The money behind Vienna’s New Year’s Day concert

The money behind Vienna’s New Year’s Day concert


norman lebrecht

January 02, 2020

Sources in the Vienna Philharmonic tell us that Sony Classical paid them a record amount for world rights in yesterday’s event.

This is surely nothing to do with imminent arrival of the head of Sony Classical, Bodgan Roscic, as director of the Vienna State Opera, where maintaining a good working relationship with the orchestra will be one of his priorities.

This year’s conductor, Andris Nelsons, is under contract to Deutsche Grammophon and has recently recorded the Beethoven symphonies for DG with the Vienna Phil. That, too, may have been a factor in Sony’s eagerness to win the bidding war over the only classical release which can nowadays be guaranteed instant sales – in Asia, at least.

Sony has no conductors of its own.

And the maestro name plays a big part in guaranteeing Asian sales. That’s why the VPO have announced Riccardo Muti for 2021. He’s a known commodity in Japan, unlike some younger contenders such as Kirill Petrenko, Currentzis and Mirga. Any of those three would have set the heart pounding.

But that’s not what New Year’s about.

It’s  just business.


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Pictured today at the New Year’s Concert 2020 (left to right): maestro Andris Nelsons next to tenor Jonas Kaufmann (guest) and Daniel Froschauer (Vienna Philharmonic). The program celebrates Ludwig van Beethoven’s 250th and Vienna Musikverein’s 150th anniversaries in 2020, with the premieres of his “Contredanses” and the waltz “Freuet Euch des Lebens” (Enjoy Life), respectively.⁠⠀ ⁠⠀ The album will be released on January 10 – pre-orders available now (link in bio).⁠⠀ ⁠⠀ @andrisnelsons @tenorkaufmann @viennaphilharmonic⁠⠀ ⁠⠀ #NewYearsConcert2020 #NYC2020 #NYE2020 #musikverein #vienna #wien #nye #danielfroschauer #viennaphilharmonic #wienerphilharmoniker #viennaphil #beethoven #strauss #waltz #happynewyear #classical #music #orchestra #sonyclassical

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photo: Vienna Phil/Linke


  • Wilfried says:

    Vienna Philharmonic are a product and have been so for decades.
    The same predictable pseudo-phrasing, etc.

    Most of their interpretations are pure formalism, though on some (a few), they (thank god) still manage to shine.

    • Marco says:

      Bravo, thanks for saying this.

      The same applies to many many orchestras all over the world.
      Sheetmusic regurgitators!

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        I would just love to ‘regurgitate’ so well!!

        The New Year’s Concert is a bit of fluff; let the people enjoy it. Besides, as a marketing tool for Vienna it’s second to none!!

    • chris says:

      Most boring orchestra in Vienna!
      Even our amateur orchestra plays more interesting programs than they do.

      It’s a shame. Such great musicians…

      • Jeff says:

        You missed the point made.

        It does not matter which program they or any other (amateur) orchestras play.
        It’s all just nice note-playing (sheetmusic-following), and has been so for decades.

        • Manfred says:

          Yes. Which is why I prefer my shellac 78 rpm digitizations and highly selective youtube playlists.

          I’m no fan of any single orchestra or performer.
          I’m at the level of judging every single performance separately, and hand-pick my music.

          So I guess you can say: I hate all classical orchestras and performers; exceptions being individual performances which I treasure.
          Yes, I guess I’ve become a connoisseur.

          • Henry says:


            Kid or unwittingly a modernist lemming…

            he who does not hand-pick individual tracks from 78 rpm shellac records, and searches archives for those rares gems

            but instead subjects himself, without engagement to entire modern CD recordings. Juck!

          • Erato2019 says:

            Early music conductors and orchestras are very often really if not much more interesting.

        • Chris says:

          oh, i totally got that point! but you know, i can tolerate nice note playing if at least the program is interesting. But no, no interesting program, no interesting interpretation, just business….

        • Dennis says:

          I don’t understand this “sheet-music following” criticism. Should they make up their own notes rather than play what the composer actually wrote?

          Perhaps orchestras should ditch sheet-music and just give concerts of nothing but improvisations? I’m sure 100 musicians all improvising at once would sound lovely.

