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.

Sounds of winter: day 31

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=to1xT93IlUI

Auld lang syne is the traditional song for New Year’s Eve. It’s played here by The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards to the accompaniment of views of the Scottish scenery taken from across Scotland. Unless you are already in Scotland this will be as close as you get until the pandemic is over.

If you need the words, the poem by Robert Burns can be found here:

https://poets.org/poem/auld-lang-syne

The picture is a doorway to a (locally made) chocolate shop in the Portuguese Christmas village. By the time it was dusk it was hard to get well lit photographs because of the LED lighting, but I still thought the decorations were beautiful. (See link on Day 28.) I loved this one, and thought it appropriate for the doorway into the new year. Let’s hope it’s a doorway to a better world for all of us.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my month of winter music.

Happy New Year Everybody! That’s for midnight tonight wherever you are!

Sounds of winter: day 30

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dVKLo9YepUg

Salva nos sung by the Mediaeval Baebes. (Pray for us, star of the sea and queen of the heavens.) I love the Mediaeval Baebes and they’re one group I have actually paid a lot to see live. I couldn’t decide which of their Christmas songs to choose (from their album Salva Nos) so I thought you could have two, today.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CXkBk8nK5AM 

Verbum Caro Factum Est (the word is made flesh) is also sung by them.

The photograph is of the main buildings of Manchester University which I attended; the building where I sat my exams and received my degree. This winter phtograph perfectly encapsulates the time I spent there – university terms are squeezed into the winter months, whereas summer, once exams are over, is for home and travel. I am still in touch with one or two of the people who were students with me. In those days we had smog as well as snow – it was before the Clean Air Acts. So my memories of the place from that time are much like this picture. I don’t live far away from it and of course nowadays I am used to its cleaned-up glory in much clearer weather. But today I imagine it looks just like this!

Sounds of winter: day 29

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f0CLyDPY_U0

Walking in the air. Christmas probably wouldn’t be the same without The Snowman! The song is sung here by Peter Auty, from the original soundtrack, rather than by Aled Jones (though I do like Aled).  I hadn’t realised until recently that child and snowman ‘walk in the air’ above Brighton, where Briggs lived when he wrote the story. Howard Blake is the composer.

The picture is a photograph of a Christmas card I received a few years ago and loved. It was one of those cards that merely gave the publisher and not the artist or photographer so I have no idea whose work it is. It’s appropriate today because we woke up to a heavy fall of snow. I had these posts prepared in advance but swapped today’s and tomorrow’s around because of the snow! Our trees look exactly like the picture.

Sounds of winter: day 28

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GmZg7tvGN9o

A spaceman came travelling by Chris de Burgh puts an interesting science fiction slant on the Christmas story. I chose this video because the combination of northern lights, religious pictures and space photographs seem to complement the song beautifully. I will never forget the impact of a sci fi story I read in which a wonderful civilisation was wiped out by the meteor that was, in our world, the Christmas star. It was in an anthology I have lost, and I can’t find it. If anyone knows it, please give me a link!

The star on the tree is from the Portuguese Christmas village. All their lighting is LEDs, including street lights, decorations, etc. This made photographing after dark somewhat difficult. The tree decorations, not really visible in this picture, are all natural objects: nuts, cones, woven rushes, etc. If you want to know more, visit:

https://www.facebook.com/cabecaaldeianatal

Sounds of winter: day 27

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2KSxg9Ij5r8

Gaudete. I’ve heard a number of versions of this old song in Latin. The King’s Singers give it suitable gravitas. A translation of the first line, which is the most important, is Rejoice, for the Christ is born of the Virgin Mary.

The angel depicted in lights was in central Manchester one year. There were a few in different colours around Albert Square in front of the town hall, where the Christmas market is usually held. I haven’t been into the city centre this year but I know the Christmas market is drastically reduced in scale and the town hall is under refurbishment, so I can’t imagine it’s very festive in the square.

Sounds of winter: day 26

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=diVcAexipPU Heather Dale

Hunting the wren is sung by Heather Dale. Apparently this was a traditional ‘sport’ on the day after Christmas in parts of northern England, Wales and Ireland. Nowadays the ‘hunters’ are more akin to carol singers, going from house to house collecting money (for charity?) and perhaps mince pies or drinks. I believe they attach a bunch of feathers or something similar to a pole which they carry. I assume the custom is based on the old tradition of hunting actual birds. St Stephen’s Day or Boxing Day as the English call it is often marked by hunts of various kinds and nowadays drag hunting should be the norm in UK. The wren was regarded as ‘off limits’ the rest of the year.

The photograph is another from Windsor Great Park in winter.

Sounds of winter: day 25

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j9jbdgZidu8

Fairy tale of New York. This is the official version of the Pogue’s song. (Not the BBC’s edited one.)

The boys of the NYPD choir

Were singing ‘Galway Bay’

And the bells were ringing out
For Christmas Day

Happy Christmas everyone!

The pawprints are by nomnomicons. They remind me of Elizabeth Coatsworth’s poem On a Night of Snow : https://www.poetrybyheart.org.uk/poems/on-a-night-of-snow/

It’s an odd kind of white Christmas here – heavy frost but no snow. Pretty, but extremely cold!

Sounds of winter: day 24

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XQOO9wCRXUo

The Coventry Carol is not by any means joyful. It commemorates Herod’s slaying of the young boy children when the magi told him about the birth of Jesus. I wanted a version sung by women because I think female voices bring home the despair the mothers must have felt.  I knew the carol but first became truly aware of the lyrics when I heard the Mediaeval Baebes sing it. However, I already have them singing some other choices in this list so I went searching and found this acapella version by the Lamplighters. I think we need to remember that there are various layers to the Christmas story, not all a matter for celebration.

On a more cheerful note, if you’re in UK try to watch The Goes Wrong Show: The Nativity on BBC1 iPlayer. We laughed for the entire half hour.

The frosted rose is by roxicons.

Sounds of winter: day 23

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n0NsngVi3rs

Solstice carol. I chose the version by the wyrd sisters for the illustrations. And that concludes my presentation of solstice songs! It’s also an anticlimax for me after the solstice when I celebrate the longest night, the gradual return of the light, and my daughter’s birthday all at the same time. Christmas is gaudier and New Year is internationally exciting (though probably not this year) but the solstice is ‘my’ festival.

The photograph is birds on our local lake again, a few years ago. They skated around happily on the ice, and came rushing to greet visitors in the hope of treats, which they got in such abundance that they started to be picky! They are usually much less ‘tame’ but just as beautiful.