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European Tour Dispatch: SLSO Musicians Visit the Vienna Boys’ Choir

By Eric Dundon


St. Louis Symphony Orchestra bassoonist Julia Paine marveled at the sounds coming from a 22-person boys’ choir during a school visit in Vienna, Austria, on March 24—the third full day of the orchestra’s five-city European tour.


“I was so impressed. Their blend was so crisp and clean, especially for student musicians,” she said. “The choir master was so enthusiastic and masterful at getting these young students to engage with the text of music.”


From left, bassoonist Julia Paine, violist Andrew François, Corinne Milliand of the Vienna Boys' Choir, Acting Assistant Concertmaster Hannah Ji, and Associate Principal Horn Thomas Jöstlein.

Paine and three other SLSO musicians got a behind-the-scenes look at one of the most famous choirs in the world—the Vienna Boys’ Choir, which is actually a group of four touring choirs made up of boys aged ten to 14.


Violist Andrew François, Acting Assistant Concertmaster Hannah Ji, and Associate Principal Horn Thomas Jöstlein joined Paine for this unique cultural exchange. The group toured the grounds of the Vienna Boys’ Choir school, which took residence in a palace built in the 17th century and was once home to the famous Habsburg family. The visit, arranged in part by the U.S. Embassy in Vienna, was a cultural diplomacy and connections visit with the faculty and students at the school.


The musicians observed rehearsal of Giovanni Battista Pergolesi’s 1736 setting to the Stabat Mater with the “Bruckner” choir—each of the four touring choirs is named after noted composers with connections to Vienna (the others are named after Haydn, Mozart, and Schubert). The students were preparing for a concert and were putting finishing touches on the piece, sung in Latin.


Corinne Milliand, Head of Artistic Administration, met with the SLSO musicians, explaining the history of the choir and how the school fosters the talents of its students. Throughout the visit, musicians noticed many similarities between the Vienna Boys’ Choir and the SLSO. In both, members go through rigorous training and connecting with audiences worldwide is an essential part of the mission.


Musicians were also pleased to learn that many of the singers also study instrumental music.


The Vienna Boys Choir sings a range of repertoire, including something in the language of each country they visit.

The visit to the Vienna Boys’ Choir is an extension of the SLSO’s educational outreach programs, which dates to the 1920s.


“Connecting with younger musicians is the most important thing we can do as professional musicians—in St. Louis, as well as around the world,” Paine said. “Not only do these activities build future audiences and musicians, but they also instill an importance of music in the lives of young people, whether or not they pursue music as a career.”


Austria is one of several countries in which the SLSO’s education programming has been used to support teachers and their students. In the 2021/2022 season, the SLSO reached more than 250,000 students through in-person and online education programming.


The tour continues in Brussels, Belgium; Eindhoven and Amsterdam, the Netherlands; and Madrid, Spain.


 

Eric Dundon is the SLSO’s Public Relations Director.

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