Why Vienna desperately needs a change of baton

Why Vienna desperately needs a change of baton

News

norman lebrecht

January 03, 2022

No sooner had Daniel Barenboim finished his third stint as conductor of the 2022 New Year’s Day concert than the Vienna Philharmonic announced next year’s conductor.

It will be Franz Welser-Möst, like Barenboim presiding for the third time. Kindly suppress those yawns.

Since 1990, Riccardo Muti has conducted six times on New Year’s Day and Zubin Mehta five.

Others still alive are: Seiji Ozawa (2002), Gustavo Dudamel (2017), Christian Thielemann (2019), Andris Nelsons (2020).

Same old, same old. Not one surprise since Carlos Kleiber declined a third invitation 30 years ago.

Vienna’s choice of conductor is dictated by commercial and political considerations. Recording rights are sold to Sony which, having no conductors of its own, poaches familiar names from other labels. Whoever wields tha baton must be also acceptable on blander-than-bland television. So the orchestra plays safe year after year with a maestro who will never frighten its partners.

And the event gets duller.

No woman has ever been invited to conduct.

Nor any maestro of radical tendencies.

No Currentzis, Gergiev or Petrenko. No Russians at all, in fact (there’s no money in Russia). No-one from the north side of the Baltic, no Hungarian or Balkan batons. No Rattle, Pappano, Czechs or Poles. No Americans since Lorin Maazel, though an American woman, Marin Alsop, presently heads the radio orchestra in Vienna.

The choice is so narrow and predictable that it’s a wonder the players themselves don’t drop off during the concert, as many viewers do. Even the Austrian Government stays away.

If ever there was an event in need of new blood, its the Vienna New Year’s Day concert.

 
UPDATE: A Viennese tradition?

Comments

  • A.L. says:

    Indeed. But there are only so many ways to milk a waltz or polka. Kleiber fils knew how, and how! The others simply lack his joie de vivre and, that missing, there is only wallpaper. So a change in tradition and repertoire is needed if the event is to live.

    • Pianofortissimo says:

      It is precisely tradition and repertoire that imports. If you want a New Year Concert with salsa and bunga-bunga you just go elsewhere. No harm done.

    • Johann says:

      Willi Boskovsky had joie de vivre.

      • Judit Meszaros says:

        No one will ever come close to Willy Boskovsky. He alone made these concerts as they were, exactly made for New Year. In the last several years the quality is low.

        • Zee says:

          Boskowsky is dead, as far as I know, and has been for a long time. So has Maria Callas but we still enjoy opera. I think the Vienna concert is a great New Year tradition. I grew up with it and love it every year again.

      • Leonardo Bautista says:

        The appointment of very good but lesser-known conductors in need of work, not only those with ties to money and politics as well as the commission of new waltzes and polkas from living composers who uphold the tradition and can bring a breath of fresh air to it. If the Vienna Philharmonic doesn´t stop waltzing to the tune of the elites, it will begin losing its relevance,; and it should be pointed out they do not sound as good as they used to. It is in times like these that we should support the many very talented and skilled who have been pushed aside by the few rich and powerful.

    • Iris M Watts says:

      Well fond as I am of Barenboim he did seem to have difficuly raising a smile this year.He only managed it twice. Since the NYC is supposed to be a jolly event this was disappointing.
      I.M.W.
      A

      • George Johnstone says:

        Barenboim gave the impression that he was just ‘going through the motions’ of conducting a concert. He looked bored.

      • Nicholas Ennos says:

        The Austrians don’t have much to smile about at the moment. You sound like a slave master whipping the black slaves to make them dance and sing.

    • Patrick Gillot says:

      George Prêtre was great and full of joie de vivre.

  • Concertgebouw79 says:

    No Chailly no Fischer no Chung no Jarvi father and son and no Joudan…they are turning in circle.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Perhaps most of them are just picking up from where they left off the last time!! The orchestra always looks pretty bored, to be honest.

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    “Nor any maestro of radical tendencies”?

    Yes, no musical radicals. The New Year Concert is based on a repertoire that has sharp limits in geography and time. Conductors should have an appropriate profile in order to fit in. Some ‘great’ conductors like Gergiev (who conducted a lot with the Wiener Phil, that is he is well known by the musicians) lack such a profile.

    • Miv Tucker says:

      Assolutissimo! For decades the presiding maestro was the late Willi Boskovsky, and what’s needed is long-term replacement like him, a conductor Austrian to the core, not a celebrity shoo-in, and certainly no one of radical tendencies.

      • Miv Tucker says:

        I meant to add, and Straussian to his fingertips.

