For almost one hundred years, there has been the orchestra called Wiener Symphoniker (Vienna Symphony Orchestra = VSO), although not always under that very name - an excellent reason to pay tribute to this August institution and to have a look at its manifold functions. It is an astonishing fact that the urgent necessity which origainally led to the foundation of the "Concert-Verein" (as it was called then), and which in the eyes of both public and sponsors has remained the unchanging and obvious basis of the orchestra's concert activities, still is practically the same as in the past.
Around the turn of the century, it became increasingly clear that the wealth of old and new musical works to be presented to the public (both as revivals and first nights) could not be handled by one single orchestra, i.e. the Wiener Philharmoniker, which had also begun to specialize above all in opera. At the same time, the music-loving public flocked to the only large concert hall of Vienna in those days, the "Golden Hall" of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde.
While Vienna today boasts a second representative concert hall, the "Grosser Konzerthaussaal", as well as other symphonic orchestras, the Wiener Symphoniker still handle the "lion's share" of all concert performances. The orchestra's impressive record lists about two hundred concerts per year, including the Symphoniker's own concerts (three series and one separate chamber music series) as well as concerts organized by the Wiener Konzerthausgesellschaft and the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde.
This active roster is supplemented by numerous tours (one overseas, European and Austrian tour each per year); since 1946, the Wiener Symphoniker have been also performing as the regular orchestra of the Bregenz Festival and in this capacity has mainly interpreted operas.
It is natural that over its century of existence, the Wiener Symphoniker was called upon many times to be the first orchestra to perform a number of milestones of modern symphonic music. Some examples include Anton Bruckner's Symphony No. 9, Arnold Schoenberg's Gurre-Lieder, Maurice Ravel's Concerto for Left Hand, Franz Schmidt's Book with Seven Seals, and Richard Strauss's Metamorphoses.
After its foundation by Ferdinand Löwe, all leading conductors have performed with this orchestra; to name but a few, Bruno Walter, Richard Strauss, Wilhelm Furtwängler, Oswald Kabasta, George Szell and Hans Knappertsbusch were interested in working with the Wiener Symphoniker and infused these co-operative efforts with their very own style. After the World War II, the orchestra was perhaps most lastingly influenced by its resident conductors Herbert von Karajan (1950-1960) and Wolfgang Sawallisch (1960-1970).
Leonard Bernstein and Lorin Maazel debuted with the orchestra in Vienna; amongst others, Zubin Mehta and Claudio Abbado enjoyed their first successes with the Wiener Symphoniker. In the capacity of artistic director, Josef Krips was followed by Carlo Maria Giulini and Gennad Rosdestvenskij; then Georges Prêtre became guest conductor. Since 1991, Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos has been chief conductor of the Wiener Symphoniker, a position that in 1997 will be assumed by Vladimir Fedosejev.
The manifold tasks, the diversity of the conductors' personalities and, last but not least, the continually changing internal structure of both the orchestra and the public - whose appreciation and respect have to be won in a new battle day for day, so to speak - all these pose a permanent challenge which indeed is the reason why the orchestra has been able to preserve and even improve its high level of accomplishment. This dialectic of contrasts in fact encompasses a homogeneous and unmistakable whole that may look forward to its hundredth anniversary with great joy and confidence.