The New Year’s concert of the Vienna Philharmonic It is the main media event of the classic. Its formula is masterful. One of the best orchestras in the world, one of the best conductors of the moment and the Strauss music as a common denominator It has a solid tradition, as evidenced by its 80 years of history. And it brings together an average of 50 million viewers from almost a hundred countries in front of the television. Every year it seems the same, but it is always different. On this occasion he is directed, for the first time, by the Latvian master Andris Nelsons. The Spanish as a choreographer debuts José Carlos Martínez in the pre-recorded ballet scenes. Nine compositions never before programmed will be heard, including music from Beethoven, commemorating its 250th anniversary. And he will pat himself again, finally Radetzky March, which this year will sound in an arrangement freed from annoying Nazi adhesions. All of this, and much more, is discussed in this guide.
Capital of classical music
Discard imitations, well The main New Year’s Concert is held in Vienna. The Austrian capital is also from classical music. Here the main composers have lived and worked since the 18th century, such as Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert, but also Brahms, Bruckner, Mahler or Schönberg. The history of music of the last 300 years could almost be written without leaving its streets. But Vienna’s image as a classical musical capital has been the result of a successful construction of Austrian cultural policy. A model way of counteracting its decline, after the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and its annexation to Hitler’s Germany. Every January 1, Vienna shines to the beat of Strauss music. And, more specifically, of Johann Strauss Son (1825-1899), the most prolific composer and interpreted in this event.
Despite its undeniable beauty and glamor, this musical date has a bleak origin. It emerged from Nazi propaganda in an annexed Austria as a province of the Third Reich. Clemens Krauss directed his first edition, on December 31, 1939, at the head of a Vienna Philharmonic declared Judenfrei (“clean of Jews”). But, since 1941, it takes place on its correct date. Austrian victimhood, evidenced by films like Smiles and tears, bleached those Nazi origins. And, after World War II, it became a showcase of Austrian cultural excellence. Today, it is also part of the traditions of the beginning of the year in millions of homes around the world.
It is celebrated in the call Golden Hall of the Musikverein, the famous concert building that was built by the Society of Friends of Music in Vienna, on the Karlsplatz. It opened in January 1870, and this year will celebrate its 150th anniversary. A design by the Danish architect Theophil von Hansen Inspired by Greek classicism. It is witnessed by its decoration, with those rows of caryatids or the representations of Apollo and the nine muses on the ceiling. But also its shape, inspired by the golden section. A rectangular parallelepiped or “shoe box” that houses one of the best acoustics in the world.
A sea of flowers
The The Golden Hall of Musikverein is decorated annually with a spectacular display of floral ornaments. In the past they were a gift from the Italian city of San Remo, but since 2015 the Department of Parks and Gardens of the City of Vienna takes over the decoration, which has been decorating the parks of the Austrian capital for more than a century and a half. The room becomes a sea of 30,000 flowers. This year, combinations of anthuriums, roses, lilies and orchids have been designed, where pastel tones will dominate. From a delicate purple to reddish pink and apricot, through light yellow, white, cream and fresh green. All with the intention of highlighting the brightness of this room.
The Vienna Philharmonic It is one of the best orchestras in the world. It emerged, in 1842, to meet the growing demand for philharmonic concerts in the city. Hence its name, because Wiener Philharmoniker literally means “Viennese Philharmonics.” It was founded by composer Otto Nicolai with the best musicians of the Imperial Opera orchestra (now State), constituted in a self-managed association. It is a very conservative set with an unmistakably native and elegant sound. It has its own instrumental tradition, with different variants of other orchestras for the oboe, the tube or the timbale. And it is common to find among its members not only disciples of former members, but also strong family affiliations.
Women in the orchestra
The conservative ideology of this orchestra He has been controversial because of his sexist and racist attitudes. Until 1997 no women were allowed touch on her but today it has 15 full-fledged female members among its 145 instrumentalists and even counts, since 2011, with a woman among her four concert halls, the Bulgarian Albena Danailova. But this year we will not see her in the first lectern, where the violinist Volkhard Steude will act as concertmaster. Yes we will see, on the contrary, several members of the orchestra among the first music stands of the second violins, as is the case of Patricia Hood-Koll, daughter of the recently retired violinist Heinrich Koll. The rise of women among the lecterns of the Vienna Philharmonic is being very slow. It is due, in good measure, that each new admission must pass a trial period, after having obtained a place in the State Opera Orchestra. And also, according to its president, The new additions are not made “because they are women or not, but because they are the best instrumentalists.”