        • Garry Humphreys says:

          Boskovsky was of course concertmaster: could Rainer Honeck (Austrian-born) do it? Worth a try? Strauss himself (like Boskovsky) directed from the violin. (Incidentally, despite what Sue Sonata Form says, the orchestra did – and usually does – look as if it’s enjoying itself hugely!)

          • The Ghost of Karlos Cleiber says:

            Or better yet, Rainer’s ex-VPO conductor brother Manfred who is, for my money, not only exceptionally well-attuned to Viennese repertoire but also the best nd most imaginative conductor working today.

      • Judit Meszaros says:

        Yes. If possible, Austrians should be conducting the orchestra.

  • John says:

    They need to invite MTT (Michael Tilson Thomas).

  • Patrick says:

    They could (and should) play it conductor-less.

    Oh, and did Barenboim really need to stare at every single page of the scores? For the $$$ he was paid, he could at least learn the repertoire.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Don’t be fooled by any theatrical posture like this that he adopts.

    • Howard Dyck says:

      I couldn’t agree more, Patrick. I was truly puzzled (in addition to being annoyed) by this year’s concert. The orchestra played well enough, although Berlin’s effervescent Fledermaus Overture 24 hrs. earlier blew the VPO’s rendition out of the water. The real problem was a scorebound Barenboim who was bored and obviously unprepared. Not to mention his dreadful conducting technique. The man conducts everything from his shoulders. The lower arms, the hands, the baton (take advantage of it, for heaven’s sake)…they’re all essential in conducting this music which calls for nuance, delicacy, and precision. I’ve noticed this “blunt instrument” approach in B’s conducting for some time. He’s a fine musician; whatever has happened to make him so dour, so insufferably tedious? I’m not looking forward to his Verdi Requiem in Berlin on the 8th.

  • Expat in Vienna says:

    Hear hear!

  • Achim Mentzel says:

    Mahler once said: “When the world ends, I’ll go to Vienna, everything happens there 50 years later.”

    Anyway, why should anything change? There are enough concert formats where the Mirgas, Alondras, Alsops, Currentzisses, and God knows what other frothers can let off their steam. Except for a few pushy ones from the woke bubble, who prefer to count women in the orchestra instead of listening to the music, everyone seems to be happy, most of all the orchestra itself, including with their choice of conductors.

    So, sit back everyone and enjoy some tradition and schmaltzy music.

    • IP says:

      I think the plural of Currentzis is Currentzes. Although the idea bothers me considerably.

    • Patricia says:

      Beware that women are 50% of Humanity, and therefore of the audience (maybe even more). So please show some respect to us. Your comment is utterly discriminatory.

      • Achim Mentzel says:

        The 50 % argument is utter nonsense. The mere fact that 50% of humanity is made up of women does not necessarily mean that every orchestra must have (a 50%) quota of women or even any quota. Conversely, and following your logic, there should also be (a 50%) quota of women in garbage collection, street cleaning and the military, or a (50%) quota of men in sewing and nursing. Just enjoy the music, no matter by whom it is performed, men, women, genderfluid beings, if you can still do that at all, instead of contaminating it with any ideologies.

      • Marcio says:

        Gad…playing the wilted doll card even where Titans are concernd.Aye…titans too,soon to be erased from the stage and replaced by…oh,forget’t.

      • Bill says:

        A pretty large percentage of the population is children. Should they also get podium time?

    • Tristan says:

      finally one speaks about west’s going on at the moment – hideous

  • MacroV says:

    Indeed. Sir Simon seems the obvious choice, in terms of being someone with broad name recognition and a history of working with the VPO. And he has a zest for music-making and creativity that would come in handy; his New Years Eve concerts in Berlin were always quite compelling, though that’s a different animal.

    • Matthias says:

      He hasn’t worked with the Vienna Phil since 2015, no idea why.

    • Micaelo Cassetti says:

      John Eliot Gardiner did a good Viennese CD in his DG days. He could be a candidate.
      I think it a great shame that Haitink was never invited.
      Otherwise, I’m back to Boskovsky’s retro Decca LPs (reissued on CD in toto), also three CDs of earlier Viennese stuff with “His Ensemble”, and Clemens Krauss. Not forgetting Harnoncourt.
      New Year’s Day Concert is special for me (my birthday is the previous day), but I agree that it’s getting dull…
      As for getting a ticket… I reckon I stand a better chance of conducting it.

      • Jobim75 says:

        Very good idea 15 years ago, bit late now maybe. Harnoncourt definitely was a itchy choice, he started the concert with a less played Radetzky march version….First Prêtre concert had a nice zest and spirit.
        Honeck is an excellent conductor and seems the perfect choice. I want to hear him there.

  • kh says:

    They could revert to having one of their concertmasters lead the concert. I suppose they are no longer comfortable doing so after the concert went from a relatively local affair to a ritualized, globally broadcast event. I was watching a video of a New Year’s Concert from the 1960s. Everyone looked so much more at ease back then, and the music making reflected that.

