Silvia Iberer, Violin

In February 1984 I had just finished my diploma and came to Vienna to study violin repertoire with Michael Schnitzler. I had no idea that by March, I would be auditioning for the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. Luckily, Joe Rappaport—founding member of the COE—was studying with Schnitzler at that time and brought the upcoming audition to his teacher’s attention. Soon after, Schnitzler asked me if I was interested in auditioning at the Vienna Symphony Orchestra. For the first time, women would be allowed to participate—a change Schnitzler had lobbied for during his time as leader of the orchestra. He would prepare me. After two successful auditions and trial periods, I had to decide. I left the VSO after 1¼ years to join the COE as a full-time member. I had fallen in love with the orchestra instantly.

During spring 1984, I first heard the orchestra at the Wiener Konzerthaus, conducted by Claudio Abbado. The orchestra’s liveliness and joy in playing reached all the way to the last row at the top of the gallery, with a wonderful sound, even in pianissimo passages. Leader Marieke Blankestijn was fascinating to watch. With her naturally powerful playing at the helm, the entire violin section moved though it were a single wave.

During my first tour with the orchestra in June 1984 I finally got to participate actively in this blissful music-making. At first, concerts at the Alte Oper Frankfurt with Sir George Solti and Anne-Sophie Mutter, and then: touring Italy with Claudio Abbado! Each and every concert with him was a celebration of music. I will never forget Prokofiev’s Symphonie Classique, Mendelssohn’s symphonies and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the Brahms Serenades, and, of course, the Rossini Overtures. His friendship and sense of humor were extraordinary.
Let me give you an example. For encores, we always kept a collection of Rossini overtures on our desks. Claudio had the habit of announcing which overture we would be playing just as he was walking up to his podium. One time, he quietly demanded “Scala di Seta!” in all directions. But we, the orchestra, had conspired to play “L’Italiana in Algeri” in that case. Since Claudio conducted from memory, this would cause no problems. If you know the two overtures, you will have an idea of what happened next… In an instant, Claudio – surprised and laughing – scaled down his big, energetic 4/4 fortissimo gesture down to the motions for a quiet 3/4 pianissimo-pizzicato passage!

The legendary US tour in February 1985 was another highlight of my first year with the COE. With Claudio, Alexander Schneider, and James Judd, we made stops in Washington, DC, Boston, New York, Chicago, San Franscisco, and Los Angeles. Thanks to a camera I bought for this occasion I have many memories from this wonderful time.

Formative lodestars and friends during the late 1980s were Claudio Abbado, Alexander “Sasha” Schneider, Sandor Vegh, Gidon Kremer, Yehudi Menuhin, Murray Perahia, and, of course, Nikolaus Harnoncourt.

One thing I loved about the COE from the beginning was that here, musicians from 15 different countries reacted to each other as though in a small chamber ensemble, all sharing the vision of moving audiences with music. We forged many friendships, after all, we spent a lot of time together on tour and had tons of fun outside of rehearsals and concerts. I was also thrilled by the exchange of ideas and opinions in meetings, like on how to improve communication between the orchestra and its management. This is how the elected committee, composed of four leading members of the orchestra, was established.

In 1985 this committee asked me to win over Nikolaus Harnoncourt (in whose Concentus Musicus I had been playing since 1985) for a collaboration with the COE. A great idea! I wrote an enthusiastic letter on how special the COE was and attached to it recordings of two outstanding concerts: Mozart’s Piano Concerto in B-flat major, K. 595 with Murray Perahia in the Wiener Konzerthaus and Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony conducted by Yehudi Menuhin in Salzburg. Our principal flautist, Thierry Fischer, who knew Harnoncourt from his days in Zurich, also put his word in. With Nikolaus’s “yes” a wonderful, almost 30-year-long collaboration and close friendship with the COE started. I will never forget our first concert in October 1986 in the Wiener Konzerthaus. That performance of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony was truly revolutionary for the time. After the final chord there were two seconds of silence, then a tumult of applause, bravos, and boos.
After the second concert with the Sixth and Eighth Symphony, the applause was unanimous.

Nikolaus’s rehearsals yielded innumerable quotations, since he had a limitless imagination and command of metaphor, on top of his great expertise in rhetoric, articulation, and musical dialogue. He valued a rhythmically free forming of the melody over a strict accompaniment, as it exists in jazz for example, in the second movement of the Eighth Symphony. He would call out “no salami technique” (i.e. slicing time as evenly as a sausage) whenever we would place a quaver exactly over two semiquavers. He was able to convey to the orchestra the yodels Mozart used in his music as much as the Austrian dialect used in the Trios of the Haydn and Schubert symphonies.

After seven wonderful years from 1984 to late 1991 I had to say goodbye. My son Florian had been born in April 1990 and I was about to give birth to his brother Valentin in February 1992. A full-time membership would have meant too much time away from my family, and opportunities for part-time membership were only created later, when more members had children. The esprit and quality of the COE’s musicianship are incomparable for me. Both have shaped me deeply as a musician and will stay with me for the rest of my life. For this, and for the many friendships, I am eternally grateful!


Silvia Iberer was born in Graz as the fourth of five children in a family of musicians and grew up in Bruck an der Mur. There she took violin lessons with Ferdinand Reiter at the city music school.
At the age of 16 she began studying violin at the University of Art in Graz, initially for one year with Waleri Gradow. What was the most formative and valuable element determining her future career as a violinist were the subsequent six and half years spent studying with Klaus Eichholz, with whom she graduated (at the same time as taking her teaching qualification test) with distinction in January 1984.

From February 1984, she began studying repertoire with Michael Schnitzler at the Vienna University of Music, who within a short space of time prepared her excellently for auditions with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe and the Vienna Symphony Orchestra. Silvia is a keen chamber musician and, over the years, performed chamber music concerts with, among others, Gidon Kremer, Erich Höbarth, members of the Vienna Symphony Orchestra, the Haydn Trio Vienna, members of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, the Chamber Orchestra of Europe and the Concentus Musicus Vienna.

Below are a few of the milestone in her career as a musician:

1984: 1st prize Stefanie Hohl competition, Vienna; received Dr.Karl Böhm Scholarship
1984-1985: first woman to be a member of the Vienna Symphony Orchestra

1985-1991: Member of the Chamber Orchestra of Europe
1985 to today: member of the Concentus Musicus Vienna

1986: master class with Sandor Végh, Prussia Cove
1987: attending the “Historical Performance Practice” lectures with Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Salzburg
1988-1989: studied with Philippe Hirshhorn, Utrecht
1991-1992: teaching position for violin at the University of Art in Graz

1995-1996: Member of the German Chamber Philharmonic Bremen, Concertmaster of the Pythagoras (now Balthasar Neumann) ensemble
1998-2001: guest concertmaster of the Vorarlberg Symphony Orchestra

1999-2004: Violin teacher at the Innsbruck Music School, Concertmaster of the chamber orchestra Innstrumenti
2001-2004: Head of a class for violin, viola and chamber music at the Innsbruck Conservatory

2005-2011: concertmaster of the Vienna Chamber Opera Orchestra
2006 to today: member of the Bach Consort Vienna

2007-2023: teacher of violin and viola at the Vienna Hernals Music School

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