The Vienna Philharmonic Tours With a Favorite Conductor

The Vienna Philharmonic hasn’t had a chief conductor since 1933. But it has had favorite conductors.

Of the great musicians who have led this self-governing, proudly idiosyncratic orchestra, Leonard Bernstein and Pierre Boulez were made honorary members; Herbert von Karajan and Karl Böhm were given honorary conducting titles. The violinist Daniel Froschauer, the Philharmonic’s chairman, has said that today, the ensemble not so secretly has two maestros at the top of its roster: Riccardo Muti and Franz Welser-Möst.

At Carnegie Hall last weekend, it was the Austrian-born Welser-Möst, 63, who conducted three breathless, exhilarating and often moving performances by the Philharmonic, in meaty programs of Bruckner and Mahler symphonies, and works by Berg, Hindemith, Schoenberg, Strauss and Ravel.

It takes a lot to win over the affection of the Philharmonic, one of Europe’s finest ensembles, just as it takes a lot to join its ranks. These players — known for their lush sound, their brighter, higher tuning frequency and their distinctly Viennese articulation — can be haughty and stubborn; I have seen them outright defy a conductor in rehearsal.

Welser-Möst has not only penetrated the Philharmonic’s inner circle, but also has done so while leading the Cleveland Orchestra — another top-notch ensemble, though one whose sound differs enormously from that of the Viennese.

The main difference between the Cleveland Orchestra and the Vienna Philharmonic is that while the Clevelanders have been criticized for giving performances that are too good, no one could ever accuse the Viennese of the same.

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