Strong relationships

Artistic Director Stephan Pauly on the 2024/25 season

The 2024/25 season subscription program brings leading contemporary artists to the Musikverein. Tailor-made festivals and focal points invite you to listen to familiar works with new ears and discover new things.

© Julia Wesely

Dr. Pauly, when you look at this richly evocative program that is now before you, How does it feel when all the threads have come together to form a complete picture?

A robust seasonal program ideally consists of a delicate fabric for which many threads are spun. Many common threads connect the concerts in terms of content. After all, programs and festivals are not developed in solitary work at a desk but in creative processes with many participants: the artists, the program team at the Musikverein, cooperation partners, artist management, and me. There is constructive chaos; one idea follows another, and some ideas are more robust than others and prevail. Many things cannot be implemented for organisational reasons; others are ruled out for financial reasons. In the end, a good balance must be struck between exciting programs, new ideas and perspectives, and tradition’s passionate cultivation. Then everyone involved can be happy – in this case, we are delighted!

The Musikverein has always maintained a special relationship with some of the world’s most important artists. How is this reflected in the current program?

Dialogue with the artists is essential for program planning. As the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde, we consider ourselves fortunate to be able to welcome almost all leading conductors, soloists and the world’s top orchestras in the 2024/25 season. For decades, we have enjoyed a lively exchange with stars such as Christian Thielemann and Rudolf Buchbinder. My team and I were able to develop beautiful programs with both of them for this season. Rudolf Buchbinder will concentrate entirely on Schubert, together with great musicians. Continuing the cycle with Christian Thielemann, one of our central conductors, also promises musical magic moments. And, of course, we maintain close relationships with the younger generation: in the 2024/25 season, we are delighted to welcome Klaus Mäkelä, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, Janine Jansen and Víkingur Ólafsson as “Artists in Focus”.

This time, the Musikverein Festival will be entitled “Clara’s Flower Album”. It’s also about relationships, quite complicated ones at that …

Yes, that’s right, and these relationships are reflected in a very unusual object from our music collection. Our music collection is the world’s most important private music collection, with around three million items: in addition to sheet music, books, historical instruments and composers’ manuscripts, it also includes personal memorabilia from essential figures in music history. An object from the collection always inspires our Musikverein Festival – we want to relate our current program to the history of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde. This time, we bring an object of Clara Schumann’s before the curtain, namely a flower album, an album in which she pressed and dried flowers to give to Johannes Brahms as a sign of her friendship and affection. It is a very private, touching object that inspired us to create a festival around relationships, friendship, connections and communication.

Clara Schumann is a typical example of a highly talented woman who was not given the recognition she deserved in her time. She would have a much easier time in a music club today …

Yes, definitely; for example, we have almost all the essential female conductors of our time as guests on the podium. As “Composer in Focus”, this time, we are looking forward to the Italian Clara Iannotta and co-producing a platform for the Wiener Festwochen with female composers worldwide. Our Children’s Concerts and the New Hall program are also very feminine. For example, we take International Women’s Day as an opportunity to make the children’s book author Mira Lobe and female literature and Nobel Peace Prize winners the focal point of exciting programs.

You are speaking of the Nobel Prize. Musikverein Perspektiven is also dedicated to one man, the Nobel Prize winner in physics, Anton Zeilinger. You met him often; you curated it with him. What is it like when a music manager meets a world-class physicist and talks about music?

Then, the music manager enters the Nobel Prize winner’s office with great respect and a lot of nervousness and only dares to do so because they are talking about music, not physics. The idea behind the Musikverein Perspectives is to get to know the great personalities of our time not through their actual work but from the perspective of their passion for music. Anton Zeilinger is a great music lover. He visits our concerts again and again. When I asked him if he would be interested in participating in such a format, he was delighted to say yes. He then developed special, personal concert programs in discussions with us. Prof. Zeilinger will be present at these concerts, talking to artists about music and providing information about music and his musical passion.

