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Vienna Boys Choir

It’s up, up and away for the Vienna Boys Choir

The Vienna Boys Choir’s first North American tour since 2019 begins on October 13.

From The Hamilton Spectator

This tour will be undertaken by the Schubertchor, one of the VBC’s four touring choirs

By Leonard Turnevicius

The Vienna Boys Choir is on the road again.

After a two-and-a-half year pandemic hiatus which saw the cancellation of more than 700 performances in Austria and abroad, the choir is about to embark on an 84-day 40-concert North American tour which hits the Burlington Performing Arts Centre, 440 Locust St., on Saturday, Oct. 15 at 8 p.m., one of just five Canadian dates.

This tour will be undertaken by the Schubertchor, one of the VBC’s four touring choirs, each named after a famous composer with ties to Vienna, the others being the Haydnchor, the Mozartchor, and the Brucknerchor. The Schubertchor, 21 lads aged between 10 and 14, most hailing from Austria or Hungary with two from Japan, and one each from the UK, France, South Korea, China, and the Czech Republic, will be lead by Oliver Stech, a native of Waidhofen an der Ybbs in Lower Austria who’s been with the VBC since 2011. Accompanying them on their tour will be two chaperones from Vienna plus staff from Opus 3 Artists, the choir’s North American agency. All have been vaccinated. As for the other choirs, the Mozartchor is touring Germany in the fall while the remainder will attend the VBC’s co-ed boarding school for youths aged six to 18 at their home base and rehearsal space, the Palais Augarten, while taking turns singing Mass at the Imperial Chapel, concertizing in Vienna with a few choristers participating in productions of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” at the city’s two opera houses.

And that is a welcome relief because the VBC, just like almost every other musical organization on the planet, has been badly affected by the pandemic.

“We survived, we managed as best we could,” said Tina Breckwoldt, the VBC’s dramaturg. “We had some help from government funds, but this only helped cover a fraction of our losses. So, we are still in a difficult spot, and in fact looking for sponsors, both in Austria and internationally. We remain cautiously optimistic, and ever hopeful, in particular as we are set to celebrate our 525th anniversary next year.”

After the first lockdown, the VBC, being a professional choir, received special dispensation to rehearse though with certain safeguards. They rehearsed masked and physically distanced in large spaces, for example the choir’s swimming pool, with windows opened and air purifiers in all music rooms. Performance-wise, they moved online, streaming filmed concerts via IDAGIO. From a health and safety perspective, this was the best option, but far from ideal in two other respects.

“The revenue from these projects was not as good as we had hoped,” said Breckwoldt. “And there is one crucial factor missing when you do things online: the (lack of) direct contact with your audience, the human touch as it were.”

In May and June 2021, the VBC’s four choirs recorded a CD in the Imperial Chapel, appropriately entitled “Together.” The 19 tracks include songs with sea connections such as “Wellerman” plus some new repertoire and multi-cultural offerings, too.

The Schubertchor’s Burlington concert, their first there since 2017, will include several numbers from the CD along with selections by Purcell, Hassler, Bach, Mozart, Haydn, Schubert, Esenvalds, Kodaly, and Viennese bonbons from the Strauss family.