Musical Metternichs

At the Grafenegg outdoor music festival, funded by the Metternich family, on its third anniversary

Rick Jones

The Grafenegg outdoor music festival in Lower Austria takes place during the wine harvest when everyone is in a very good mood. The Vienna Phil pops over, although the festival is marking its third anniversary and has hardly had time to establish a proper reputation. The London Symphony Orchestra, which otherwise plays outdoors only at the Alhambra in Spain, considers it worth the haul too. I shared the Austrian Airlines flight with it and Sir Colin Davis. The players were staying in Vienna while Sir Colin and his wife were resident at the Loisium, a new hotel built in the middle of a vineyard, the plump grapes brushing against the windows and stretching away in endless rows. 

The idea came first from another Viennese orchestra, the Tonkünstler, who had always given intermittent concerts at Grafenegg Castle, a part-genuine, part-fantasy Gothic pile belonging to the Metternich family. The latter would host the event while the government of Lower Austria paid for the modern amphitheatre, the orchestras playing under an elaborate cubist canopy called the Pillar of Clouds.

The Metternich family has a reputation for throwing a party. Four generations back, Clemens von Metternich organised the 1815 Congress of Vienna, “although that wasn’t what was on the invitation”, says the present heir. “They came for the balls.” The boring talks and wrangling over political boundaries after the defeat of Napoleon took place in private rooms, the waltzing drowning out any raised voices. Clemens ran Austria for almost 30 years and became a Prince. Titles were abolished in Austria, but the admin staff still use the formal title, albeit informally. The generations changed this year with the death of Clemens’s great-grandson Franz-Albrecht, who got the castle back from the Russians after the war and financed its restoration, which he based on Strawberry Hill House, London, once the home of Horace Walpole, another PM’s descendant. 

“The Metternich family has no political involvement now,” says Tassilo Metternich from behind his desk, the only item of furniture the Russians left. “Clemens’s son was ambassador to France but my father was a landowner, which was enough to keep him busy.” I ask how the festival has been accepted by the locals. “We worried that we might at first have seemed snooty, but the local people have embraced it as their own,” he adds. 

The wine flows before the concert. The only worry is the rain, concerning which, daily at 4pm, a decision is made as to whether to use the alternative hall. And as if to make doubly sure, they also provide plastic macs under the outdoor seats, which almost seems like an expense too far. 

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