The director Andris Nelsons
The Vienna Philharmonic lacks a principal director. Invite one of the most prestigious in the world for each subscription concert, tour or festival. And the New Year’s concert It’s a good example. Although in the past there was initially a stable director for this appointment (such as Clemens Krauss, Josef Krips, Willi Boskovsky and Lorin Maazel), since 1987 a different director has been proposed for each edition. The alternation began with Herbert von Karajan and was followed by Claudio Abbado, Carlos Kleiber, Zubin Mehta, Riccardo Muti, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Seiji Ozawa, Mariss Jansons, Georges Prêtre, Daniel Barenboim, Franz Welser-Möst, Gustavo Dudamel Y Christian Thielemann. In 2020 the Latvian debuts Andris Nelsons (Riga, 1978), who is the head of the Boston Symphony and Gewandhauskapellmeister in Leipzig. Nelsons debuted with the Vienna Philharmonic in October 2010, and has since established himself as one of its principal directors. It combines an overflowing talent with a natural simplicity and has recorded, between 2017 and 2019, the integral of Beethoven’s symphonies for Deutsche Grammophon.
Strausses and contemporaries
The tradition of New Year’s concert is related to the members of the Strauss family, the main dynasty of Viennese dance music and operetta composers of the 19th century. The most relevant is Johann Strauss Jr., although works by his brother Josef, the most imaginative at the musical level, of the family patriarch, Johann Strauss, and, to a lesser extent, by Eduard, the youngest of the saga, are always added. This edition we will listen to works by all of them. Johann son predominates, with six of the 19 compositions. This year three waltzes of his will be heard with a lot of tradition, as Where lemon trees bloom (introduced in 1951 by Krauss and last played, in 2013, with Welser-Möst) and Embrace yourselves, millions of beings! (which Krauss first directed, in 1950, and Barenboim, finally, in 2014) and Enjoy life (which rang with Krips, in 1947, and Jansons directed the last time, in 2012). Less traditional is the polka Flower Festival (Maazel has been the only one who has included it, in 1996). However, the best known waltz will be again In the beautiful blue Danube (as a tip, since 1945, when Krauss introduced it) next to the polka rap Tritsch-Tratsch (directed in 1943 by Krauss and Jansons, in 2012, in a choral version with the Vienna Singing Children).
This year will mark the 150th anniversary of the death of Josef Strauss. And for that reason five of his works have been programmed. Three are new at the New Year’s Concert: the exquisite waltz Greetings from lovethe pompous Liechtenstein March and the French polka Cupid. The fast polka that opens the bises will also be yours: In flight, which Boskovsky introduced in 1972. But the best composition of Josef Strauss will be the last of the program: the waltz Dynamos (Mysterious forces of attraction), which inspired Richard Strauss his “Ohne mich …” at the end of the second act of the opera Der Rosenkavalier (Krauss introduced it in 1949, and it was not heard, since 2014, when Barenboim directed it). Nor will music from the Strauss boy, Eduard, be missing with two compositions that are new at the New Year’s Concert and show his mastery as a polka maker. Highlight the fast polka Suddenly above the polka mazurca Frost flower. And the Patriarch of the Strauss, Johann Sr., will only be heard, in the end, the popular Radetzky March.
