Vienna New Year’s Day Concert: Tradition and the 2021 virtual edition
Though December 2020 has prompted a grand-scale rethink of holiday traditions, old habits die hard, and for many worldwide the New Year’s Day Concert by the Vienna Philharmonic is a mainstay. The concert is performed at the Golden Hall of the Musikverein, usually with an in-person audience, which of course won’t be possible this time. But as most fans of the event typically watch the televised coverage from a safe distance in their living rooms (snagging a ticket is a feat involving entering a lottery a year in advance), the experience for many will remain largely the same. So, while the starched and shining audience won’t be in evidence, music lovers can nurse their homebound hangovers as normal with UK coverage on BBC2 to welcome in the new year.
In tandem with much of the music world, the Vienna Philharmonic’s recent and upcoming seasons are made up of a mix of socially distanced and audience-free live-streamed performances in an unexpected new direction in the orchestra’s somewhat chequered history. The tradition of a Viennese New Year’s Day concert has existed since 1838, but the waltz-laden current incarnation at the Musikverein first came into force as part of the Nazi party’s charity drive to raise money and morale for the Austrian front line during the Second World War. Of course, that has long since been renounced and forgotten, but the orchestra’s sectarian attitude changed only relatively recently with the permanent employment of female musicians to the orchestra in 1997, when Austrian chancellor Viktor Klima told the orchestra there was “creative potential in the other half of humanity and this should be used.”
The forward-thinking 2021 edition reprises Vienna New Year veteran Riccardo Muti at the helm. The almost 80-year-old Italian conductor continues to enjoy a half-century-long relationship with the Vienna Philharmonic, and an inspiringly vital career in general. The concert will feature the usual favourites in its programme (all the Strausses – bar Richard – and their contemporaries), plus some notable new additions. including works by 19th-century composers Carl Millöcker and Carl Zeller. The orchestra will also play shoo-in Franz von Suppè’s Fatinitza March for the first time.
2021’s viewers will be able to tune in from more than 90 countries on networks including the BBC in the UK and PBS in the US. Austria’s public broadcaster ORF has invited viewers to send their applause live from their living rooms to be piped into the concert hall for the artists as a “symbol of solidarity in extraordinary times, a gesture of appreciation for the musicians and a message to the world.” Support for the initiative has been so popular that the registration process was overwhelmed and is now closed. One hopes, in a period of financial hardship and uncertainty for performers, arts lovers will be similarly motivated to offer their support elsewhere.
For further information about the Vienna New Year’s Day Concert visit here.
Watch a salute to the Vienna New Year’s Day Concert here: