The New Year’s Concert in Vienna

Franck Fernandez – Translator, interpreter, philologist

Vienna. Just hearing this word reminds us of times past when ballrooms were filled with elegant ladies and handsome gentlemen captivated by sound of waltzes and polkas. We are talking about the peak of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the time of one of its last emperors, Franz Joseph I, husband of the well-known Sissi. At that time, in Vienna there lived a family of musicians who put half the world to waltz with their compositions: it is the Strauss family, mainly made up of Johann Strauss, Johann Strauss Jr. and Eduard Strauss. The family had an itinerant life that led them to present their music everywhere in Europe. Famous were his public summer concerts in the Pushkin parks, an elegant suburb on the outskirts of St. Petersburg, then the capital of the Russian Empire.

Now, let’s go back to Vienna. The Vienna Philharmonic Society, founded in 1812, toured various concert halls until 1863, when the Emperor donated land to the association so that it could build a large concert hall. This project was commissioned to the famous architect Theophil Hansen. This is how the Musikverein of Vienna was born, considered one of the best and most beautiful music halls in the world next to the Symphony Hall in Boston and the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam.

This magnificent building has several music rooms: the Brahms Room, the Glass Room, the Stone Room, the Metal Room and the Golden Room, the most beautiful and largest of all with space for 1774 seats and 300 standing spectators. The Golden Room is where the well-known New Year’s Concert has been held since 1939. Only in 1945, the concert was not presented due to the unfortunate state of the theater due to the bombing of the Allies during the Second World War. Actually, there are three concerts. The first is on December 30, which is like a dress rehearsal, another on the 31th, named the Concert of the San Silvestre. The same program is repeated a third time on January 1 at 11:15 a.m. with the name of New Year’s Concert. The director and its members wish listeners a good new year in that occasion.

Since 1958, Eurovision broadcasts this New Year’s Concert to the countries of Western Europe and later MundoVision broadcasts it to almost everybody. Until recently, the wonderful floral decoration of the Golden Room was a gift from the city of San Remo, Italy. Not only the music of the Strauss family is performed, but sometimes works by Franz Lear, Brahms and other composers of waltzes and polkas are also played. The baton is in the hands of different guest conductors. In 2017, the well-known Venezuelan conductor Gustavo Dudamel was the youngest conductor of this concert since 1939. Certain years, television broadcasts include ballet extracts, views from the city of Vienna, landscapes of the Danube and the Austrian Alps, which is a real advertising tourist card for this beautiful country.

Traditionally, the concert ends with three pieces, the first is a quick polka, the second is the Blue Danube Waltz and the third is the Radetzky March, a Czech serviceman famous for his victories against Napoleon. An exception to this tradition only existed when, out of respect for the victims of the earthquake and tsunami of December 24, 2004, the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra decided not to interpret the Radetzky March, particularly joyful and not in keeping with the moment, the world was going through.

It can be understood that many people from all over the world who love beautiful Viennese music want to participate in this concert. Prices range between 35 and 1100€ and so that no one feels despised, during the months of January and February of each year on the official website of this Orchestra those interested can register. At the end of February, a draw is held and the happy winners are announced that they have been accepted for one of the three concerts.

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