While there won’t be an in-house audience for the Vienna Philharmonic’s New Year’s Concert this time around, classical music lovers across the globe will still be able to experience it — and applaud the musicians — together.
Viewers in more than 90 countries, on networks including the BBC and PBS, can register online to share their appreciation via their tablets, smartphones or computers. (As of Wednesday, due to the large number of registrations, new applications were temporarily blocked.) That recorded applause will be played through the Musikverein’s sound system so that the musicians playing in the “Golden Hall,” as well as an estimated audience of 30 million to 50 million, will be able to share their delight.
The conductor for the concert is Riccardo Muti, whose 50-year relationship with the orchestra will be celebrated throughout the performance with several nods to his Italian homeland. They include Josef Strauss’s “Margherita Polka,” originally composed in 1868 for the wedding of Princess Margherita, of Genoa, to Crown Prince Umberto of Italy.
Also featured will be the “Venetianer Galopp” by Johann Strauss Sr., which is the oldest work in the program and one that had gone out of style for a time. It was first performed in 1834 in Vienna’s Augarten park during a Venetian-inspired gala ball that had backdrops based on St. Mark’s Square. The initial success of the piece, which includes clicking castanets, was said to have persuaded the Austrian composer and music publisher Tobias Haslinger to issue the piece in editions both for piano and for orchestra.
Daniel Froschauer, who is both the Vienna Philharmonic’s chairman of the board as well as a first violinist, said that conversations about which pieces would be played for the 2021 New Year’s Concert started with Mr. Muti in the summer of 2019, during the Salzburg Festival. “Riccardo Muti was fairly easy because he is so experienced, this will be his sixth New Year’s Concert, so he knows the program,” Mr. Froschauer said. “And then my first question would be, ‘In what direction would you like to go?’”
Most of the big musical decisions were made by the beginning of January this year, via phone calls and emails — including to the Philharmonic’s archive, to make sure the concert would not be too long or too short. Then in June, when Mr. Muti was in Vienna for two performances with the orchestra in front of an audience capped at 100 people, the programming was finalized.
The “big challenge,” Mr. Froschauer said, “is to make this New Year’s Concert a cheerful event,” one that sets a tone for the year ahead.One of the pieces Mr. Froschauer said he was especially looking forward to playing was the “Fatinitza” march, which the Philharmonic has never performed. The piece, from the operetta of the same name, premiered in 1876 at Vienna’s Carltheater. Written by the Austrian composer Franz von Suppé — known for his light operas — the story, a comedy of disguise, is set during the Crimean War.
Also making Philharmonic debuts in the program: two 19th-century composers, Carl Millöcker and Carl Zeller. Better known as a composer and conductor, Millöcker was also a talented flute player who worked with von Suppé when his operettas were performed in Vienna at the Theater in der Josefstadt. Millöcker’s uplifting “In Saus und Braus Galopp” (Living It Up) was written for his operetta “Der Probekuss” (The Trial Kiss) and premiered in 1894.
As a boy, Zeller performed as a soprano alongside the orchestra at the Vienna Court Chapel. His operetta “Der Obersteiger” (The Mine Foreman) starts with a call for a strike in a mine in southern Germany, and the waltz “Grubenlichter” takes its name from the portable light miners used which had a wick and flame enclosed in a mesh screen.
Just before the global applause is piped through the speakers at the Musikverein, the orchestra will play Johann Strauss Jr.’s upbeat “Sturmisch in Lieb’ und Tanz” (Tempestuous in Love and Dance), which was written 140 years ago for an annual ball held for local Viennese writers and journalists.
“I am looking forward to playing the big waltzes that have been part of our tradition for so long,” Mr. Froschauer said. “And the one thing Maestro Muti never gives up is trying to make us sound more beautiful.”
Photo courtesy: Terry Linke via Vienna Philharmonic website