Ich kann nicht sitzen: Standing Room at the Musikverein and Philharmoniker

Vienna’s Musikverein is famous for its golden-ness, its acoustics, and one of its home orchestras, the sexist bastards known as the Wiener Philharmoniker.  Indeed, the place sure is shiny and sounds pretty.  The Wiener Symphoniker, ORF RSO Wien, Tonkünstler-Orchester Niederösterreich, and lots of touring orchestras play there too, as well as many recitalists and chamber music groups.

The Musikverein, located just south of the Ring off Karlsplatz, is an unmissable stop on the tourist trail, but is hardly a model of institutional innovation.  Individual programs can be good, but tend towards the conservative.  The season as a whole lacks variety (something we will look at more shortly in my Duplicate Programming Watch), there are few reduced-price ticket programs, and their website is a bit on the primitive side (though it nicely identifies the encores performed at past concerts).  However, if you’re in Vienna and haven’t seen and heard it, you really have to go.

Their standing room isn’t the best and sometimes resembles a contact sport, but it gets the job done, after a fashion.  Also, if you were thinking of going to the New Year’s Concert, you should probably forget about it.  I can’t help you with that, anyways.

1. Basics
The Musikverein has two main spaces: the Großer Saal (big hall) and Brahms-Saal (a recital hall).  The Brahms-Saal doesn’t have standing room, but you can get restricted-view seats for around 5 Euros.  The Großer Saal is where you will hear orchestras and a few bigger-deal recitals and chamber groups.  Both are rectangular “shoebox” theaters with one balcony; the standing room in the Großer Saal is located in the back of the ground level, under the balcony.

Tickets are bought in advance on the Musikverein website or at the ticket office, located on the north side of the building (look for signs for the Konzertkassa).  They go on sale at the same time seats do (two months minus one week before the concert) and cost 6 Euros.  You can buy as many as you want.  They are usually easy to get even the day of the concert with the exception of Wiener Philharmoniker concerts, which often sell out.

2. Wiener Philharmoniker standing room tickets
Standing tickets for many Philharmoniker concerts at the Musikverein are sold by the Philharmoniker directly.  You can see the orchestra’s schedule here.  The tickets for concerts in the first two categories, “Abonnementkonzerte” and “Soiréen”, are sold at the Philharmoniker’s ticket office according to their (totally different) policies.  The Philharmoniker’s office is a five-minute walk north from the Musikverein on the Ring (Kärtnerring, just counter-clockwise from the Oper, the “outer” side).  They sell the standing tickets for each Abonnementkonzert and Soirée starting the Monday morning before the concert, in person only.  You can try later in the week too but don’t count on anything.

The Musikverein’s printed program says “ausverkauft” for all the Abonnementkonzerte and Soiréen, but that doesn’t mean the standing room is sold out, just that the seats are.  Which they always are.  (What’s the difference between an Abonnementkonzert and a Soirée?  Unless you are a subscriber or aspire to become one [good luck with that], the only difference is Soiréen are always on weekdays, Abonnementkonzerte on weekends.)

Tickets for the Philharmoniker concerts listed under “Zusätzliche Konzerte” are available at the box office of whatever venue or organization is producing the concert following that presenter’s policies–the Musikverein, the Konzerthaus, etc.  For example, the October 19 Philharmoniker concert with Mahler 6 is already on sale at the Musikverein box office, but standing tickets for the previous weekend’s Bruckner Abonnementkonzert won’t be on sale until Monday, October 11 at the Philharmoniker box office.

Don’t ask me why it’s like this, I’m guessing it has something to do with a contract signed in approximately 1893.  Things don’t change very fast here–just look at these groups’ websites.

3. The evening of the concert
Once you have your ticket, no matter where you bought it, show up an hour or so before the concert and get in line for the hall to open.  If it’s a big concert and you want to be able to see anything at all, show up earlier.  If you don’t care if you can see, show up whenever.  Check your coat and large bags downstairs beforehand, you can’t bring them into the hall.  There are two lines, one for house left and one right.  When it’s time to claim spots the ushers let everyone in and there is a rapid free-for-all into the big open space that constitutes standing room.  The first row of spots disappear in the blink of an eye, go as fast as you possibly can.  The people in the front can lean on the bar marking off the space and see stuff, as long as they aren’t behind a pillar (which always happens to me).  Everyone else is just standing in the big open area, craning their necks.  The big disadvantage is that you don’t have anything to lean on unless you are in the front.  It’s pretty uncomfortable.

If an usher appears in standing room 10-15 minutes before the performance, run towards him or her as fast as you can, because he or she might have free extra tickets and will give you a seat.  It only happens occasionally, though.

Not the best way to experience a concert, if you ask me, but seats at the Musikverein can be pricey and hard to get.  The Staatsoper standing room is an excruciating process for a big reward, this is an easy process for a less awesome prize.  But it works.

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