Vienna is often referred to as one of the cultural capitals of the world. Alongside the Teatro alla Scala in Milan, the Opéra National de Paris, the Metropolitan Opera House in New York, the Royal Opera House Covent Garden in London, the Semperoper in Dresden and the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, the Vienna “Staatsoper” is one of the most important opera houses in the world and for every opera star it is a “must” to perform in Vienna – many careers have even begun in Vienna, with its important educational institutions such as the University of Music and Performing Arts, including the well-known Max Reinhard Seminar with its focus on acting.
Outstanding cultural events consolidate Vienna’s undisputed reputation as a city of culture, such as the Vienna Festival Weeks, the Viennale, and foremost the New Year’s Concert, which is performed by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and a star conductor of their choice in the famous Golden Hall of the Musikverein every year, broadcasted in more than 90 countries and watched by more than 50 million people worldwide. Speaking of New Year’s concerts: Traditionally, the Vienna Symphony Orchestra, supported by the famous 110-member choir “Wiener Singakademie”, performs Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, “Ode to Joy”, three times in a row each year, on December 30th and 31st, and on New Year’s Day, in the Great Hall of the Vienna Konzerthaus.
It is a special pleasure for me to be part of Vienna’s cultural offerings, as an ensemble member of the Vienna Cathedral Choir, with whom we perform about 25 times a year in St. Stephen’s Cathedral, and as a guest singer with the Vienna Singakademie.
In that capacity I have had the very pleasure of being part of these special Beethoven’s No. 9 concerts since 2017. It’s only been a few days since we finished our New Year’s concerts, so it’s a good time to reflect on them.
In retrospect, we are sometimes asked by others and thus also confronted with asking ourselves: What is that good for? Or in the words of the famous conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt, who died in 2016, in his cynical opening statement to the famous Salzburg Festival: “What good is the language of culture if no one speaks it anymore?”
A valid question, or not?
Although it is justified and even necessary to reflect on whether what we are doing makes sense – both in our private lives and at work – the question “But does it do any good?” is mainly asked by the unimaginative and perspective-less relativism that I consider one of the great diseases of our time. It is, in a sense, the excuse for doing nothing when the benefits cannot be measured in advance. It calls into question the good it could possibly do because it is not imaginable, or the phantasy for what it could do is lacking.
My answer to this question is (not completely surprisingly…): Of course, it makes sense. Let me argue this on the basis of the Beethoven No. 9 concerts we have just performed by taking a joint look at the famous text by Friedrich Schiller that inspired Beethoven to wrap it up in an outstanding composition.