The Wiener Neujahrskonzert, the Vienna New Year's Concert 2018 with the Wiener Philharmoniker conducted by Riccardo Muti, for the fifth time - he's much older now than when the photo above was taken, but you're only as old as you want to be. Muti was on good form, clearly enjoying himself. Spontaneity is the spirit ! Like champagne, the Vienna formula works best when it's served fresh with wit and gaiety. Some years, it's fallen flat, and you think "not again" and then, like this year, it sparkles again. The Wiener Philharmoniker parties, too. All year round, they play "serious" repertoire, but on New Year's Day, they make merry with Strauss (Johann I and II, not Richard !), with marches, waltzes and ventures in operetta. But Vienna is "more" than music, it's the world's biggest New Year's Eve Party.
All over the world, millions join in the festivities. When the concerts started, Vienna was the capital of an Empire. Now it commands a new position as flagship of classical music for many who wouldn't otherwise listen at all. Not by any stretch of the imagination is it typical concert fare and it does not represent what happens the rest of the year. But so what if some of those listening think all concerts are like this ? The Vienna New Year's Concert fascinates because it's a symbol. It presents western culture as something glorious, thrilling and fun, which all can enjoy. The spirit of Empire, reprised : nothing wrong with that since it's not backed by military might. So why not celebrate Vienna itself, and its heritage ? Now the world's sinking into small-minded reductionism, it's a good idea to remember that the idea of nation state isn't compulsory. Can we dream of a world without borders, where all can participate as they wish ? As long as it’s not enforced by the barrel of a gun, physical or mental. Remember what happened to the Hapsburgs in 1918.
Since the New Year's Concert is not an ordinary concert by any means, it's perfectly valid to present it on an extraordinary scale. Music, especially music like this, is communal, meant to be heard live, involving all the senses. The audience might not dance, but they know about the New Year’s Ball, and about the waltz tradition. They dress up to enhance the sense of occasion. Hence the flowers, bringing scent and countryside into the city in mid-winter. New Year means hope and renewal, and the return of summer. Miss that and you miss the whole darn point of the New Year Concert !
The Neujahrskonzert represents much more than music. Vienna itself (and Austria) is the star ! Thus the shots of the city in its splendour. This year, we get to see architectural treasure, in greater close up than we could walking round as tourists. As we hear the Tales from the Vienna Woods, we see them, briefly, and see close-ups of the zither being played, an important detail for those keen on how music is made. Music doesn't exist in isolation. It's the product of many influences, and, as we listen, we (in theory anyway) might be opening our minds to the richness of human endeavour. Vienna brings to millions all over the world, the experience of live music "in the round", in its true context. For that, we should celebrate.
Please also see Thielemann Swings ! Christian Theielemann's Silvesterkonzert in Dresden, which matters because he's doing Vienna next year