Who’s conducting the 2020 New Year’s Day concert?

Who’s conducting the 2020 New Year’s Day concert?


norman lebrecht

January 01, 2019

The Vienna Philharmonic have named Andris Nelsons.

He says: ‘It is an incredible honour to have been invited to conduct the legendary New Year’s concerts with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. I have enjoyed many years of wonderful music-making with this extraordinary orchestra, and the prospect of continuing the tradition of sharing the joy of music on this special occasion gives me immense pleasure.’



  • Caravaggio says:

    As I said, them waltzes and overtures can’t be micromanaged. They ain’t Shostakovich
    (-: The Vienna of today seems to invite just about anyone for these New Year’s occasions so that the honor has rather diluted some. I mean, they invited The Dude, someone as far removed from their musical and executive traditions as can be imagined.

    • Ernst1 says:

      Well, the WP’s New Year Concert is entertainment. It is 100% business. One day every year it is all business for the WP. For art they do their Abo concerts. This is about money. This concert is about making something that those who watch only classical music once a year (on January 1st) would swallow. This concert is a Whopper or a McSandwich. That’s why they need to bring people -Dudamel, for example – who are more popular among those who do not consume classical music.

      • Gaby says:

        Eh, don’t be so overly elitist and arrogant about “classical” music. Much of today’s classical music (if not specifically composed for the glory of God), especially the more lighter-hearted and folksy pieces, was originally composed for the amusement and entertainment of the common folk. Look at Mozart’s “Magic Flute”, or -in this case- at Strauss’ waltzes, marches and polkas. Only in our Western culture today concerts / operas like these are reserved prinarily for the upper claases who can afford spending those steep ticket prices. We thoroughly enjoyed the 2019 New Year’s concert, never mind if it has diluted to entertainment for tens of millions of people around the world. I don’t need to academically over-interprete that kind and type of music—it’s supposed to be fun! As long as there is enough Viennese schmalz in it, that’s good enough for me. I once heard the CSO at Ravinia playing during a “Viennese Night” under Levine, and it was dreadful, just because they were not able to convey the Viennese schmalz.

        • NYMike says:

          The NY Phil’s New Years Eve concert playing some of the same repertoire was a another example of your CSO experience – dull constrained playing/conducting with none of the VPO’s “schvung.” Also, nothing beats ORTF’s videos of palaces, dancers and panning of the Musikvereinhalle.

          • Anon says:

            Disagree totally. Did you actually watch both concerts this year? NYPhil won hands down in the “schvung” catagory, largely due to Jaap van Zweden, IMHO. Yes, Gilbert’s concerts were a tad dry, but absolutely not the case this year. Van Zweden had everyone sitting up and paying attention. He was as effervescent as a newly opened bottle of the best New Year’s champagne.

            Not the case with VPO. Thielemann was heavy, Germanic and especially in the beginning, just weighed the whole orchestra down. It fell flat. The music is light and frothy and he was pedantic and serious. The orchestra took matters in their own hands after the 1st few nos. and did it their way. It got better, more in the spirit of the evening.

            The camera work for VPO was appalling this year. Yes, they are very good at filming inanimate objects, like statues and flowers and buildings, and Thielemann’s stony expressionless face, but does the film crew even read music? They should have been working with a score in hand, as the film crew for NY clearly did.

            The beginning of the VPO concert was particularly bad camera wise. Major oboe solos and the camera was focused on a guy in the 2nd violin section. (?) 1st flute solo of the evening and the cameras were focused on the ceiling. After that I just threw up my hands. The filming of historic buildings and scenery is important, but the filming of the orch. was just plain bad.

            The saving grace this year for VPO was the dancing. Usually the level isn’t that great. You can see the dancers falter and miss steps. This year, however, it was the best part of the program. The Vienna State Ballet dancers were outstanding and the choreography creative and compelling. They featured several non-white soloists – an Asian man and I believe 2 women of color. It looked like a lot of thought and planning went into the presentation of the dance segments and for me, it was the best part of the concert.

            I have to admit that VPO’s Blue Danube was impeccable. It’s in their DNA, no matter who’s conducting them. But with Thielemann at their helm, for the most part I heard no particular insights or understanding of the Viennese style. It was generally quite heavy and dull.

            NY, on the other hand, did a few of the same numbers quite respectably and then kicked it up a notch by adding some very entertaining and well played selections from contrasting genres – Broadway, film, operetta. To me, this ability to flex across styles make them by far the better orchestra. Theirs was certainly the better concert.

            Renee Fleming spoke to the NY audience easily and comfortably. She sounded every bit the music teachers’ daughter that she is. She educated the audience gently and enjoyably. Thielmann, on the other hand, had no clue whatsover how to relate to his audience. He barked at them in German in the beginning and then turned condesdendingly during Radzetsky to try to get them clap. It was stilted and embarrassing.

            The VPO is so enmeshed in their own traditions that they’ve lost the ability to entertain and communicate honestly. Their concert was like going to church and hearing the Mass in Latin. NY was the Mass in the vernacular. I suppose both have their place in the annals of history, but personally I preferred NY hands down.