          • Bobby says:

            Is it really so unknown that just following sheetmusic strictly, results in horrible sterile interpretations?

            Is it really so hard to figure out that what is meant is phrasing (accel, rall, rhythmic alteration, fermata, etc. etc.), and that no amount of sheetmusic-study will ever instill that most important facet?

            No wonder that 90% of all players bore me to death, by just stringing together sounds, in the manner the sheetmusic shows. Presto, finished! “Culture” is served!

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        Ignorant beyond belief. “The professors” play all sorts of repertoire; you just don’t know anything about it.

      • Novagerio says:

        Chris, does your amateur orchestra sound as gorgeously aswell?…

  • Monsoon says:

    How many times do people actually re-listen to the New Year’s performances?

    • Paul says:

      I listen to them all the time and have collected a countless number of the CDs of those concerts. Best music to lift the mood. And if you actually sit down and play through these pieces at the piano, you will be amazed at the unlimited melodic invention and variety in this broad repertoire. No two marches, overtures, polkas, nor waltzes are the same! For example, here is a rare gem that the Vienna Philharmonic has not yet even ever played:
      Johann Strauss II – “Ich bin dir gut”

    • moonpavilion says:

      I do you rewatch Carlos Kleiber with the greatest of pleasure.

    • Greg Bottini says:

      I do! But only the good ones: Karajan, Boskovsky, Harnoncourt, Kleiber, Maazel.
      I have always loved the music of the Strauss family, and between LPs and CDs, I have a boatload of Strauss records.
      How about a trip down memory lane? If you can find Strauss recordings by Anton Paulik, Jascha Horenstein, Clemens Krauss, Anatole Fistoulari, or Eduard Strauss, get them: I guarantee you’ll enjoy them.

    • Novagerio says:

      Monsoon: well, I do. I enjoy in particular the old New Year recordings of Clemens Krauss and the filmed concerts with Willy Boskovsky, from the times before the Neujahrskonzert became a question of (japanese) commerce only.
      And for the sake of sheer “eye-masturbation”, one can enjoy both Carlos Kleiber’s concerts on the Tube ad libitum.

      It is still the orchestra’s New Year Greeting to the world, you know, as a message of Peace, and they choose their January 1st conductor, not Sony.

      By the way, the parts they use go all the way back to Johann Strauss himself. And in the regular classical-romantic repertoire, they still have the markings of Mahler, Richard Strauss and Weingartner in some of their parts.
      You don’t just pick up the rubber and erase historical markings for the vanity and stupidity of somebody who thinks he/she knows better.
      That’s how they preserve their culture, that’s what we call Tradition.
      Anyone has a problem with that, he should stick to Morrissey and/or any of today’s pseudo-artists.

    • Fritz Curzon says:

      Annually- though perhaps not with more than half an ear -as they sound close to indistinguishable to me.

  • This is a good thing that Sony gets the rights of the New year concert and that DG don’t have everything. They made LP also of the new year concert espensive maybe but it’s nice. And with a NYC without DG we avoid to have always the same artists. A director with a Decca contract can comes….

  • anon says:

    Sony spends over $100 million per year on advertising. Dutiful members of the media line up accordingly. There’s no greater blindfold than a dollar bill….

    • Novagerio says:

      Anon: Sony owns Deutsche Grammophon, at least since Karajan died. They own also the former Classic Masterworks and Philips and Decca, and (basically) the entire former gramophone industry.

      • norman lebrecht says:

        No they don’t. This is total misinformation.

        • Novagerio says:

          Oh, the labels still exist, but they are very much indeed owned by the conglomerate Sony.
          We don’t see “Artist X appears with the courtesy of Philips” or any other label anymore. It’s all in the same vein as much of the international car industry is owned by the chinese.

  • Michael Blim says:

    Aside from boring choices, the Nelsons’ trumpet “solo” was perfunctory and embarrassing.

  • Jack says:

    The Vienna New Year’s Concert is a big money maker, but, musically, it’s a bore. When you’ve seen one, you’ve seen ’em all.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Except Kleiber 1989. That was a real treat.

