Thursday, September 19, 2002

Choir's home is a palace

        The Augartenpalais, home of the Vienna Boys Choir, is a gracious palace built in 1692 by a Viennese merchant, who also built the formal gardens that still exist. Over the centuries, the palace belonged to the royal family, the Habsburgs, who used it as a hunting lodge.

[photo] The Augartenpalais was built in 1692 by a Viennese merchant.
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        Beyond the gardens were forests and wild boar — not the city streets and shops that now surround the palace.

        The palace's showpiece is a beautiful parlor, with a spectacular crystal chandelier, ceiling frescos, oriental carpet and windows that overlook the gardens. It is here that the choir receives heads of state and other foreign dignitaries, such as its most recent visitors, the emperor and empress of Japan.

        Composers including Brahms, Liszt, Strauss — and possibly Beethoven and Mozart — appeared in small concerts given in this room. During World War II, the palace was a hospital.

        The room is sometimes used as a rehearsal space; here is where part of the choir rehearsed an operetta it sang in Japan last spring. During the holidays, a huge Christmas tree is set up in the center of the room, and each boy receives gifts before going home to his family.

        An addition to the school includes an expansive indoor pool, classrooms and living quarters. The boys' rooms, each with six beds, are cheery and overlook the manicured gardens of the Augartenpalais.

        The Augartenpalais needs extensive repairs, and is preparing for a $5 million renovation, funded by a private donor and the Austrian government.

— Janelle Gelfand

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