Wohnzimmer as Concert Hall

Vienna’s age-old tradition of playing and performing music at home is being re-invented for (and by) a new generation

On The Town | Mark Hamilton | November 2012

Singer songwriter Violetta Parisini is a top artist at Wohnzimmerkonzerte (Photo: Julia Seidel)

Given Vienna’s rich artistic history, wanderings on the city streets easily led to imagining the lives of the former denizens of the flats above. Should there be any doubt, it often seems as though a plaque commemorating the living space of some well-known composer or musician sits proudly above at least one door on nearly every block. And even today, it comes as no surprise to hear a bit of Schubert wafting down through the windows.

The age-old tradition of music in the home is a long one in Vienna, yet one which both the Wiener Konzerthaus and a network of independent home-based venues are seeking to rejuvenate with a series of living room concerts ranging from classical combos to cutting-edge experimental pop.

With the recent announcement of the Konzerthaus’ "Rent a Musician" programme, Vienna homes can now welcome the celebrated PHACE Ensemble into their homes to present short 20-minute concerts featuring modern classical works running the gamut from Schönberg and Crumb to Alexander Stankovski and Arturo Fuentes. Initially premiered at the 2011 Transart Festival in Bolzano, the programme’s introduction in Vienna is sure to make a lasting impression at gatherings throughout the city.

The Hausmusik tradition has in fact extended far beyond classically-minded salon sets, and series like the 3rd-District-based Wohnzimmerkonzerte (Living room concerts) have updated the idea for the indie set. Held in a large apartment on Weißgerberlände with a view over the Prater in the distance, the invitation-only Wohnzimmerkonzerte have featured current acts both unknown and already-emerged in front of eager audiences, both in search of a truly intimate concert experience.

Organised in part by German language instructor Julia Seidel, the Wohnzimmerkonzerte have recently made their way into the pages of the Kronen Zeitung following a performance by German band Sea + Air, at which close to 200 local music fans attempted to crowd into an apartment suited for roughly half that amount.

(In full-disclosure, I have worked the door at a previous Wohnzimmerkonzert, and was surprised to collect donations ranging from €5 to €50 from each guest. I’ve even been invited to perform my own music there, an experience which lingers as a sweet introduction to Vienna’s music scene).

"The idea was – and still is – to just invite friends, but during the last two years these concerts have become bigger, although we still only invite a list with names and e-mail addresses," says Seidel. "We are always surprised with how many people come that we don’t know, but this connects to the original idea too, in that they are friends of friends."

As the crowds have grown, so too have the stature of the performers. Shortly before her official album release show at Porgy & Bess this past February, Universal Records siren Violetta Parisini also appeared at Wohnzimmerkonzerte, performing unplugged on the living room piano. Without amplification or backing band of any kind, the at-the-time very pregnant Parisini’s living room show offered a peek into the new album otherwise inaccessible for local fans to experience. Surely, the reputation of the series has already made its way long past the original e-mail list – a distant friend based in Denver, USA, has even Skyped in to enjoy the concerts as they unfold from across the ocean.

"Another funny memory was when Bernd Fleischmann played. We had two other bands playing before him, and everybody was sitting on the floor. When he started playing, everyone was still sitting, until surprisingly a friend of mine stood up and started dancing and the rest followed. It ended up as a big party with everyone dancing until after two in the night," Seidel recalls. "The next morning I was ringing at my neighbour’s door with flowers in my hand to apologise for the noise. The old lady just said that she didn’t hear anything at all and that it was ‘very quiet last night.’"

Yet, in terms of a unified movement, Seidel and the Wohnzimmerkonzerte are staying focussed within their own four walls. "Vienna has a long tradition of doing this, so the purpose is not so that we can have more and more of them around the city. I don’t care about that," she says.

"I just want to see people enjoying live music together in a comfortable place, and for musicians to have a private space to share their music that isn’t loud or distracting like a bar. The atmosphere in our house shows is strictly for the music."

Here’s to keeping the tradition alive. As for the rest, keep your ears tuned to the windows overhead, or better yet, host your own.

For information on Wiener Konzerthaus’ Rent a Musician programme

see www.konzerthaus.at/rentamusician 

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