In addition to the relationships already mentioned, there are also those between performers and composers …

In our program, it is essential that in addition to the focal points that arise from the collaboration with artists, we also focus on individual music-historical epochs or composers to cultivate the great musical heritage. Prokofiev, Schönberg, Johann Strauss (son) and Pierre Boulez take centre stage in this area this season. Pierre Boulez has often conducted in this house and is an honorary member of our society. On the occasion of his 100th birthday, We are remembering him with an evening to mark his 100th birthday. For Johann Strauss (son), on the other hand, the Musikverein was one of the most critical places in Vienna for his creative work. He was closely associated with our company in many different ways. Arnold Schönberg not only conducted the legendary Scandal Concerto at the Musikverein. His works, including the “Gurre-Lieder,” were also premiered here. With this colossal work, we are celebrating Schönberg’s 150th birthday. Birthday at the Musikverein. The successors of the 1913 premiere orchestra, the Vienna Symphony Orchestra, will be playing, conducted by Petr Popelka, performing his first concert with us as the orchestra’s new chief conductor. And then there is Prokofiev, who is very dear to Igor Levit’s heart. This performer-composer relationship has given rise to another central focus for us. So there is a lot to discover!

Maintaining relationships with the audience has also played a significant role in the Musikverein for many decades. However, urban society has become more diverse in recent times. What does this mean for programming, and what new audience relationships would you like to build?

Most of our program is aimed at people who see music as a permanent enrichment of their lives and are therefore closely connected to the Musikverein. These are first and foremost our members and subscribers, our regular audience, and visitors from all over the world who want to experience a concert in the Golden Hall. This is why most of our concerts focus on the great masterpieces of music history – interpreted by the world’s leading classical artists. However, it is very important to us that we uphold the idea of cultural participation in times of social change. We are therefore also addressing the many people who have not yet found their way to us – for whatever reason. For example, we offer precisely designed programs for all age groups, from babies to young adults, and we also open a large part of them to kindergartens and schools – for children who cannot be reached through their families. Our cooperation with CAPE 10, a fantastic initiative that supports families affected by poverty, is brand new. Her “House of Good Hope” in the 10th district is a modern social and health center that supports women, children and young people in particular and provides low-threshold access to art and culture. The Musikverein and CAPE 10 are entering into a multi-year partnership with the project “The Power of Music” under the patronage of Elīna Garanča from the 2024/25 season.

For several seasons now, we have also been setting a much-noticed accent in cultural life by offering specially developed concerts for people with dementia and their companions. In the new season, our programs in the Neue Sälen offer various instrumentations, voices and themes that enrich and diversify the concert program. The diversity and variety of the program show that we are passionate about and enjoy addressing Regular visitors and people who have not yet visited us.

You have described the 2024/25 season programs primarily from an artistic perspective. However, every creative decision also has an economic dimension. How does it all come together, the art and the money?

The first thing to say is that we are very grateful that visitor and subscription numbers have risen again after the pandemic. Once again, our concerts are very well attended! Our Commercial Director, Renate Futterknecht, has drawn up a budget with which the 2024/25 season projects can be realised – and with only a moderate increase in ticket prices. And, of course, she and her team constantly monitor the Musikverein’s financial situation from a commercial perspective. Careful financial planning ensures that the economic stability of the Musikverein is also secured for the future – and that we can continue to plan beautiful seasons in the future. The contributions of our members and supporters, our subsidisers and our sponsors are essential to this financing – and we are very grateful for them.

The interview was conducted by Markus Siber.

© Julia Wesely

Strong relationships

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Conducting on the royal road

Arnold Schönberg Center, Vienna

Colossal sounds

Archive, Library and Collections of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna

Fine and fragrant

© Deutsche Grammophon - Andreas Hechenberger

With charisma and temperament

© Wolf-Dieter Grabner

Contemporary music

© Julia Wesely

Simply conduct

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Suction effect