A bit late, but finally I found time to write up my weekend in Vienna. In short: It was an experience I will not forget soon!
My wife and I arrived on Saturday and due to the bad weather with snow and my not very gripping shoes we did not manage the whole roundabout we had planned. We went to the Cafe Schwarzenberg, visited St. Stephan and the Mozart house in Domgasse with its museum.
On Sunday we arrived for the concert at Musikverein at about 10 o´clock, took some photos of the building and then entered the Golden hall about half an hour early. It was surprising that many musicians already were on their places, rehearsing their passages. I had read about some coordination problems in the Saturday concert, so obviously the musicians felt the need to familiarize themselves even more with the material. Already I noticed the full, warm sound of the hall augmenting the sound of each instrument. We went around the hall, taking in the impressions.
Then, approaching 11 o´clock, we took our seats in row 1, the 2 seats the most extreme on the right. I was expecting to have a very compromised acoustic experience and was not sure how much I would be able to see. It was a strange feeling, to sit less than a meter from the viola section and having a very good look on some on the contrabasses.
The quiet wait after tuning of the orchestra seemed very long, until Williams finally appeared. I expected him to come from the left, behind the 1st violins, but was happily surprised to see him arriving directly before me walking through the violas, so I could manage to have a good look! And then the music began. I was still hardly believing it was really happening.
My fear to hear only viola and contrabasses was unfounded. While those were obviously particularly present for us, the marvelous acoustics let us hear all the others instruments, too, except perhaps for the 2nd violins which were very obscured from out place. The nearness to the basses gave us many opportunities to watch the players and revel in the sound of those instruments. Also, we had a good look on Williams in profile during conducting, watching his signs and facial expressions, communicating to the players. Others have already told from his first few words in German and then switching to English. ASM arrived; she was mostly obscured by other players, but her violin came through clear. On the whole the acoustic impression was huge, an extremely full-bodied sound, but not strident. I had a grin on my face the whole time.
Others have remarked that ASM played just the 1st violin during the Raiders March. During the Imperial March she stood 2 meters from us behind the violas watching intendly the performance and clearly living with the music. I bet she would have liked to play this, too!
Some remarks about Williams´speeches: Those were the only elements of the concert that one could criticize. First he introduced ASM with his usual characterization that she is „many things: a brilliant violinist etc etc.“ But then he did not tell the story of the chocolates, leading to the punchline „but she is not a woman you can say NO to“. So the „many things“ was a bit strange without this context.
Similarily he told the story later the he first did not know that Luke and Leia were siblings, so he wrote a love theme for them. But that story concerns Leia´s Theme from Star Wars, not „Luke and Leia“ from ROTJ which he played afterwards! So again he was using parts of his usual stories, but not in the correct context. I guess he has no interest to make new speeches, so he used just those usual parts that came to his mind…
One last story from after the concert. We stayed some time after the last applause in the hall to take it in a bit more, make some selfies and relish the afterglow and the atmosphere, as did a lot of others. Then ushers approached and said we had to leave, because there would be now a recording. We stayed a few minutes outside the hall, wondering what the many people there were up to and found out when ASM emerged signing autographs. Since this is not something we are interested in, we finally went to the basement cloakroom to fetch our staff. There was also a small monitor on a wall with a video view on the podium from the organ perspective showing the first few rows of players and seats with the conductors podium in the middle.
We just wanted to leave when I saw some musicians come to their places and starting to play. And then Williams reemerged to the podium and started conducting. The sound was on, but very low. Obviously they played just a few bars from several of the pieces, where there was a need to patch the recording. Imaging, an almost 88 years old man after a close to 3 hours concert coming back after just about 20 min rest to make this additional recordings, astonishing. I am sure this is only possible due to his decades of routine in the studio recordings. After watching this on the monitor for a few minutes, the monitor was switched off. Probably it has not been intended to be on, anyway. So, happy but exhausted, we left. Our visit to Vienna was then finished with a visit to the Hundertwasser Museum and the Belvedere castle with a very fine picture collection of Klimt, Schiele and others.
So, that is my account; if there are specific questions I am happy to answer them.
I try to attach some photos from the final applause and a video of the screen.
Doesn't the Philharmoniker use this quite often? I seem to remember several video recordings with it. The idea behind it is the make the violas more prominent, since they are in danger of being overwhelmed by the other instruments.