Classical Album of the Week
The New Year’s Concert of the Vienna Philharmonic is one of the longest-standing and most prestigious music events in the world.
Held in the “Großer Saal” (Large Hall) of the Musikverein every year since 1939, the Vienna Philharmonic performs the morning of New Year’s Day, in a concert that is broadcast to over 50 million viewers in 90 countries. A piece by the Strauss family is always included in the program, along with the work of other Austrians.
The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra goes all the way back to 1842, when Otto Nicolai conducted a Grand Concert with all members of the imperial court opera. This event is regarded as the origin of the orchestra. Since its founding the orchestra has been managed by a democratically elected administrative committee and works with artistic, organizational and financial autonomy.
In the 20th century the Vienna Philharmonic had important artistic collaborations with Richard Strauss, Gustav Mahler, Arturo Toscanini and Wilhelm Furtwängler and – after 1945 – with honorary conductors such as Karl Böhm, Leonard Bernstein and Herbert von Karajan. The orchestra is without doubt one of the greatest orchestras of all time and also one that has managed to stay at this level for so many years.
In a history covering more than 70 years, many famous conductors have led the New Year’s Concert.
In 2015 the concert was directed by one of today’s most distinguished conductors, Zubin Mehta, who has also had the honor on four previous occasions (1990, 1995, 1998, 2007).
Born in 1936 in India, Zubin Mehta completed his musical education, appropriately, in Vienna at the Music Academy under Hans Swarovsky. Vienna was the city where he made his conducting debut in 1958, and in 1961 Mehta took the baton for his first concert with the Vienna Philharmonic.
Following many years as director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and later the New York Philharmonic, he now fills various roles including musical director for life of the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra and chief conductor of the Maggio Musicale festival in Florence, Italy. In 2001 he was awarded honorary membership of the Vienna Philharmonic after 40 years of artistic collaboration that make him the orchestra’s longest serving conductor.
We were lucky enough to talk with the maestro himself.
What is it, in your opinion, that makes this concert so special?
Vienna is a city that has long been embedded in classical music and one of the most impressive parts of this tradition is the infinity of the Vienna Philharmonic with the music of the Strauss family. The tradition of giving a concert for the New Year with works of the Strauss dynasty is ongoing since the 1950s, and by now over 90 countries in the world broadcast this event. It is the very positive music, written by Johann Strauss’ father, son and family, that is enjoyed by music lovers all over the world.
What fascinates you about this particular repertoire?
I spent seven years of my life as a student in Vienna and learned the interpretations of the important classical masters like Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Wagner, etc. by the great Vienna Philharmonic, but have also followed the utter dedication of this orchestra to the art of the Strauss family.
Why does this music still sound so fresh and crisp today?
The Vienna Philharmonic has always treated the music of the Strauss family as importantly as Haydn and Mozart. Therefore every performance of a polka or waltz is evidence of their love for this repertoire, and you feel that instantly.
What can we look forward to this year?
This year’s program is dedicated to celebrate 600 years of the University in Vienna and 200 years of the Technical Hochschule. A few pieces of the program will be dedicated to celebrate these occasions, like the “Electromagnetic”, “With Steam” or the “Student Polka.”
Being a Dane, I’m of course thrilled to see that one of our best known composers, H. C. Lumbye, is on the program with his famous, “Champagne Galop.”
It is very well known that H.C. Lumbye studied in Vienna at the same time as Langer and the Strauss family, and since he was influenced by them and also because this year’s program takes us in a northerly direction (following the “An der Elbe” waltz) we thought it was ideal to include his bubbling Champagne polka to this concert.
The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra is without a doubt one of the greatest orchestras of all time. How has it managed to stay at such a high level for so many years?
The custom of handing over musical traditions from teacher to disciple is most evident in the history of the Vienna Philharmonic. It is in this way, as it is passed on from professor to pupil, that not only interpretations of the great masters are preserved, but the tonal beauty of each individual instrument also remains intact.
This concludes my talk with one the great maestros of our time. Happy New Year and enjoy the beautiful tones from Vienna! And remember that if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact me at morten.ernst.lassen@
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