Are you relieved that the cultural scene can start again?
Knotzer: In any case, we are really looking forward to the stage comeback! The concerts after the lockdown last year were incredible. This energy and joy of being able to play again created an incredible atmosphere. If there was anything positive about this pandemic, it is to remind us of what a wonderful job we do. We are very grateful to have the opportunity to create art, bring people closer to culture and see the shining eyes of the guests after a concert.
Briefly introduce your orchestra to us
Knotzer: The Wiener Residenzorchester is a traditional Viennese chamber orchestra, which was founded in 1998. Since our foundation, our ensemble, as well as our program, has grown steadily. With the help of around 70 employees and around 400 freelance artists, we not only stage our daily concerts, but also a number of exclusive series of events, e.g. in the Vienna Konzerthaus. In addition, in 2014 we have the Vienna Hofburg Orchestra taken over and our repertoire enlarged again. We are a family business – the Vienna Residence Orchestra was founded by the singer Sylvia and the pianist Paul Moser. Since January 2020 I have been leading the orchestra with the help of my siblings. It is our declared aim to preserve musical traditions on the one hand and to make classical music accessible on the other. Our programs are therefore not only entertaining and interactive, but also have an educational approach.
When do you start the new concert season?
Knotzer: We have now postponed our start and will not start our regular operations until mid-July. Ticket sales are currently still sluggish, a feeling of reluctance or even skepticism is still noticeable. In addition, the proportion of local music lovers has been very low in the past. That is doubly a shame, because we have created a terrific and varied program that we would like to start right away. In addition to honoring WA Mozart (death 230 years ago), our concerts also focus on other round commemorative celebrations and anniversaries such as Antonio Vivaldi and Astor Piazzolla.
How important are tourists as customers to you?
Knotzer: International guests are extremely important to our business, 99% of our business activities are based on them. As long as travel restrictions exist or there are uncertainties in this regard, these guests will continue to be absent.
What economic effects did the corona pandemic have on your company?
Knotzer: The entire last year has been a great challenge for our company. Roughly speaking, we haven’t had any significant sales since March 2020. Most of the fixed costs continued, however.
Did you get support to make it easier to get through the time?
Knotzer: In addition to the Covid-19 short-time working support, we have taken out a bridging loan with liability from the ÖHT (Austrian Hotel and Tourism Bank, editor’s note) and applied for and received the turnover replacement in November / December. This support was and is extremely important and we are very grateful that it was launched so quickly. We have very high fixed costs, many of which cannot be reduced in the short term. In addition to the state support, our partners and suppliers were also very accommodating and, for the most part, have waived the fulfillment of the contract.
How did your ensemble members bridge the gap?
Knotzer: A small number of our artists work full-time with us, and we are supported by around 400 freelance artists. At the beginning of the crisis, we made use of short-time working support in order to guide our long-term employees through these difficult times. Most of our freelance artists could also apply for financial support.
Have there been concerts at all since March? Under what conditions?
Knotzer: We used the summer months of 2020 to try out a new series of concerts. With the “Viennese classical concerts”Of the Vienna Residence Orchestra, we not only celebrated anniversaries such as Ludwig van Beethoven, Robert Stolz or Franz Lehar, but also organized the concerts in accordance with Corona. The safety of our guests and employees is extremely important to us. For this reason, in addition to the mandatory measures, we already maintained significantly more space between the seats last year, fell below the permitted maximum capacity again and did not serve drinks. Our concert activities last summer showed that our guests have a great deal of understanding for the measures. The current communication with our customers also shows that the measures are accepted without any problems.
Did the Vienna Residence Orchestra also give concerts online?
Knotzer: We thought about it for a long time, but ultimately monetizing an online offer is very difficult. Many large, well-known (and mostly subsidized) orchestras and houses have fabulous online services, some of them free of charge. Since we do not receive any government subsidies, an online offer would at least have to cover the effort – and that should not be underestimated if it is to meet our requirements and those of our customers. We have therefore decided to do better what we already have and restructured and expanded our website – also with the idea of a step-by-step implementation of digital offers on these platforms in the future. Furthermore, we made our New Year’s Concert of the Vienna Hofburg Orchestra, recorded in 2018, available to our customers free of charge on the website.