Also included are works by contemporary composers or those related to the Viennese orchestra such as Joseph Lanner, Franz Lehár, Otto Nicolai and Franz von Suppé. This year the concert will open with another novelty: the varied overture of the operetta The homelessby Karl Michael Ziehrer, a contemporary composer and rival of the Strauss, whose music plays at the New Year’s Concert sporadically since 1972. And there will be a novelty of the conductor Josef Hellmesberger son, who replaced Mahler as head of the Viennese orchestra in 1901: his catchy Gavotte. Another Hans Christian Lumbye galop, the “Danish Strauss,” whose music Jansons introduced at the New Year’s Concert in 2012, and then Mehta in 2015, will also play. Postillon Galop, which is also a novelty. But the best known work, among contemporary composers, will be heard at the beginning of the second part: the operetta overture Light cavalry, by Franz von Suppé, another of the Strauss’s rivals and who celebrated his bicentennial, in 2019 (introduced by Muti in 1997, and Welser-Möst repeated it in 2013).
Beethoven, among other commemorations
In the New Year’s concert also, exceptionally, some pieces by a relevant composer are added to celebrate his anniversary. This happened in 1991 with Mozart, in 1997 with Schubert, in 2009 with Haydn, in 2013 with Verdi and Wagner and in 2014 with Richard Strauss. This year the main commemoration will be Ludwig van Beethoven, on its 250th anniversary, who resided in Vienna, from 1792 until his death, in 1827. The quality of his symphonies marked a before and after, but they were also the origin of this orchestra. And his technical difficulty forced to create a professional ensemble for concerts in Vienna with the best musicians of the Imperial Opera. That set is the Vienna Philharmonic, which included some instrumentalists who premiered the Ninth Symphony. This year, Beethoven’s music has been scheduled for the first time: six of its Twelve Contradances, published in 1802, a collection with dances for Bonn and ballet fragments. Notably, number 7 (we will hear it in fourth place), which was intended as finale of the ballet The creatures of Prometheus, released in 1801, and then became the subject of their Eroica Variations for piano, although it is better known as the theme of the final movement of the Symphony No. 3.
But there are two other commemorations in this edition of the New Year’s Concert. One is the 150th anniversary of the Musikverein, which will be remembered with two of the three compositions that the Strauss brothers wrote for their inaugural dance, on January 15, 1870. This is the case of the waltz Enjoy life, from Johann Jr., as well as from Polka Mazurca Frost flowerby Eduard. But it is a pity that they have omitted the third: the French polka Artists Saluteby Josef (introduced by Boskovsky, in 1974, and Jansons directed for the last time, in 2012). The other commemoration is the centenary of the Salzburg Festival, the summer residence of the orchestra, but also the place where Clemens Krauss created this monographic concert format of waltzes, polcas and marches of the Strauss family, in 1929. The hand program indicates that the Vienna Philharmonic will play the waltz Greetings from love, by Josef Strauss, in homage to that festival, where he acts every summer since 1922.
Waltzes, polcas and gears
The program is always composed of polcas that alternate with waltzes and marches alongside orchestral fragments of Viennese operettas. Polka is a dance of bohemian origin very popular in Vienna in the 19th century. This year we will listen to its three variants: the sparkling fast polka (like Tritsch-Tratsch, by Johann Strauss Jr.), the elegant French polka (this year represented by Cupid, by Josef Strauss) and the stylized polka mazurca (this edition with the melosa Frost flowerby Eduard Strauss).
The waltzes are the most musically exquisite part of the New Year’s Concert. Symphonic works longer and more elaborate than polcas, which combine several waltzes located between a slow introduction and a final coda. As is tradition, Johann Strauss Jr. will be the most famous of all the waltzes, In the beautiful blue Danube. But two other magnificent examples have also been programmed: the tribute to Italy of Where lemon trees bloom Y Embrace yourselves, millions of beings!, titled with a verse from the Schiller ode that Beethoven used in the choral movement of his Ninth Symphony, but, in reality, it is an offering to Brahms that hides an evening reference to his Sonata for violin and piano nº 2, as revealed by the concertmaster of the orchestra, Volkhard Steude. This year, one of the most interesting music waltzes will be Dynamos (Mysterious forces of attraction), by Josef Strauss, which, apart from the aforementioned influence on Richard Strauss, is a masterpiece from beginning to end, where the Viennese essence coexists with echoes of Berlioz and Wagner.
