For yet another year, the Golden Room of the Musikverein in Vienna was decorated with pink, yellow and orange flowers to host the most famous of the New Year's concerts that every January 1 celebrates the future with waltzes and polkas from the Strauss dynasty. This time, however, the conductor chosen to stand on the podium was subjected to greater social and musical scrutiny, since not being a sacred cow of orchestral conducting -he is only known internationally for his ownership of the Cleveland Orchestra- he was defended this same week for the presidency of the Viennese formation as the best alternative.
Or at least that's what Daniel Froschauer claimed when the press was interested in the possibility of a woman finally directing this notable concert after 83 editions in which 18 men have alternated. "You need someone who is an established artist and with a lot of experience with our orchestra", argued the president... Next year, by the way, the chosen one will again (for the second time) be the Berliner Christian Thielemann, the boy bonito of Wagnerism, holder of the Staatskapelle Dresden and director of the Salzburg Easter Festival. The horizon for women recedes a little further...
Thus, the Austrian Franz Welser-Möst -Francky worst than most was described by the musicians of the London Philharmonic when he left the group due to lack of sponsorships- directed this musical event this Sunday for the third time in his career. It is clear that the Vienna Philharmonic must trust him -his wife was a benefactor of the formation-, although if this were not the case, it could always tell him what its musicians have come to say to great conductors: "you do your job, let we know ours."
Welser-Möst, who was going to become a violinist but an accident suffered in 1978 prevented him from continuing with the instrument, he assumed a program full of premieres, that is, pieces that had not yet been presented at this annual event. From the inexhaustible trunk of waltzes and polkas by Viennese and other not-so-Viennese composers, he brought to light, for example, this fast polka by Eduard Strauss, Who dances with me? I would tackle the concert.
Fourteen of the fifteen pieces that were played, not counting the encores, were being performed for the first time and eight of them were by Josef Strauss, which is surprising, as he outnumbered Johann Sr. and Johann Jr., the stars of the repertoire. . "It's as if in a Beatles concert they played mostly songs by George and not by Paul and John," compared the commentator for Spanish RTVE, the journalist specializing in classical music Martín Llade.
However, despite the tendency to chin-pum with which fast polkas were approached, such as the quadrille (a dance that was danced in a square) The Gypsy Baron by Johann Strauss Jr. or his Come with joy!, and despite also from the prefabricated humor that emanated from some of the pieces, moments of subtlety could be appreciated, not in vain this director is directly associated with the Strauss saga, since his great-grandmother ran a dance hall whose orchestra played Johann Strauss father.
One billion -presumably- viewers around the world attended the performance of the first waltz of the morning: Heroic Poems, which Josef Strauss (the intellectual, poet, musician, architect...) composed to inaugurate a monument of Archduke Charles, although bad weather spoiled the party... A bad omen for a concert that will give hope for the future... and that suddenly sounded as monotonous as reggaeton.
During an intermission of about 20 minutes, a video was projected in which Welser-Möst appeared opening on a large table the plan of the Prater with which 150 years ago the Universal Exposition was held in the Austrian capital. And from that plane, buildings and trees sprouted with the help of 3D and computing, and musicians from the Berlin Philharmonic were even embedded, playing the cello, within a fixed black and white image of nineteenth-century Vienna, inside and outside. which was the largest dome in the world, although it burned in 1937.
Music by Piazzola or Beethoven gave this trip to the past oxygen, including images of the Wurstelprater (amusement park) and its old Ferris wheels, with winged swans to ride on... To immediately return to the Golden Room with which televisions from half the world connected in real time. Very real, in fact, judging by the absence of those chiaroscuro aspects of a Viennese society from the Strauss era that the public always expects to see reflected in that music and that were not so evident here.
The longing for a past time must also know how to recreate itself. And this was helped by the presence of the Vienna Boys' Choir, which for the first time performed with the Girls' Choir at New Year's. A successful debut that raised the quality in Joyful Spirits, that French polka by Josef Strauss, followed by his For ever, whose title in English informs of the international dimension that he already had when he composed it.
The performance of five couples from the Vienna State Opera Ballet would contribute to the Austrian lightness of this second part of the concert. Four of them started with a colorful waltz, to the sound of Pearls of Love (Perlen der Liebe), with which Josef Strauss entertained his love. In the second of the danced pieces, another fast polka by Eduard Strauss, the British choreographer Ashley Page introduced certain musical and cabaret airs into the movements, although without ceasing to play at elegance with pointe shoes.
Unlike the last edition in which José Calos Martínez was the choreographer chosen for the appointment, here the camera did not play chasing the dancers through the halls of the Laxenburg palace, in the style of the Russian Ark. The realization was this 2023 more sober, which allowed to vibrate less with the dance but more with the interior of the wonderful Melk Abbey, for example, in which the cast danced to the rhythm of the very beautiful waltz of the blue Danube.
The Musikverein audience generously applauded the orchestra and the conducting, especially after Josef Strauss's discovery that is the Allegro Fantastico, composed to impress the tsar... and also with his famous Waltz of Watercolours, which was not played on New Year's Eve. since 2002. But also for the polka of the Bells and gallop from the ballet Excelsior, by Joseph Hellmesberger.
A choir girl presented a bouquet of flowers to Welser-Möst, who in the end was energetic and enthusiastic in front of the Vienna Philharmonic. And before the applause that interrupted the fine chords that give entrance to the blue Danube, he stopped and released his speach: "Life without music would be a mistake. Every year the Vienna Philharmonic gives hope and reason to the world with this concert. With great optimistically - and already in German - the Vienna Philharmonic wishes you a Happy New Year!" And with that he proceeded to conclude with the traditional Radetzky March of Johann senior. In general, the moment in which the baton has to demonstrate some connection with the public, beyond the fact of inviting them to clap...