The elegant audience for his world-famous New Year’s concert with the Vienna Philharmonic may be the epitome of buttoned restraint, all in tails and taffeta.
But the gilded pillars of Vienna’s grand old Musikverein now host concerts where something very different happens – where the elderly, who often live with dementia, can unwind and just go with the music.
“People can get carried away, they can dance and sing, so you feel the music much more intensely,” says Andreas Trubel, a 67-year-old former IT developer who studies neurocognitive issues and runs a self-help group for “people who who have forgotten”.
He said he loved the “relaxed style” of the six-concert “Souvenir” series, with people able to get up, walk around and chat while listening to Schubert, Schumann and Brahms and a seasonal sprinkling of Christmas carols.
“Everything is allowed, every reaction is allowed and welcome,” said music association director Stephan Pauly of the AFP news agency.
The series, which began in October, has been a “huge success,” he said, and has already become a “very beautiful and very important part” of their production, with more shows planned for next season.
The rows of seats are spaced to allow for movement and wheelchairs, and there are few of the normal rules for attending a concert, making people with or without dementia “feel welcome,” Pauly said.
“Even in the advanced stage of dementia, people are still receptive to music,” says the moderator of the concerts, Veronika Mandl, “because it is connected to different areas of the brain.
“Music is a memory, an emotion, a connection to different things,” she said.
Mandl did “a lot of research” about music that viewers might recognize when she came up with the program, she said.
And she watches closely how the audience reacts, some leaning on each other’s shoulders when moved.
At the beginning of each hour-long concert, Mandl sets the tone. She tells the audience that they can exercise, go to the bathroom if they want, or even leave when they want.
Staff are also trained to understand people with dementia and help them feel more comfortable.
A listener mumbling through a performance by a young Polish trio was gently moved to another location to give her more space.
Nursing home caregiver Iris Krall-Radulian, herself a trained musician, said many of the audience had been concert-goers before they developed dementia.
“We know that (music) has a huge impact. They are much happier and feel alive,” she said after the concerts.
© 2022 AFP