The reviews were unanimous. An orchestra had never sounded more glorious in Vienna than on that day, January 6th 1870, at the very first concert given in the sparkling new building of the Musikverein. People sensed immediately that this hall had no equal in Europe. There was gushing praise for the participants, jubilation in the Golden Hall. But what orchestra was in fact heard here? On the programme booklet, in almost embarrassingly small type, was printed 'Participation of the practising members of the Society'. But the connoisseurs knew: this Musikverein orchestra was an ensemble thrown together from members of the court opera orchestra, conservatory professors and well-trained amateurs. Could it go on like this?
The splendid new hall gave the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde something of a trump card to shape the musical life of Vienna - and beyond - significantly. It was plain, though, too, that a long-term orchestra would be needed to raise the Society concerts to the highest professional level. In 1900, this was achieved. The newly-founded Wiener Symphoniker - at that time still called the Wiener Concertverein - was that orchestra. And still today, the Wiener Symphoniker performs the majority of orchestral concerts on the Musikverein programme. How the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde can artistically present itself also depends on its cooperation with the Wiener Symphoniker. And here one can speak, presently and very concretely, of a happy constellation.
In 2019-20, the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde celebrates its building's 150th anniversary with an array of opulent programmes. At the same time, the all-too brief era of Philippe Jordan as the orchestra's Chief Conductor comes to a close. Jordan has led the orchestra into a Golden Age - achieving this also with the fascinating programming that he has been able to put in place in collaboration with the Musikverein. That their journey together ultimately leads to Johannes Brahms is in itself elegantly symbolic. In 1872 Brahms moved into the still-new house as 'Artistic Director'. He remained faithful to it, even after his departure as chief. And so it will be, we hope, with Philippe Jordan.
After all, a glance over the Symphoniker concerts in the Musikverein shows how long-lasting an artistic relationship can be. There are reunions with former Symphoniker Chief Vladimir Fedoseyev and a string of conductors who have previously headed other Vienna orchestras: Bertrand de Billy, Cornelius Meister and Andrés Orozco-Estrada, the Symphoniker's Chief Conductor-Designate.
When the season comes to a close with Mahler's Eighth Symphony under Philippe Jordan, another great piece of Musikverein history will be felt here. The Singverein der Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde sang at the work's 1910 premiere. As far as singing goes, the 'practising members of the Society' claimed the throne. As reigning orchestra, wisely enough, they handed the sceptre over to the Wiener Symphoniker.