A concert for January

I thought I’d write about this concert while it’s still available on various streaming sites, in most cases till the end of January. In UK it’s on BBC iPlayer and I know it’s broadcast around the world so assume other people can catch up with it too.

Every year we watch the New Year Concert from Vienna, featuring the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra playing in the Golden Hall in Vienna. That is, I and my brother in law and his wife watch. My husband listens, busy with other things. This year, of course, we couldn’t be in London with our family but were ‘imprisoned’ in our own home so there wasn’t quite the same sense of family tradition. I watched about half then downloaded the rest on iPlayer because it’s a 150 minute affair and that’s a lot to watch all at once on your own. I’ve since watched the rest.

The concert is broadcast on New Year’s Day in the morning then highlights are repeated in the evening. It is usually simultaneously on TV and radio. The Golden Hall is always exquisitely decorated, with flowers from Vienna’s Parks and Gardens Department, and the TV version gives you a wonderful view of the flowers and the architecture of the hall, both as a panorama and in close-up. It also has a commentary which gives interesting information about each of the pieces played.

In normal years the concert hall is booked out well in advance and there is a terrific sense of tradition and occasion as the cameras focus on the audience. This year, of course, the hall was empty of all except the orchestra and the floral arrangements. The orchestra went through a rigorous schedule of Covid testing in order to be able to rehearse and play together for the world.

The programme is fairly conservative with a heavy emphasis on the Strauss family. However, some attention is paid to little known pieces. In the middle of the programme there is always an ‘interlude’ of ballet. The orchestra, of course, plays, but the dancers are seen filmed against various Vienna backgrounds, often historic houses or gardens. This year was no exception. The dancing, the choreography and the costumes bring to life hidden parts of the city’s glorious heritage and provide a much fresher and more original version of ballet than that sometimes seen on a stage. That part of this year’s programme was in fact filmed during the summer when Covid restrictions were somewhat relaxed. It was delightful to see summer greenery as a backdrop.

The programme always finishes with The Blue Danube and The Radetsky March. Most years, the latter can barely be heard through the rhythmical clapping of the audience but the conductor, Riccardo Muti, pointed out this year that for once it was being heard as the composer intended, without interruption. He also spoke movingly about the part music plays in our lives and how important it is for the cultural health of society and the mental health of the individual. He ended by making a plea for governments worldwide to encourage musicians of all kinds and make it easy for them to reach a global audience.

Although I’m sure the music would be lovely on radio, it really is worth watching the televised version with its virtual ‘tour’ of architectural detail and its loving focus on various members of the orchestra. I fell in love with the guy playing the timpani – and yes, I know he’s an ‘older’ man but then I’m ‘older’ too so…

Traditionally popular ‘light’ classical music, ballet, lovely film of interesting places and things – perfect to lift your spirits at the beginning of a new year. Try to catch at least part of it before it vanishes! And note it in your mental diary for next New Year’s Day.

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