      • Petros Linardos says:

        Kleiber’s 1990 and 1992 concerts were the real deal, at least in recent decades. And Karajan 1987 came close.

        However, the best I’ve heard in recordings of Boskovsky and, especially Clemens Krauss sounds as good if not better in rhythmic nuance. I always wondered whether it boiled down to older generations of players.

        • Pedro says:

          I was at the Karajan and the first Kleiber concerts. Two of the most important musical events of my life. In both cases, but in very different ways, this so-called light music has been taken very seriously. We could really hear the Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms and Strauss legacy. Other conductors, even those I most respect today, as Thielemann Barenboim, Muti and Mehta were all below those standards.

        • Sue Sonata Form says:

          Interesting point. But I still love Kleiber in every way.

          • Novagerio says:

            Sue: Karajan’s only New Year Concerts in 1987 was a musical-historical event that was unparallelled.
            Carlos Kleiber is a visual delight. But how is he musically in your own very words – and I mean without watching him?

    • Paul says:

      Before making such a generalization, I would highly suggest trying to play this music yourself, not just playing back a recording, but playing it on an instrument in an ensemble. Just playing Strauss waltzes as a piano duet can be a very rewarding experience, and indeed a wonderful measure of one’s musical ability. One summer, I conducted 94 different pieces by the Strauss family. Try learning and performing that much Strauss, and you will quickly see that no two pages are alike 🙂

      • Jack says:

        Fair enough, but the Vienna Philharmonic know this music like the back of their hand and I wonder how many of their musicians even pay any attention to the conductor during the New Year’s concert.

      • R says:

        There is a wonderful Strauss family exhibition roomin the House of Music museum in Vienna . Amazing to understand what a phenomenon he was in his time

    • HugoPreuss says:

      While I basically agree with this, I fail to see the outrage implied by the article. What’s wrong with making money through classical music? I wish people would buy more CDs, but coming down hard on a project that actually sells all over the globe doesn’t strike me as worthwhile.

    • Novagerio says:

      Jack (appropriate name by the way), I pity your lack of ears. Go to Vienna, go to Musikverein and listen to them Live, and bring preferably both your ears with you. Music happens in the moment, not with a remote command controlled from your armchair, according to what a sound-engineer has patched together.

  • Thomasina says:

    K. Petrenko visited Japan in 2017 with Bayerische Staatsoper. That was a great success and I read a lot of positive comments about Petrenko. I think he is one of the most awaited conductors in Japan. Currentzis with musicAeterna last February and they will be back again in April this year, so I suppose the ticket sales are good…

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      I think it’s absolutely wonderful that the Asian nations have taken our art music to its heart. This ensures its survival in perpetuity when westerners are becoming more and more ambivalent about their cultural legacy.

      • Bad Man Rising says:

        I don’t like it that ching-chong-china-man is now playing “my” cultural music, in the same incorrect way that many of my “own” people are playing it.

        What’s more: ching-chong-china-man is technically much better than my “own” people, so he’s being praised and hyped.

        PS: Not only are “westerners […] becoming more and more ambivalent about their cultural legacy”, they are ridding themselves… of themselves. (Demographically, culturally, etc.) But I say: they cannot be replaced by Asians.
        I really almost vomited at your statement “This ensures its survival in perpetuity”.
        I hesitate to write this… but just to ensure that you realize that a massively different view than yours actually exists… check out if you dare (at your own risk): Fourteen Words

        • Greg Bottini says:

          This is one of the most disgusting comments I have ever read on this site.
          You should be banned forever from commenting on Slipped Disc.

        • Sue Sonata Form says:

          No evidence of rank hatred in your comments, or anything. “Hesitate”? Absolutely priceless.

        • Novagerio says:

          Bad Man Rising: I would have taken your comment with some degree of value, if only you hadn’t written the silly and unnecessary “Ching-chong china man” about asian musicians.
          Do you happen to know the NHK Orchestra of Tokyo? It happens to be one pf the greatest “european” orchestras around, after decades with legions of german conductors.

          The asians have most certainly taken our musical culture to their hearts. While the degenerate West will destroy its own culture with ignorant cynism, pseudo-artists and cross-over nonsense that only bring gazillions to corporations, the asians – and especially the chinese will protect and maintain our former patrimony.