The marches are usually scheduled for the beginning or the end of the concert. They are occasional works linked to relevant events or characters, such as the march that we will listen to as the third work of the concert, by Josef Strauss, and dedicated to the president of the Imperial and Royal Society of Agriculture, Prince Alois von Liechtenstein. Finally, the popular will be heard Radetzky March, which Johann Strauss Sr. composed to honor the marshal who quelled the revolts in northern Italy. There will also be an overture to open each part of the concert. It begins with the opening of the operetta The homeless, from Ziehrer, a sparkling sitcom whose success hit Broadway. And in the second part you will hear the said overture of the operetta Light cavalry, of Suppé, with a famous galop that represents the hussars.
It is well known that the concert does not end with the planned program. There are always three tips, that is, compositions that are added at the end and out of program. In the New Year’s Concert they have a special character since they have been previously established since 1958. That year Willi Boskovsky determined that a fast polka would be included that varies year after year (in 2020 it will be In full flight, by Josef Strauss), followed by the waltz In the beautiful blue Danube and the Radetzky March to end. Actually, the tradition of having these three tips was initiated by Josef Krips, in 1946, and Clemens Krauss continued until 1954, although it was Boskovsky who consolidated it, especially after the start of the television broadcasts of the New Year’s Concert, in 1959 .
Happy New Year
There are several traditions assigned to the public during the concert. One is the congratulation of the new year that the conductor performs with the orchestra before the waltz In the beautiful blue Danube. Here it is common for music to be interrupted with applause at the beginning of the introduction of the waltz. Normally, the director simply says in German: “The Vienna Philharmonic and I wish you …”; to which the orchestra will respond: “Happy New Year.” However, some directors, such as Maazel, Harnoncourt or Muti, have used this moment to make a brief speech.
Palms in the ‘Radetzky March’, this year denazified
Another tradition at the concert is the audience’s patterned palmeo in the Radetzky March, from Johann Strauss Sr., with whom he ends. On many occasions it is done under the direction of the conductor. It is what has remained of a musical event where the public behaved in the past more freely and naturally. By radio recording of the concert directed by Clemens Krauss, in 1954, we know that the spectators reacted with applause when listening to their favorite compositions, and forced the orchestra to stop and start again. However, he never patted accompanied during the music. This tradition it began in the era of Willi Boskovsky in the sixtieswhen the Radetzky March As the end of the concert. The tradition continued with Lorin Maazel in the eighties and acquired a letter of a definitive nature when until Herbert von Karajan himself turned to the public, in 1987, to direct it.
But this year, the Radetzky March has been news for a revealed information in the orchestra’s web newspaper, last December 12. The work was introduced by Krips as a tip at the 1946 New Year’s Concert, in an orchestral arrangement of the Nazi party member, Leopold Weninger. Nikolaus Harnoncourt opened the 2001 edition with the original version, which has a much smaller instrumentation. But as a tip it has always been played in the version published by Weninger, in 1914, in the Benjamin-Verlag publishing house. On the web it is clarified that, over time, the musicians of the orchestra have been adding many supplements and variants to the aforementioned arrangement, especially in percussion. For this reason, the orchestra decided to make a new version this year and discard that of Weninger, whose past as official arranger of the Third Reich bothers them.
A festive touch of humor
During the years when Willi Boskovsky conducted the New Year’s Concert (1955-1979) he acquired his most festive and fun condition. It was splashed with costumes, gags and jokes. Its origin is related to the ingenuity of percussionist Franz Broschek. It all started in 1959, when he decided to wear a beard and mustache from a party during the fast polka Choose Magyar, from Johann Strauss Jr. The joke entertained the audience so much that, from now on, he was named “official prankster” of the New Year’s Concert. Each year there were small performances related to some work of the program. As soon as he dressed in Cordoba to play the castanets, as he dressed as a blacksmith to play anvils or dragged a plucked chicken before firing a shotgun. The public accompanied them with palms. For the Radetzky March I used to touch the box next to the podium, dressed in Austro-Hungarian military attire. And it is possible that in this joke is the origin of the famous palmeo present in this work. Today it is usual to include some different detail during each edition of the concert, even with the collaboration of the orchestra director himself. In this edition, Nelsons will show the public his skills as a trumpet player, just as Willi Boskovsky and Lorin Maazel did in the past with the violin.
