Austria’s New York

I’ve been very busy at my day job lately, but part of that included a trip to Vienna.  Normally, I always have some hang ups about traveling, no matter where I go.  It takes some time for me to get acclimated to the scenario, I usually can’t practice while I’m away from home, and I’m pretty un-organized when I don’t keep to a strict regimen, so a travel trip always throws me off.  Of course, I get to where I’m going and I’m always glad I went, but Vienna felt a little bit different.  Maybe it was because I was forced to go because of work, maybe it’s because I was going to what has been the epicenter of European music for the last few centuries.  I worked a lot on the trip, and didn’t get to see very much of the city, but nevertheless I saw a few things that seriously informed me about the music situation in Vienna.

I got to see Billy Hart

The BHQ was playing by chance when I was staying in Vienna, so I went and hung with the cats.  Billy didn’t announce any differently, the band didn’t play any differently.  The music was great, and the audience dug it.  Some things in the periphery were very interesting.

The club played a Steve Lehman record between sets.  I’ve never heard a club play a modern quasi-avant record ever.  Period.

The club (which was very much a club, bar, waiters, whole shebang) held about 200-250 people.

The audience was about 85% 40-60 year olds.  There were hardly any students there, maybe about 10.  A stark contrast to what you’d see in a club where Mark Turner and Ethan Iverson playing in any American city I’ve lived.

Terrible scotch selection.  Get it together, Vienna.

There was a piano and a pianist in the Hotel.

There was a Bosendorfer grand in the hotel that I was staying, and a pianist that played every night from 5-11, right next to the bar, which didn’t have any music playing.  He played a mix of standards in a Hank Jones style and Classical standard repertoire.  Most of the classical pieces were Hungarian dance type things that you would hear out of Liszt or someone.  His tip jar was brimming every night that I was there.

I have no idea what Viennese music sounds like.

I was in Vienna for a conference of business types that were coming together to try and make a difference in the current global economy and in the recent practices in the business world, which have slid to the grimier side of ethics.  On the last night, there was a gazillion dollar a plate dinner with speeches and networking.  After the dinner (and easily the best string of deserts I’ve ever tasted in my life.  DO NOT sleep on Esterhazytorte.) there was a band, born and raised in Vienna.  Five pieces, three guitars, a singer and a bassist.  They only sang English songs, mostly American folk repertoire.

Going into stores and bars and restaurants, I listened to the music everywhere I went.  I did not hear a single song in German.  Not one, out of probably 30 songs that I heard.  Waiting in the airport, in the taxi home, in the elevator, nothing.  Strange

Oh, and best wine I’ve ever had in my life.  You got it together, Vienna.

People really appreciate and know their music.

During  the aforementioned gala concert, I was looking around for things to do that wasn’t listening to the Austrian filtered American pop music, so I strolled the halls of the beautiful palais that the dinner was in.  Before long, I found what I was looking for, a Bosendorfer upright.

I’m a total romantic, so I sat down and started playing some Mozart(I’m pretty happy that I got the chance to do that). I was playing the Eb Sonata, when the bus boy that was coming past me to and from the great hall started whistling the melody.  Now would that ever happen in North America?

The other thing that happened was similarly amazing.  After the Mozart and Beethoven I played, I started playing some stride and ragtime.  As I did this, a serious crowd started to form (remember, I was a fair distance from the hall where the party was taking place).  At the end, there were 35-40 people crowded around the piano, everyone listening intently.  I’ve never seen anything like it.  I would have a hard time getting 40 people to a gig in a city that I’ve lived in, let alone one I’ve never been to.  It was a truly eye opening experience for me, and a lesson about the appreciation of music, at least in Vienna.

Promo Photo 2

“See?  ‘A Therese’.  He wrote it for some girl!” —Ethan, on the 24th Beethoven sonata that I’m working on

—Martin

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~ by Martin Porter on December 7, 2012.

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