Vienna Choir Boys in Concert

November 14, 2002 - Fairview, Oklahoma

First off, as I write this at 10:35 a.m. 15 November, 2002, the Vienna Choir Boys are still in Fairview, Oklahoma, and are being taken on a tour of Cornelsen Elementary School there-- by the high school's vocal music teacher! I am told that a "number of people" purchased seats at last evening's concert so that as many children as possible could attend. BTW, the boys are in their "civies" for the visit to Cornelson-- no uniforms today-- "They are just being boys," as the school secretary told me.

Fairview, Oklahoma is a small, rural town, but they "think big". They voted a bond issue to finance their new Fairview Community Auditorium-- I was unable to find out what it cost, but we are talking big bucks. It seats 900. There were only about 150 empty seats at last night's concert. The Vienna Choir Boys director, Robert Rieder, was impressed enough to comment in his introductory remarks-- on how good it was to sing in such a nice, new facility. Of course it has state-of-the-art wireless microphones, one of which was used by Rieder, who spoke in somewhat measured, but very good English.

A bit about him: A choirmaster for the Vienna Choir Boys only since 2001, he was born in Vienna in 1975 and was a Vienna Choir Boy himself. He studied church music, music education, organ and conducting, with a special emphasis on choral conducting. Mr. Rieder is also a jazz musician, who writes his own arrangements and is a member of the jazz ensemble "John Doe". Following his appointment, he led one of the choirs on a tour of Europe and prepared them for the current CD of 'pop songs' which was recorded by EMI Classics this past spring.

Again, this was a 'family' concert, with an audience quite different from what you might find at a university or cathedral here in the U.S. Having said that, the audience of moms, dads, grandparents and children-- were extremely well-behaved! I sat in the big middle of several younger boys and one young girl-- and they were never a distraction.

The Austrian boys were dressed in their "Whites". There were 13 sopranos on the (audience) left and 10 altos on the right. Only 2-3 of them appeared to be nearing the end of their treble careers-- most looked to be 8-11 years old. All appeared to be healthy and alert.

The choir DID do an operetta, which was narrated by one of the boys who obviously knew English well enough to have not had to memorize his parts phonetically. I was not familiar with the plot, but it was introduced as "The Little Prince". I won't go into all the parts of it, except that one of the boys did exceptional performances of his solos-- all were good, be he was 'a notch above'. I snapped a picture of him, below at left. *

Costuming was minimal, compared to the elaborate operettas the choir used to do... about half the boys were just in their black pants and white shirts, but the main characters were colorfully dressed. The 'props' included some round globe lights which had to have been battery powered, paper hats, signs and drawings, quite possibly done by the boys. As is usually the case, I think some of the humor went 'over the heads' of the audience, but there were plenty of laughs anyway, and the effort received big round of applause. The operetta was done in the first half, just before intermission, and after perhaps 5-6 minutes required to move the piano and risers.

This my eighth VCB concert to attend, was the first one which had the opening selection in English: "Come Ye Sons of Arts" (excerpts) by Henry Purcell. Following it came "Natus est nobis" (Jacobus Gallus), "Laudate pueri, Op. 39, No. 2" (Felix Mendlessohn) and Dietrich Buxtehude's "Cantate Domino" which seemed to me to be a quite difficult piece-- and which really impressed me and those seated around me. (I don't think Fairview had ever heard anything like that before!)

An "addition" to the first half was a trio presentation of H. Werner's "Heidenröslein". The three boys came out to the front edge of the stage to sing and did so with total confidence!

Director Rieder seemed to really enjoy talking to the audience, but some selections, especially in the second half, were introduced by individual boys. Some reviewers of this choir (several years back) got totally bent out of shape by boys supposedly not behaving as they should on stage. They would have found nothing to complain about at this concert-- the boys were 'all business' during the 'heavy' numbers; NEVER said a word to each other; but did exchange those big 'knowing smiles' back and forth with their director who was always very animated with them. During the operetta and the 'lighter' second half, everyone could see that the boys were enjoying themselves as much as the audience.

* Before I continue to the second half, allow me to elaborate on how and why I took the photos. From previous concert experience, I did know that photography (and God forbid-- recording of any kind) is verboten. I was fully prepared to try my luck in my usual covert manner, and without flash. (I am always amazed that some people think they can flash a picture from the rear of an auditorium anyway-- but I was on the fourth row, left.) Anyway, the technical point last evening was that-- the forbidden actions were not mentioned until the second half-- so, after I saw four or five flashes-- my old newspaper reporter days were saying to me, "What the heck-- go for it." My only feeble excuse is that I did this during the operetta when the boys were in their 'showbiz' mode. -- The group photo was taken with 400 speed film, no flash.

The second half was Franz Schubert's "Widerspruch, Op. 105, No.1", Robert Schumann's "Zigeunerleben, Op. 29, No. 3", "Two Eastern Pictures, H. 112, Spring, Summer" (Gustav Holst), and several "Folk Songs from the Austrian Alps". Although the choir did do one Johann Strauss, Jr. piece, they broke tradition by not performing what was for many years the final selection-- "The Blue Danube". I forgive them, this one time :-)

Following a very enthusiastic standing ovation, Director Rieder mentioned that they would be including Christmas songs in their later concerts on the 2002 North American Tour, and that he had been asked if they could sing at least one. They then did "Es ist ein Ros' entsprungen" ("Lo How a Rose E'er Blooming"). Then, following another big round of applause, the boys sang a very spirited version of the contemporary Christian song "Lord, I Lift Your Name On High", which was written by Rick Founds in 1989. This was another big "crowd pleaser", and the audience began clapping along with the boys.

Another standing ovation-- then the boys left the stage-- to return eventually to their big "Minnesota Coaches" bus.

Not as much security (at least not that I could see) as at their Oklahoma City concert last year-- I saw only one uniformed and armed sheriff. But one unique Fairview touch was a fleet of electric golf carts being run by high school age boys-- They would go to cars as they parked and offer to shuttle the occupants up to the Auditorium's main entry!

Was it worth my $25 ticket and driving 437 round trip miles (703 Km)? Absolutely!

Finally, for any new members who may not know me, I am not a choral scholar-- neither are probably 98% of the folks who attend these concerts. My ears do not detect minute pitch variations. I attend to enjoy, not to analyze.

Many good wishes,

Gene in Amarillo

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