The, uh, stuff that dreams are made of.
Attending a ball in Vienna is like stepping into the pages of a fairy tale: it takes place in an enchanted setting and brims with magical elements, folklore and fantasy. My husband and I had the wonderful opportunity to waltz into the fairy tale that is the Philharmoniker Ball in Vienna last Thursday evening as the guests of Alexa Wesner, the U.S. Ambassador to Austria, and her husband, Blaine, a venture capitalist. One of Vienna’s premier annual social events, the Philharmoniker Ball dates back to 1924 and none of the splendor and pageantry has been lost in the years since. Ladies still wear ball gowns, men don white tie, tails and medals and debutantes come from all over Europe to be presented to Vienna society. Join us as we take you inside the 2015 Philharmoniker Ball.
Our fairy tale evening began with a divine private dinner hosted by the Ambassador and her husband at the Palais Coburg, a grand palace completed in 1845 that now serves as a five-star hotel and has one of the finest wine collections in the world. Thanks to the generosity of another of the evening’s guests, our dinner included one of the most prized bottles in the Palais Coburg collection: a Balthazar (the equivalent of 16 standard wine bottles) of one of the most delicious and complex wines I’ve ever had the pleasure to taste: a 1961 Premier Grand Cru Classe Chateau Latour.
At 10 pm, the official start time of the Ball, we arrived at the event venue, The Wiener Musikverein, a magnificent neoclassical concert hall built in 1863 that is home to the Vienna Philharmonic. It is worth noting that The Musikverein was so well designed and constructed that, despite the fact that it has none of the modern applications of acoustics science, it is regarded as one of the finest concert halls in the world. One need only hear how the orchestra sounds fill the 161-foot long and 59-foot tall Golden Hall to understand why.
Colorful flowers lined the many balconies and stairwells of The Musikverein
Following the opening ceremony, the dignitaries were seated behind the Philharmonic for the orchestral performance and presentation of the debutantes
Upon arriving, Ambassador and Mr. Wesner excused themselves to participate in the Ball’s opening ceremonies while we took our seats in a loge overlooking the dance floor. From there, we watched the dignitaries proceed ceremoniously into the Golden Hall to the same Richard Strauss music that has been played at every Philharmoniker Ball opening procession since 1924. Vienna’s respect for history and tradition was palpable.
The debutantes present themselves to Vienna society
The Vienna Philharmonic performs at the 2015 Philharmoniker Ball
Once the dignitaries took their seats behind the Philharmonic, the hundreds of debutantes, all wearing white ball gowns and crystal treble clef pins in their hair, walked into the Hall holding the hands of their dance partners. They entered to great fanfare and soon began to waltz counter-clockwise around the floor in breathtaking harmony. At the conclusion of their dance, the Master of Dance, a dance barker of sorts and the only official to speak during the entire evening, proclaimed “Alles Walzer!”, which signaled to the crowd that it was time to join the debutantes on the dance floor.
Debutantes waltzing at the Philharmoniker Ball
Over the course of the next six hours, the Philharmonic, the Großes Ballorchester under the direction of Helmut Steubl and the Tom Henkes Dance Band played a steady stream of Viennese waltzes, polkas and big band numbers ensuring that there was a little musical something for every dancer. At midnight and again at 2 am, the Master of Dance led a still-teeming dance floor in a Quadrille, a fun, Simon-says-type dance that originated in France in the 1700s and features four couples dancing in a square formation.
Unable to decipher the German directions being given by the Master of Dance, we chose to watch the Quadrilles from the loge while sipping Champagne and nibbling on a late-night snack of traditional Vienna sausages with mustard and horseradish.
Ambassador Wesner looked regal in a garnet-hued Valentino gown and low chignon and her husband, Blaine, was elegance personified in an impeccably tailored tailcoat.
I chose a red silk, chiffon and tulle bias-cut gown by American couturier, Robert Danes, as a nod to the official color of Austria.
Shortly before 3 am, we left the still-crowded Ball and headed to the beautiful and historic Hotel Sacher for some post-Ball revelry. At 5 am, we called it a night. And what a night it was…a fairy tale night, once upon a time.
Cat’s Meow Moments: Entering The Musikverein’s Golden Hall and being overwhelmed by the sheer grandeur and historic significance of the space, seeing the magnificent floral arrangements throughout the building, listening to the lively sounds of one of the world’s finest orchestras play in one of the world’s finest concert halls, watching the hundreds of debutantes and their partners waltz in perfect unison, taking to the dance floor with my husband and dancing the dizzying Viennese Waltz (albeit not always in perfect unison), seeing the tremendous joy and fellowship that goes with Quadrille dancing, and basking in the formality and elegance of Austrian culture and tradition.
Introductory photo: Judy Garland
Introductory quote: The Maltese Falcon, 1941