The Austrian maestro Franz Welser-Möst conducts this Sunday the New Year's Concert of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, which from the Golden Hall of the Musikverein in the Austrian capital will be broadcast to more than 90 countries. There are already 83 editions of the most popular concert that have assumed 18 batons, all of them men, without any news that a woman can occupy this coveted podium. Although, be careful, the girls of the renowned Vienna children's choir will finally participate.
"We will have a female director when the time comes," said the president of the Philharmonic, Daniel Froschauer, this week during the concert presentation. The person in charge of what is the formation that has taken the longest to incorporate women into its ranks -it was not until 1997 that there was a full member- had a peculiar intervention before the press when he pointed out that when someone takes charge of that famous and traditional recital, he is compared to the greatest masters.
"You need someone who is a consecrated artist and with a lot of experience with our orchestra," he said when asked about the absence of female conductors throughout the history of this cultural event that began in 1941. "The exposure and the madness that accompanying this concert is dangerous," he continued in a paternalistic speech. "A relationship needs to be developed between this unique orchestra and the conductor, that they understand each other, before going to this very difficult concert. It's not a political issue, it's an artistic issue."
The president pointed out that it is after about ten years of artistic relationship that they dare to invite a director to the New Year's Concert. From which it can be deduced that it will take time and will for this type of link to be established between the Philharmonic and a female conductor... The first woman to conduct it was Anna Manson, in 1994. Currently barely 10% of its members are women.
Time seems to have effectively stopped at the Musikverein in Vienna. At least during the morning of every January 1st, when, with Germanic punctuality, television stations from all over the world connect to the room from 10 in the morning -TVE does it at 11:15 a.m.- to bring the European musical tradition to millions of viewers. The Austrian television ORF co-produces this event with the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), which has an audience of 55 million viewers in Europe, and which will feature this Sunday with the performance of Michael Bayer, who repeats for the seventh time.
The RTVE journalist specialized in classical music, Martín Llade, will comment for the sixth time on the concert, which can be followed on La 1, TVE Internacional (for Europe), Radio Nacional, Radio Clásica, and RTVE Play. With the Great or Golden Hall of the Musikverein conveniently adorned with fresh flowers from the city's parks and gardens, the Philharmonic will address the traditional program of waltzes and polkas from the Strauss saga and other Viennese authors of the time, such as Carl Michael Ziehrer, Franz von Suppè, and Josef Hellmesberger.
In the first part, the fast polka will play ¿Who dances?, by Eduard Strauss; the waltz Heroic Poems, by Josef Strauss; the gang The Gypsy Baron, by Johann Strauss Jr.; the Waltz On a Cozy Evening by Carl Michael Ziehrer and, again, a fast polka, Come with Joy! by Johann Strauss Jr.
In the second part, the overture to the comic operetta Isabella, by Franz von Suppè, the waltz Perlas de amor and Angélica's Polka, by Josef Strauss; the fast polka Up and Away, by Eduard Strauss, and the French polka by Josef Strauss Cheerful Spirits, with the choirs of the Vienna Girls' and Boys' Choirs, who will perform together.
It will be followed by the fast polka Forever and the waltz Goldfinches, by Josef Strauss, and the Polka of the Bells and Gallop from the ballet Excelsior, by Joseph Hellmesberger. Also by Josef Strauss, the Allegro Fantástico and the Waltz of the Watercolors, which will close this second part. All the pieces except the last one will be presented for the first time in a New Year's Concert. And as is traditional, among the three encores there will be the waltz The Blue Danube, by Johann Strauss Jr., and the famous Radetzky March, by Johann Strauss Sr., which the restrained public in the hall is encouraged to accompany with their palms.
For the first time this year, the children's choir will have the joint performance of boys and girls in the polka Espíritus alegres. The last appearances of the Vienna Boys Choir in this traditional concert were in 2012 and 2016, although for the girls it is a debut. This children's choir of soprano and alto voices is one of the oldest and best known in the world. It was established in 1498 by Maximilian I of Habsburg and in 2023 it will celebrate its 525th anniversary. After the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1920, the Vienna Boys' Choir became a private non-profit entity. And since 2012 it has its own concert hall: the MuTh (Music and Theater).
It currently has a hundred children between the ages of ten and fourteen, divided into four groups. They reconcile their musical training, studies, and free time as boarders at their exclusive school at the Augarten Palace: each chorus girl spends a quarter of each year touring around the world and participating in around 80 performances.
As for the Vienna Girls' Choir, it was formed in 2004 and shares land and artistic director, Gerald Wirth. There are thirty girls between the ages of eight and fifteen, who usually perform traditional Austrian folk songs. And how could it be otherwise, their clothing for this January 1 is special: they will go out dressed with marine inspiration by the designer Eva Poleschinski.
Another novelty -no longer related to the sex of the artists- is the interval between the two parts of the concert, which on this occasion is dedicated to the Universal Exhibition in Vienna in 1873, on the occasion of its 150th anniversary. Maestro Welser-Möst and various teachers and Philharmonic ensembles will take the viewer from the Musikverein to the Prater, through the magical places of the Expo. That event, which celebrated Franz Joseph I's 25th anniversary as emperor, modernized the then capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which showcased its industry, art and technical development.
As for the dance part of the television production, the Vienna State Ballet will this time feature the choreographic work of the British Ashley Page, who is already versed in this task. In the 2020 and 2021 editions of the New Year's Concert, it was the former étoile of the Paris Opéra Ballet and former director of the National Dance Company, José Carlos Martínez, who provided his choreographic mastery to the event.
Eleven dancers will perform three pieces: the elegant waltz of Pearls of Love in the Rococo Palace of Laxenburg, with four dancing couples wandering through what was the residence of the Habsburgs south of Vienna from 1306 - and where Francisco José lived as newlyweds I and Sisi-; the fast polka Up and Away, with a single couple dancing humorously in the garden pavilion of the historic 11th-century Benedictine Melk Abbey on the right bank of the Danube, and finally, inside the Melk Monastery , the beautiful baroque building that is a Unesco World Heritage Site, the long-awaited waltz dance will take place on the beautiful blue Danube, in which five couples will take part.