  • Bloom says:

    Business makes the world go round, the world go round, the world go round…that clinking, clanking, clunking sound of …

  • Petros Linardos says:

    Any idea how the fees Sony paid to the VPO and Nelsons for this New Year’s Day Concert compare to those they paid for the 1990 and 1992 concerts under Kleiber.

    • Gustavo says:

      Wonder who will be bidding to record John Williams with VPO and Mutter on January 18/19.

      Sony vs DGG or VPO own label?

      As long as Shawn Murphy is on board it doesn’t really matter.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      I do remember (from a documentary) Kleiber’s friend Wolfgang Sawallisch (or it could have been Michael Gielen) saying that Kleiber was paid “millions” to conduct the New Year’s Concert and that he could easily have retired on what he earned. Well, what do you know…..!!!

  • Johann Strauss XXI says:

    What I would add to the tradition is one new written walz, polka by a living composer. Just to keep the concept a bit surprising 🙂

  • M McAlpine says:

    The last two special New Year’s Day Concerts were with Karajan and Kleiber. Those since have been quite pleasant but unmemorable. I just wonder who on earth would want to listen to the thing again on CD? Quite pleasant to tune into in the morning with the dancing, etc, but surely not for repeated listening.

    • Paul says:

      It seems that plenty of people enjoy listening to this music throughout the year. On my youtube analytics page, I always see that one of my most popular videos “Carl Michael Ziehrer – Freiherr von Schönfeld-Marsch” gets viewed about 20-30 times every day! And this “Johann Strauss II – Fest Marsch op. 452” is just as good. Have you ever heard a Harp playing in a March?

  • Tamino says:

    It‘s relatively easy for Roscic to bet the (current) farm for the benefit of the future farm.
    Now Sony Classical will have even less money to maintain professional standards in their recordings. We hear some of them are already done under less than worthy conditions.

  • George says:

    Maybe Currentzis and Mirga should first conduct a regular “Philharmonisches”. Or any other top orchestra like Berlin or the New York Phil. Or did I miss something here?

    • Tamino says:

      Yes, you missed that the business is not a meritocracy anymore.
      Why that is, I don‘t know.
      Probably because there is too much money on the very top these days and too little at the bottom.

      • Saxon Broken says:

        It never really was strictly a meritocracy. The ability to appeal to the audience and sell tickets has always mattered.

        • John Borstlap says:

          This scandalous situation has already existed since 1672:

          “The first known public concerts for which admission was charged were given in London by the violinist John Banister at his home in Whitefriars in 1672.”

          It meant that the audience became part of a shared musical experience, as expressed in money.

  • Mustafa Kandan says:

    Also Vienna is a conservative city & they tend to stick to old favourites. I am sure that they will invite the next Music Director of the Opera to give one of the future New Year’s Concerts. As an elegant Swiss, he would be rather good.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      That’s strange when I’ve been to concerts of new music in Vienna myself – playing by the Philharmonic. And greeted mostly enthusiastically by those ‘conservative’ audiences.

  • fflambeau says:

    I disagree. Asians know a lot about classical music (especially in Japan and Korea).

    Muti is a top conductor with a huge reputation. The names you mentioned are youngsters in comparison. They will have their day but not next New Year’s Day.

  • Dave says:

    Good place to ask this, I guess. In Europe, do you see the entire concert on TV, or do you get the heavily packaged, heavily worded telecast that we get on PBS in the US?

    The PBS version is about an hour and a half and includes a few ballet numbers, obviously recorded earlier, and what amounts to a tour of Vienna between numbers. Worst of all, they insert a voice-over hawking PBS and the DVD/Bluray toward the end of the Radetzky March. I hope the rest of the world gets a better telecast than we do.

    • Petros Linardos says:

      I haven’t seen the PBS, because I don’t have a TV. But what you are describing sounds very much like the visual nonsense I have experienced in the past in different European countries from the 1980s through the early 2000s. Only the voice over has varied from country to country.

  • Stweart says:

    Sorry if it’s been said,I haven’t waded thro all the Comments, but I enjoyed the Beethoven Interval the most !