The New Year's Concert of the Vienna Philharmonic, that musical, domestic and television ceremony, which we repeat every morning of the first of January, had shady origins. It emerged from Nazi propaganda in an annexed Austria. Clemens Krauss, one of the leading Austrian conductors in the Third Reich, was his promoter. On December 31, 1939, he headed the Vienna Philharmonic, declared judenfrei (clean of Jews), a waltz program by Johann Strauss son (1825-1899). A dance that is the essence of the German people. And a composer elevated to cultural hero, through novels and propaganda films, despite their conveniently hidden Jewish ties. In 1941, the New Year's Concert continued an unstoppable journey as a celebration of the new year. From 1959, he added the media impact of television. And it has continued to the present, in its 79th edition, which will be followed by a billion viewers in more than fifty countries.
The key to understanding this surprising survival of a cultural act of Nazi origin lies, according to Lap-Kwan Kam, in the 1943 Moscow Declaration. Dreams of Germany (Berghahn Books, 2018) the musicologist maintains that the allied powers legitimized Austria as a victim of the Third Reich. And this allowed a comfortable disinfection of everything German within the Austrian culture after the Second World War. This Austrian victimization has been legitimized in the popular ideology through films such as Smiles and tears. In 1946, the New Year's Concert was assigned to Josef Krips, an Austrian director of Jewish origin. And it became a vehicle for Austrian cultural excellence, the same year in which its 950th anniversary was commemorated. Its origins were also whitened, and that first edition, of 1939, was reinterpreted as an act of Austrian cultural resistance of the Vienna Philharmonic against the German annexation. Clemens Krauss could then re-direct it, in 1947, after its denazification.
The current media impact of the Vienna Philharmonic's New Year's Concert is completely different. And the Austrian orchestra has been promoting studies for years to conjure up that dark stage of its past. But he had never counted on a German conductor in his almost eight decades of history. Austrians have predominated (Krauss, Krips, Boskovsky, Karajan, Kleiber, Harnoncourt and Welser-Möst), followed by Italians (Abbado and Muti), individual representations of the United States, India, Japan, Russia and France (Maazel, Mehta, Ozawa, Jansons and Prêtre) and two teachers of Argentine and Venezuelan origin who hold Spanish nationality (Barenboim and Dudamel). Christian Thielemann (Berlin, 1959) will be the first Teuton in this prestigious and mediatic podium.
In the press conference on December 28, the director revalidated three decades of excellent relationship with the musicians of the Vienna Philharmonic, after his debut in 1987, both at the State Opera and at the Salzburg Festival, with Wagner operas and Richard Strauss, or in the Musikverein where he has recorded an integral of Beethoven's symphonies. "I learn a lot with this orchestra, because it has an innate way of making music with new ideas and nuances," he acknowledged with admiration. He did not forget his work as director of operettas in his youth, although he has taken up this repertoire in the Conciertos de San Silvestre of the Semperoper in Dresden, where he owns his Staatskapelle [Orquesta Estatal] next to the Salzburg Easter Festival.
This German director is also recognized as one of the main specialists in Wagner and holds the position of musical head of the Bayreuth Festival, which he exercises with particular firmness. His invitation to direct the New Year's Concert emerged, in 2008, after an admirable interpretation of the waltz Music of the spheres, by Josef Strauss, of evident Wagnerian perfume, during the inauguration of the State Opera Ball. "We have waited a long time for this moment", enthusiastically conceded the violinist Daniel Froschauer, president of the Viennese orchestra, during the aforementioned press conference. They followed interventions on the television broadcast, of Alexander Wrabetz, general director of the ORF, and also of the bassist Michael Bladerer, like executive director of the orchestra, that presented / displayed the new Academy of the Viennese Philharmonic, where they try to form in their sonorous tradition to twelve instrumentalists biannually.
But every portrait of Thielemann would be incomplete without a comment on his conservative ideology. It not only vindicates the figure of the old German Kapellmeister or the excellence of sound and phrasing of the ancient German expressive tradition, but also professes far-right political postulates. Like other German intellectuals, such as Monika Maron and Uwe Tellkamp, it is legitimizing the controversial rise of the xenophobic alternative formation for Germany (AfD) and in 2015 it signed a rostrum, in Die Zeit, where he encouraged listening to the postulates of Pegida, a German right-wing political movement. On December 28, in remarks to the Austrian ORF, Thielemann maintained his usual ambiguity. He stressed the importance of listening to Pegida, but rejected his aggressiveness, because, he says, "if we played a waltz like them we would sound like cat music".