    • Rgiarola says:


    • msc says:

      Perhaps they cannot be micromanaged, but your comment seems to concede that the conductor can make a difference in them. The standards allow one to make some comparisons and Karajan, Kleiber, Muti, Pretre, and Jansons, for example, all produce something distinct.

      • bluepumpkin says:

        I still recall the Carlos Kleiber concert. There was a conductor who not only knew the music very well but absolutely loved it. For my money he is perhaps the most interesting conductor to watch. If the orchestra was in danger of telephoning in their performance, watching him and being directed by him would put a stop to that .

    • Petros Linardos says:

      I am still dreaming of a New Year’s Day concert with Honeck. He is steeped in Austrian tradition, and has conducted the orchestra before. He’s even made an idiomatic recording of Johann Strauss music with the Vienna Symphony. https://www.wienersymphoniker.at/de/medien/johann-strauss

      For all their greed, the Vienna Philharmonic still makes good music on good days.

      • Vaquero357 says:

        Couldn’t agree more!! Honeck does an *excellent* Vienna New Year-type concert in Pittsburgh every year during the weekend after Thanksgiving. Listening to those concerts (you can stream a few recent ones from the WQED website) reminded me that – oh yeah – there are different ways to play Strauss from the Vienna Philharmonic Way!

        But Honeck is no tradition destroying bounder: he played viola in the VPO for quite a few years before striking out on a conducting career. I think he has a brother who still plays in the orchestra.

        So put my name on the “Honeck To Conduct New Year” petition!

        • Bill says:

          Yes, his brother Rainer is now the most senior of the 3 WP concertmasters after the retirement of the other concertmaster named Rainer, and led the troops in the New Year concert this year.

      • Graeme Withers says:

        Honeck in Hamburg doing Fledermaus https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gFE9e8bjlb0

    • aj says:

      If you think the Dude was out of place what can one think of the Thieleman antics and the Radetzky march . Borders on lunacy the way he played to the
      crowd of zombies in attendance to this so called concert. What a ghastly bunch . There was no pretense to music making as much as it showed
      the world that the living dead celebrate rituals
      they call concerts , clapping their little hands on
      cue as they go off to oblivion.

      • Peter Longshaw says:

        bit harsh to call Bank-ki Moon a zombie…sec gen of UN requires a bit more…

      • Petros Linardos says:

        I agree that Thielemann’s micromanagement of the clapping at the Radetzky was his low point. But with the orchestra, throughout the concert, he was most economical with his conducting, as always. He is no showman. Maybe this disqualifies him for the new year’s day concert, by show business’ crass standards.

        But what did you think of his music making otherwise? Phrasing, pacing, characterizations, coloration, dynamics? I found plenty to like. He was not perfect: no god, but a great ordinary mortal.

        • aj says:

          Beg to differ ..all conductors are showmen.
          It is to the degree. I don’t believe one can
          judge this Viennese ritual as a concert as
          much as a social event now marketed world
          wide to the bland middle class folk of
          “refined ” musical taste and social standing .
          It’s on par with the dreadful debutant Opera
          Ball. To make observations on the quality
          of performance is pointless .The orchestra
          could play the given works in their sleep. As
          long as the conductor doesn’t get in the way
          of the music and correctly directs the hand
          clapping the affair will be deemed a success
          and all can go home happy with the thought
          of how civilized was the occasion and debate on who was the best conductor from
          past seasons ,

        • Mark Mortimer says:

          Petros- Thielemann is a fine conductor. But best to stick to heavier Germanic music like Beethoven/Wagner which suits his temperament. It was quite obvious- from the look of the audience & particularly the VPO themselves that he was not natural with this lighter Strauss stuff. I’ve seldom heard the VPO play The Blue Danube in such a flat way to be honest. Little evidence of as you say ‘Pacing,coloration, dynamics…’ in yesterday’s performance.

    • Inoelda Andropping says:

      Really? Who are you, Strauss?

  • Wurtfangler says:

    If Nelsons is indisposed next year I think Vienna should consider this chap.

    Clearly Alondra de la Parra has been out on the conducting masterclass circuit.


  • Cynical Bystander says:

    From the sublime…..

  • Lydia Wahlberg says:

    I am confused. I thought Thieleman was conducting.

  • Joe says:

    True to form… another white male conductor.

    • Jack says:

      Well, this IS the Vienna Philharmonic, you know.

    • Violin23 says:

      Your comment made me very angry.

      Yes! But, hey, let’s just bring in minorities – not for any reason, just because they have not done it before – … in 2020 let’s have a woman, in 2021 a black conductor, in 2022 a m-to-f transgender, in 2023 an arab…. seriously?

      I am sick an tired of these – mostly american – positive discrimination demands. You know what this positive discrimination thing is causing in the US? That being a while male musician is the worst thing that can happen to anyone right now because for teaching positions, for workshops and masterclasses, for scholarsphis etc. there is always a less-qualified minority (or under-represented) person who has priority.

