Every Place is a Musical Capital

When I admit to most music aficionados that I am visiting Vienna for the first time next week they tend to be shocked. How can someone who claims to be so enamored of music have not made the requisite pilgrimage to the musical capital of the world? But great music takes place all over the planet and you can find amazing things to listen to wherever you go.

Written By

Frank J. Oteri

Frank J. Oteri is an ASCAP-award winning composer and music journalist. Among his compositions are Already Yesterday or Still Tomorrow for orchestra, the "performance oratorio" MACHUNAS, the 1/4-tone sax quartet Fair and Balanced?, and the 1/6-tone rock band suite Imagined Overtures. His compositions are represented by Black Tea Music. Oteri is the Vice President of the International Society for Contemporary Music (ISCM) and is Composer Advocate at New Music USA where he has been the Editor of its web magazine, NewMusicBox.org, since its founding in 1999.

The Mediterranean Sea

The world is filled with amazing musical destinations even though, admittedly, there’s more water than anything else on the planet.

Over the years I’ve taken a lot of trips that some folks might consider overloaded. Sixteen years ago, I journeyed from Casablanca down to Marrakech, the gorges, the sahel, and the edge of the Sahara, then back up to Fes, Volubilis, Meknes and Tangier (to visit Paul Bowles) then back to Casablanca, all in eight days. In August 2011, I journeyed to three South American countries, exploring both the capital city and an important UNESCO site in each one over the course of 12 days; that’s my idea of a vacation. Back in June, for work, I took back-to-back trips to St. Louis and Dublin to participate in conference talks that were scheduled less than 18 hours apart. Although it’s doable, it’s definitely not recommended, yet I’d do it again in a heartbeat if there were interesting music to experience or interact with. In fact, what I plan to do for the next three weeks might actually trump all of these peregrinations.
On Thursday, I head to Europe to attend the 2013 Annual Meeting and Conference of the International Association of Music Information Centres (IAMIC) in Bratislava, Slovakia, and Vienna, Austria. Concurrent with that will be the 2013 World New Music Days of the International Society for Contemporary Music (ISCM), which I’ll try to catch as much of as possible while I am there. The WNMD actually starts today in Košice, a city in Eastern Slovakia, but leaving New York City earlier in order to get there in time proved to be a logistical nightmare, so I’ll arrive in Bratislava on Friday and take it from there. It’s not terribly crazy, especially since Bratislava and Vienna aren’t much further apart from one another than Minneapolis and St. Paul. However, since my wife Trudy needs to be in Berlin during this time and we both need to be in Hong Kong the following week to attend her brother’s wedding, it made no sense to come back to North America and fly out to Asia a day later. So at the end of the Ensemble “die reihe” concert in Vienna on Thursday, I will head to the airport and fly to Berlin to start my vacation. From there on Saturday, Trudy and I will fly to Hong Kong, via Doha, Qatar. When we return to New York City on November 24, we will have made a complete 360-degree orbit around the planet, which is really exciting in a Jules Verne kind of way. Because we are traveling in one direction the entire journey we will actually gain a day, although admittedly a great deal more than 24 hours will ultimately be spent on airplanes.

Anyway, the reason I bring this all up is not just because I find it extremely cool that such a trip is within the realm of the possible in the 21st century. (Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days, after all, was a fantasy novel.) I mention it because despite all of my trips to various parts of the world I have never before visited Vienna. When I admit this to most music aficionados they tend to be shocked. How can someone who claims to be so enamored of music have not made the requisite pilgrimage to the musical capital of the world—a place that was home to Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Bruckner, Mahler, Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern, among others? Much as I’ve always been interested in traveling to Vienna, I don’t believe the world has a musical capital. I admire all those aforementioned composers, but I don’t admire them more than Debussy or Alois Haba (which is why I made sure to get to Paris and Prague decades ago). Yet while I’m also pretty obsessed with Galina Ustvolskaja, Alhaji Bai Konte and Ravi Shankar, I still haven’t been to Russia, the Gambia, or India. And as an American composer who is deeply indebted to the so-called maverick tradition, I haven’t even visited the birthplaces of Charles Ives, Henry Cowell, or Harry Partch.

The fact of the matter is that great music takes place all over the planet and you can find amazing things to listen to wherever you go. Believe it or not, as excited as I am about finally visiting Vienna, I’m actually more excited about going to Doha, Qatar, since I have never heard a note of music from there and there’s bound to be something extraordinary to discover. Sadly, though, I arrive in the middle of the night and basically will just have time to change planes. Next time.