The ORF, the Austrian public broadcasting company, broadcast the concert live every first of January. Its television broadcast was initiated in 1959, both in Austria and in nine countries through Eurovision (Belgium, Denmark, France, Great Britain, Holland, Italy, the then Federal Republic of Germany, Sweden and Switzerland). He arrived in Spain first between 1962 and 1970, and then from 1973 continuously until today, always on Spanish Television and through Eurovision. For his 62nd retransmission, German Michael Beyer will return to the address, which he already exercised in the 2014-2016 editions. A filmmaker with precise and analytical style that will have, once again, 14 high-definition cameras. In Spain, the retransmission of the ORF can be seen through La 1 in HD, but also on the RTVE website and on the international Channel (and listen to Classic Radio along with other stations such as Radio 5 or Radio Exterior). It will begin at 11.15 with the Eurovision header and the famous prelude of the Te deumby Marc-Antoine Charpentier. And he will recount this year with the comments of the musical journalist Martín Llade. The concert has two parts, with an interval of about 25 minutes. The first part, which will last approximately until 11.50, is usually something more serious and conventional. In fact, until 1992 it was not broadcast more than the second part, which will begin at 12.15 and is usually more colorful and attractive, including the best music, along with the pre-recorded ballet scenes.
Since 1992, the 25-minute interval is used to issue a short documentary about the cultural and natural treasures of Austria. It is done in a format that does not require spoken addresses when it is intended for broadcast in many countries. On this occasion we will see, starting at 11.51, a documentary dedicated to Beethoven on its 250th anniversary, entitled Swirls of Beethoven leaves. The filmmaker Georg Riha returns as director, after his 2018 film dedicated to Viennese modernism. We will see several ensembles of instrumentalists of the Vienna Philharmonic, this time located in various places related to the life and work of Beethoven in Austria, such as Baden, Gneixendorf and Vienna. The documentary begins, in the 19th century, at the Beethoven-Pasqualati House. Use sheet music sheets that fly from one location to another. And they end up forming a new composition, already in the 21st century.
Spanish color ballet
Since the New Year’s Concert began broadcasting on television in 1959, it has always had a ballet scene. They are starred by the soloists of the Vienna State Opera Ballet and have a guest choreographer. This year will be, for the first time, a Spanish: the choreographer and director until 2019 of the National Company, José Carlos Martínez (Cartagena, 1969), National Dance Award in 1999 and former solo dancer of the Paris Opera, where he started with Rudolf Nureyev. In this edition we will see two ballet performances, both in the second part of the concert, shot in late August under the direction of Michael Beyer. The first will be the waltz Embrace yourselves, millions of beings! of Johann Strauss Jr. Five pairs of dancers will be located in different locations of the Prince Eugenio Winter Palace, headquarters of the Federal Ministry of Finance. At present, this palace has become the scene of negotiations for a government coalition in Austria between the Popular and the Greens. The second ballet scene will coincide with Beethoven’s six contradanzas, as another tribute to its 250th anniversary. On this occasion, two couples will dance in the footsteps of the composer in Pfarrplatz and Döbling. The costumes, which on occasion have been commissioned by an important designer, as happened in 2010 with Valentino, will be this year, for the second time, by the English designer Emma Ryott, an opera and ballet figurine with extensive experience who already participated in 2016.
And to attend in 2021
Tickets to attend the New Year’s Concert are sold by lottery through the Vienna Philharmonic website and one year in advance. To participate in the raffle it is essential to register on the web, between February 1 and 29, 2020. The Viennese orchestra lately provides all the information about the raffle in a downloadable PDF file, written in Spanish. It has even been enabled an online help center, which also includes a wide deployment of Frequently asked questions, in German and English. The winners will be able to buy tickets for the three opportunities in which this concert can be seen live. The general essay of December 30, at 11.00, for a price that ranges between 20 and 495 euros; for the Concert of San Silvestre or New Year’s Eve from December 31, at 19.30, whose price ranges between 25 and 860 euros, or for the New Year’s Concert on January 1, at 11.15, with tickets ranging from 35 to 1,200 euros.