Vienna Philharmonic’s home for refugees

While many orchestras have held benefit concerts to do their bit to help asylum seekers in crisis, Vienna Philharmonic (VPO) has gone one step further – it has bought a building to convert into homes for refugees in the market town of Sankt Aegyd am Neuwalde.

When I catch CEO Andreas Großbauer on the phone, he’s signing off the orchestra’s latest promotional posters. It’s clear from the get go that beyond the orchestra’s usual activities, Asylum House is a very special project that he is clearly passionate about. To his mind, supporting asylum seekers in Europe is not far removed from VPO’s musical heritage after all. In fact, to not get involved in the solution would go against everything he feels classical music stands for.

‘When we play an opera like Fidelio, for example, the singers are singing about freedom – it struck me that if we did nothing to help the refugees coming to Austria, then our music just wouldn’t be honest anymore.’

It isn’t the Phil’s first effort to respond to the international refugee crisis. In September the orchestra played a benefit concert at Vienna Konzerthaus led by conductor Christoph Eschenbach. As well as raising €160,000 for refugee charities it attracted significant media attention. But, says Großbauer, while raising money is all well and good he wanted to do more.

‘We wanted to put a face to the people we intended to help,’ says the CEO. ‘But how?’

His question was answered when a colleague mentioned a restaurant for sale in the town of St Aegyd am Neuwalde, an hour’s drive from Vienna. ‘He said it was in good condition and could fit four families. So I decided we could make the conversion possible.’

The property was for sale at €250,000 which, even for an orchestra the size of Vienna Philharmonic, is a lot of money. Großbauer decided to redirect some funds from its existing charitable giving to the cause. ‘At the moment we donate each year to the Austrian charity Licht ins Dunkel [Light into Darkness]. I decided to move some of this to the house. We managed to get €125,000 together to get the fund off to a strong start.’

This is an extract from an article in Vol. 11 Issue 18. To read the full feature subscribe to IAM here.