Vienna Choir Boys

Long famous as a tourist attraction in their native land, the Vienna Choir Boys also serve as Austria’s globe-trotting goodwill ambassadors. At any given time two choruses of 24 boys each are on the road, while two more stay in Vienna, participating in weekly concerts with the Vienna Philharmonic and other ensembles. The government-subsidized school that trains these boys, who range in age from 10 to 14 (or until their voices break), also keeps in reserve about 100 more students. Following the tradition established almost five centuries ago–when the emperor Maximilian I decreed the formation of the choir for his court chapel as a surrogate for the voices of women, who were forbidden by the Catholic church to sing in public–the kids receive lessons in voice, music theory and history, and related academic subjects. Their hard work is evident in the disciplined unanimity and flawless diction of their singing, which still ranks as the best of the European children’s choirs (confirmed by a CD compilation of the finest among these choruses in a smorgasbord of Christmas numbers on the Milan label). In their stops at Orchestra Hall–after an absence of five years–and in Aurora, the neatly uniformed and clean-cut boys will offer the usual assortment of seasonal carols and anthems (in Latin, German, and English) by the likes of Purcell, Tallis, and Handel. One highlight is sure to be Britten’s Missa Brevis, a gorgeous, substantial, and highly sophisticated treatment of the mass by a composer who appreciated young voices. As a secular break, Offenbach’s operetta Monsieur et Madame Denis is included. Enacting this charming, merry story of mistaken identity and shotgun marriage, some of the boys will take on female roles and wear women’s costumes–in an ironic reminder of the gender-bending origins of the choir. Lucio Golino conducts. Friday, 3 PM, Orchestra Hall, 220 S. Michigan; 312-294-3000. Saturday, 8 PM, Paramount Arts Centre, 23 E. Galena, Aurora; 630-896-6666.


Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Vienna Choir Boys.