Vienna Boys Choir visit Philadelphia

Vienna Boys Choir
The Vienna Boys Choir will perform in Glenside on Dec. 14.
Credit: Lukas Beck

The Vienna Boys Choir, consisting of 100 singers between 10 and 14 years old, breaks down into four groups that each travel up to 11 weeks of the year. And on Saturday, the illustrious group — whose origins date back to the Middle Ages — will be right here in Glenside at the Keswick Theatre (291 N. Keswick Ave.) at 4 p.m.
We caught up with Artistic Director and President Gerald Wirth, who has extensive insight: He’s not only an alum of the choir himself, he’s also been a conductor and one of the teachers.

What will you be singing?
We’ll perform a variety [of songs] from all different centuries — some traditional European Austrian songs and some more popular ones. “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” for example, “Silver Bells” and “Feliz Navidad.” In the first half, it’s a mix including compositions from Viennese composers. At the end of the first half, we do “Thank You for the Music” by ABBA. The second half will all be Christmas songs from different backgrounds. I hope we’ll bring to the concert what the audience expects: good music, interesting music, music that touches people. That’s what we are about.

How does the choir enjoy downtime on the road?
We hope to show the boys some of the [local tourist attractions] that everybody should see. … And boys will be boys, they need to goof around, they need time to play. Sports is very important in our organization. Many of the boys take soccer more seriously than music. We work with management organizations who are very aware of the boys’ needs to find an indoor gymnasium or soccer field.

Do they feel pressure from the choir’s prestige?
I talk to the boys regularly to make them aware of the same steps they’ve walked on — all the great wonderful artists of the last 500 years, like [Joseph] Haydn. We have the honor to step in their footsteps, but it’s also a big challenge to work as hard as we can to continue with this tradition and pass it on to future generations.

What type of traditions?
It’s important to still perform songs from the European region. A high percentage of our audience might prefer popular music — it’s good to do those tunes, and the boys love it, but it’s also important to maintain the tradition from our region.

How do they prepare?
When the boys are in Vienna, they attend normal school. … We divide a school season into three parts, and each choir spends two-thirds of the school year here in Vienna and one-third touring around the world.


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