who we exclude in the first place needs to be activated. We all operate in very homogeneous bubbles, not only in our professional and working world, but also in our private environment. We therefore have ideas about certain groups, ascribing to them that they may be uneducated or that they cannot do anything with our program. Based on these assumptions, we put together an educational offer, which is essentially based only on our own perception.”
It is a broad learning process in order to find further potential, to enter into co-operations and to develop something together with multipliers. “Then you don’t have to try so hard to mediate if you don’t program past the interests of various groups,” says Pilić. Especially for a venerable institution like the Musikverein, she sees an “unbelievably great opportunity” with successful diversification. Because in encounters with others, such a wonderful traditional house can become fit for the future and even more relevant for the people in one’s own city.”

Text by Stefan Musil.

Musikverein Wien, red carpet, staircase to the Großer Musikvereinssaal and Brahms Saal


After the success of the 2021/22 season, we have once again developed a number of artist portraits in the 2022/23 season, each showing the wide range artistic work for each of the artists portrayed.

Musikverein Wien, interior, Großer Musikvereinssaal, Golden Hall, architecture, organ, rows of seats, seating, ceiling painting

In Focus

In the 2022/23 season, we will focus on Christian Thielemann, Daniel Barenboim and Mark Andre. Christian Theilemann is creating a special cycle and we are congratulating Daniel Barenboim on his 80th birthday, with a concert series. As a composer in focus, we have created a comprehensive series of concerts of his works, together with Mark Andre.

Musikverein Wien, interior, Großer Musikvereinssaal, Golden Hall, architecture, organ, rows of seats, seating, ceiling painting

Themes and Festivals

Our Musikverein Festival is inspired by a special object from our world-famous music collection: Beethoven’s medicine spoon. Other focal points are dedicated to music from France and Russia, in our festivals “Paris is Dancing!” and “Music in Upheaval”. There is a lot to discover!