      The conductor of the New Year Concert, the music director of an orchestra, the student getting a scholarship, the winner of a competition etc. should always be THE BEST for the position, regardless of his/her race, age, nationality, etc. Positive discrimination sums TWO discrimination (the discrimination that is being “corrected”, and the “positive one”).

  • MacroV says:

    Like him or not, Nelsons is a major conductor, with a longstanding relationship with the VPO, so it’s a logical choice. It seems on this blog that Carlos Kleiber is the only conductor who is universally admired. Sadly, he’s no longer available.

    Honeck would seem to be a good choice.

    Now, if only some conductor would program a little Sousa on this show.

  • Greg says:

    I noticed that this year’s New Year Day Concert VPO had several female musicians. Permanent members or window dressing for the worldwide TV audience?

    • NYMike says:

      All female principal musicians – bassoon, flute, harp, ass’t concertmaster, etc. – are indeed regular inducted members of the VPO. I believe it’s the first time they’ve been shown in their reglar positions on the New Year’s b’cast. Others in the string section are also reglar members.

    • Bill says:

      There are several female permanent members of the orchestra, and a number of them were playing. You can see the WP roster at http://www.wienerphilharmoniker.at/orchestra/members and draw your own conclusions about whether any of the women you saw were mere window dressing. Of course, the orchestra has more players than fit on the stage, and the presence of any non-permanent player might be just a reflection of which players wanted to play this year’s concert. I understand the pay is substantial, which might make it especially attractive to the younger members, a group which includes most of the women. It also doesn’t seem hard to believe that the female members of the group, if offered the option to play, might feel more motivated to say yes than male members who don’t feel the need to demonstrate that their gender can play.

      • Eduardez says:

        Did I only notice that the lady playing the piccolo flute was unemployed during the whole concert, just sitting and watching?

        • Anon says:

          Don’t try to read anything into that!

          It happens when an orch. does a program of many short pieces, all of which have diffent instrumentations. Some have 2 flutes, some 3. The person who’s not playing 1st or solo picc has to sit there and wait for the pieces which call for 3 flutes. She can’t be getting up and leaving the stage everytime there’s a piece she doesn’t play in, so she sits there. That’s how most orchestras do it.

          The woman you’re speaking of is Karin Bonelli, the 1st woman wind player in the history of the VPO to achieve tenure!

          Orch musicians don’t have the luxury of say, the 4 vocal soloists who only sing in the last movement of Beet 9. They make a grand entrance only for the movement they sing it and don’t have to be on stage in parts where they’re not playing.

          Orch. players pretty much have to be on stage all the time, including pieces and movments where they don’t play. That’s what Karin Bonelli was doing.

      • Anon says:

        I can only speak for the winds and I can tell you for sure that the VPO female wind players were definitely not “window dressing” in the New Year’s Concert. One is tenured and the other 2 are tenure track. I hate to keep posting the same stuff, but it looks like you haven’t read previous posts here.

    • Anon says:

      Greg, please read the previous posts before you post. I’ve covered this subject like 3 times already in this thread. They are not window dressing.

    • Anon says:

      Oops. Just realized that I explained this in another Slipped Disc thread, not this one. The 3 female wind players are not window dressing. One is permanent, the other 2 are tenure track.

  • Rob says:

    Well if it was about making lots of money, they’d have hired Simon Rattle for this gig by now. A conductor that the general public have heard of.

    • Bill says:

      They have no trouble selling every last ticket, no matter the conductor. And Thielemann is hardly an unknown in the German-speaking area where the bulk of their general public resides.

    • MacroV says:

      I’d love to see Sir Simon conduct this show. I think it would be great.

      I’m still sorry neither Bernstein nor Solti ever conducted it. Those would have been classic.

      • Chris says:

        Actually Bernstein was invited to do the 1989 New Years concert but declined partly due to illness. His replacement…Carlos Kleiber

  • Jamesay says:

    That photo of Nelsons must be 10 years old! And 30 kilos slimmer!

  • Peter Longshaw says:

    as a pupil of Jansons he is quite well qualified; MJ’s father Arvid was also revered for Strauss concerts, I believe. He was certainly the best conductor of live music I have ever seen; his few recordings do him scant justice

  • Curtis Rittenhouse says:

    Saw Manfred Honeck do second half of New York Phil concert in November purely Strauss family. Great pleasure! Orchestra seemed entranced. Many smiling members of orchestra. Great Austian lilt. Big hit with sold out audience. What is VPO waiting for? Is this snobbery against a former member now doing quite well with a baton? Does anyone remember a Willi Boskovsky? I recall he did rather well with these concerts and repertory. For years. I’d love Honeck getting the call for the
    New Year’s Concert just to see what he would unearth.

  • Gaffney Feskoe says:

    Although he has not been mentioned in considering the New Year concert conductors, I rather liked Franz Wesler-Most’s 2013 concert. He is, after all, Austrian and captured the tradition well IMO.

  • Alexander Platt says:

    Manfred Honeck and Gianandrea Noseda are the best contemporary conductors for this kind of thing.