Following a successful tour to Tuscany 2 years ago, Billingshurst Choral Society decided on a city tour to Vienna this year. Their courier, Roy Varney, thoroughly enjoyed their 4-day stay in the Austrian capital and gave us this report on his return.
After an easy flight from Heathrow to Vienna, we found our local coach driver waiting for us in the arrivals hall, where he was helpfully holding a sign with the group name. On reaching our hotel, we were checked in quickly and the group was soon free to start their own exploration of Austria’s capital city. With guidebooks in hand, they headed out of the hotel in pairs and small groups to different parts of the city. The more savvy members of the group went to the nearby station and bought the excellent ‘Wiener Karte’, which allowed them to use the whole local transport system at a very reasonable price.
On their return to the hotel, the various members of the group were buzzing with their first experiences of Vienna. The overall impression was one of a beautiful city and very friendly locals.
After enjoying the hotel’s substantial breakfast buffet, our day began with a coach tour around Vienna’s famous Ringstrasse, with a commentary on the many imposing buildings that line the street. After time for lunch, we moved on to the magnificent Schönbrunn Palace, the venue for our first concert. Billingshurst Choral Society doesn’t usually sing outside but they couldn’t resist the opportunity to sing in front of such a stunning backdrop and they rose to the occasion, receiving a certificate and a “goody bag” from the organisers.
We then moved on to the very modern Donaucity Church, to give our second concert as part of the ‘long night of the churches’. This is an annual event in which over 700 Austrian churches take part, along with associated churches in the Czech Republic. Our appreciative audience enthusiastically applauded the choir’s performance of Howard Goodall’s ‘Every Purpose under the Heaven’ – the premiere of this work in Austria!
The day began with members of the group going their own way to visit, amongst other sites, the world famous Spanish Riding School, the Museum Quarter, the Sesession Gallery, where works by Klimt and his contemporaries are on display and the architecturally impressive Hundertwasserhaus from the 1980s. We regrouped in the afternoon before travelling to our final concert at the delightfully baroque St Peters Church, in the centre of the city. This was the musical highlight of the tour for the choir and they praised the “wonderful ambience and amazing acoustics!”
In the evening we enjoyed our ‘end of tour’ meal (which seemed to have come round very quickly!) at the 7Stern Brauhaus, a restaurant and micro-brewery, which serves traditional Austrian cuisine. Beer enthusiasts in the group relished the opportunity to sample the light and dark brews, with the more adventurous trying the smoked beer, and the powerful ‘Maibock’. Votes of thanks from the band chairman to various officers of the choir rounded off a very pleasant social occasion
Our last morning coincided with the anniversary of composer Josef Haydn’s death, and around 20 of the group chose to join me for a guided, themed walk around the local area, noting several buildings with flamboyant ‘art nouveau’ facades. We viewed the church where the composer’s funeral took place, heard the macabre events about the fate of his skull, and visited the Haydn House museum.
We left Vienna later that day with many of the group keen to return to continue their exploration of this beautifully and historically fascinating city.