2022 Tour Blog: Vienna Waits for You

Tour goes by in the blink of an eye. One moment you’re packing your suitcase and then suddenly, it’s our last stop! For our final concert, students performed in the Golden Hall of Vienna’s renowned Musikverein as part of the Beethoven Orchestra Festival Concert. While we didn’t have any Beethoven on the program, performing Mahler in a hall where the composer once conducted was definitely a once in a lifetime experience. Violinist Alyssa Shih wrote about the experience performing in this historic hall and exploring beautiful Vienna, and the bittersweet wrap-up to her CYSO experience.

For our last city, we visited Vienna, Austria. It was a long 4 hour bus ride from Prague, but seeing St. Stephen’s Cathedral was worth it. The Gothic style of the building was imposing but impressive. Our tour guide from the next day pointed out the ceramic tile on the side of the sloped roof, showing the symbol of the Hapsburgs: a double-headed eagle. 

Inside St. Stephen’s Cathedral

Soon, we headed over to the Musikverein’s Golden Hall for our last rehearsal. Just as it sounds, the Golden Hall is truly golden all over. Every pillar was gilded and the artistry spread across the entire hall. Chandeliers hang in rows and the ceiling is beautifully painted. Just standing on the stage, it felt like we were about to play for royalty.  

The unspoken theme for the night was “one last time,” but we had work to do in rehearsal. Just as with every stage we played on, we had to get used to a new sound—and also a new view. The Golden Hall has “one of the only stages that’s this steep,” as Maestro put it. It took a bit of shuffling around, but we all ended up with a prime view of his conducting. The moment we began playing, I felt how live the hall was. Because of the hard, flat walls and tall ceiling, the sound seemed to never end. Each perfectly timed strike felt powerful, even if it was more work as a player to listen through the echoes. One short rehearsal later, and we’d quickly adjusted to the feel of the space.

Soundcheck at Musikverein

We took a group picture and a short dinner break before heading up to the balcony of the Musikverein to listen to the three other orchestras playing before us in the Beethoven Orchestra Festival. With all of the concerts we’d performed over the past week, it felt strange to take a seat and listen. The Napa Valley Youth Symphony, Hunterdon Symphony, and Young People’s Symphony Orchestra were all featured before us. Funnily enough, the Hunterdon Orchestra was playing Copland’s Hoe-Down, which we had played earlier as an encore! Not only was it fun to listen to the live music where we’d be playing later, but listening gave us tips on how to play in a boxy hall. I noticed that the strings were getting washed out among the resonance of the winds and brass, so we planned to play more articulated. Listening to the other groups made me even more excited to get on stage. 

We left our seats during intermission and headed downstairs to get ready. In the hallways to the stage, I talked to my peers about our time in CYSO and what orchestra we started in. As the last concert of tour—and for many of us, our last ever CYSO performance—some people were already predicting when and during which piece they’d start crying. It hadn’t fully set in for me that this was going to be my very last concert. We shuttled ourselves on stage and got ready for the colossal work of the fourth movement of Mahler’s Symphony no. 1.

Standing ovation at the end of the concert

I was so focused on playing everything beautifully that I barely had time to think about what we’d all done together for the past eight days. It didn’t even set in when we finished Mahler and the crowd gave us a standing ovation. The heavy emotions of playing with CYSO and with my friends didn’t truly set in until we played Barber’s Adagio for Strings. I was holding it together until I looked beyond Maestro and up at my orchestra-mates. Seeing everyone’s tears broke the dam. This was my conclusion in CYSO, and how lucky we all were to be playing that conclusion in the Golden Hall of the Musikverein. But there wasn’t a lot of time between a second standing ovation and playing our last piece, Bernstein’s Overture to West Side Story. We all gathered ourselves and got ready to whip the crowd’s excitement with the Mambo, closing the night with tears and broken bow hairs and memories made with people we’d never forget. 

Our last full day in Europe was set aside for sightseeing and having fun together. We visited the beautiful Schonbrunn Palace, modeled after Versailles in Paris. After lunch, we left for the House of Music to learn about music and music makers, followed by our last stop, the Vienna Central Cemetery. Though Mahler wasn’t laid there, we got to visit several notable composers. Standing in front of Beethoven’s resting place and seeing the four wreaths from all of the orchestras that played in the Musikverein just the day before, I finally had time to reflect. 

Schonbrunn Palace
Students posing on the Palace grounds
Group photo with our tour guide and bus driver
Left: Posing on the grounds of Schonbrunn Palace. Right: Students pose with Maestro Tinkham

It’s been a long journey performing with CYSO for 11 years—three of them in Symphony Orchestra. It hasn’t been easy, but I wouldn’t be me without the music we made. I’m lucky to play the violin, to know my friends, to be in Europe, to know Maestro, to know the staff, and to have music to play at all. I said my thanks to Beethoven for being a part of this great tradition that carried me to where I am now. 

A quiet moment in Vienna Central Cemetery

We flew out the next morning, but it never felt like the end. We’re always going to have these memories to look back on, so it will never really come to a close. It’s not over, we’re just alums now. See y’all around.


Alyssa Shih is a Symphony Orchestra violinist and recent graduate from Walter Payton College Prep. Outside of music, she book binds and does graphic design in her spare time. Alyssa hopes to pursue Meteorology and Atmospheric Sciences.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This