What is the “Vienna sound”?

Posted on: August 5, 2014

“How different do great orchestras really sound from one another in the 21st century?” writes Michael Cooper in Sunday’s (8/3) New York Times. “Ask musicians about this, and many will lament that a kind of homogeneity has crept into orchestral playing…. They will often … point to a handful of others that retain distinctive, recognizable styles. Those shortlists may vary, but one orchestra is almost always mentioned: the Vienna Philharmonic. The ‘Vienna sound’ has been the subject of reams of music criticism, academic research, acoustical experiments and more than a little debate.… So the Vienna Philharmonic … seemed like an ideal candidate to inaugurate an occasional series exploring how orchestras retain distinctive sounds. Members of the Philharmonic sat down with reporters and videographers from The New York Times this year to discuss, and demonstrate, how a combination of playing traditions and a preference for atypical instruments rarely heard outside of Austria … shape their sound.” The article quotes conductor Zubin Mehta; Matthias Bertsch, who conducted a study to determine if musicians could identify a specific Viennese sound; and Vienna Philharmonic musicians Wolfgang Vladar (horn), Clemens Horak (oboe), and Rainer Honeck (concertmaster). Also included are video demonstrations by Vienna Philharmonic musicians.

Posted August 5, 2014