  • Pat says:

    How about Leonard Slatkin.

  • John Kelly says:

    Amen.

  • Save the MET says:

    Wrong event and venue for a changemaker concert. Willy Boskovsky, the concertmaster of the orchestra led this concert for years, so that it stayed just as the powers that be wanted it. They didn’t bring in a big name. Now they do, but the VPO runs the concert and the programming, it is their special act, not the conductors.

    This is a chestnut concert, a pops style concert of 19th Century Viennese light classical music with an emphasis on the Strauss family. It was not designed, nor is it intended for what you state in your article. Nor is this orchestra experimental, that’s just not their schtick. The clientele who purchase the tickets are looking for tradition and the audience who tunes in are looking for something friendly and comfortable; like an old shoe. There is no female conductor with a firm relationship with this orchestra, than any of the men they select. Marin Alsop who is really the only female conductor with the same stature as some of the men they select and she does not have a serious relationship with the orchestra.

    I don’t criticize your articles Norman, but in this case, I strongly feel you are entirely on the wrong footing. There are 364 other days during the year where you can seek changes. Let the audience feel comfortable in their old shoes once a year.

    • Peter San Diego says:

      I’d have agreed with your comments if you had written “Susanna Mälkki” in place of “Marin Alsop”…

      • Save the Met says:

        Susanna Malkki does not have the time in at this point. Alsop is 14 years older with vastly more experience than Malkki. Malkki like Alsop has no relationship with the VPO. You will note that the conductors selected with the exception of Nelsons and Welser Most who have long associations with the orchestra are men at the zenith of their careers and huge names. Names at a much higher level than either of the two women mentioned. The time will come, but for the VPO, they are not there yet. As they are still considered the finest band in the world and have a following unlike any other orchestra in the world, frankly, you have to let them take their baby steps. You will note more women in their orchestra than ever before. Frankly, as they are a private organization, run by the orchestra members with a board which mainly comprises orchestra members, I’d let them do their thing in their own time. Not everything has to be brought kicking and screaming into a semblance of 21st Century modernity. Some things which work and don’t hurt anyone should be left to handle themselves.

  • opus30 says:

    Baremboim looked bored on the podium, as usual. The work played where the musicians had to sing, more than once, was truly third-rate music and lasted way too long as well. A shame the PBS broadcast did not remove this one prior to broadcast.

  • Anonymous says:

    No woman? Well, if we were to go full-on quota, then how about Alondra the Mexican conducting actress? You know, the one with the oversized purse given to her from her family.

    Please don’t compare Marin Alsop and Lorin Maazel. They have nothing in common. Agree or disagree with his musical ideas, Maazel is a true master. Meanwhile, Marin spent more time championing diversity and inclusion causes than developing her mediocre talents. Somehow I don’t think the Viennese want someone who can’t help but subdivide each beat.

    Nor does the world doesn’t need maestros with radical tendencies. Orchestras need conductors who can get an orchestra from beginning to end without self-inducing a train wreck, substantively or musically. That’s a surprisingly tall order these days. Just ask Andris Nelsons.

  • msc says:

    Although I am not normally a fan, I’d like to see JE Gardiner. Honeck, Chung, I. Fischer, Hrusa would also make a good go of it, I’m sure.

  • Sir David Geffen-Hall says:

    “Racial tendencies”?

    Proves my point that it’s important to pick your parents well.

  • Berndt says:

    I think they hired a New Year conductor who is best of that music and who is favor in Vienna Phil and that’s it! As audience member I just care that the music/result is best possible and it’s not my business to say (bad word) of conductor if he do his/her job well and is not kind of bad human being. So let’s enjoyed the music and taking care of our own business

  • Wayne Palin says:

    I think Herbert Blomstedt would be an excellent candidate to conduct a New Year Concert. He would be the first Swede to do so.

    Daniel Harding will also make a good candidate. The first Brit!

  • Alasdair Munro says:

    It’s a shame Roger Norrington has retired.

  • Mark says:

    I thought the Barenboim concert started off a bit shaky and the orchestra seemed ahead of him, but matters improved and I ultimately enjoyed the program. This is not a conductor full of bubbly charm, but still a serious musician for those who put these works in that category. Much more engaging than Muti last year I felt and I don’t care much for FWM in this repertoire no matter how many times he tries. One of the best that often fails to be mentioned was George Petre who did it twice. But for these times, I’d be intrigued by Francois Xavier Roth who seems to have a bit of magic in making shorter works come to life.

  • M McAlpine says:

    The whole thing is a bore. The last concerts worth hearing were conducted by Karajan and Kleiber.

  • Matthias says:

    What is tiresome is this argument…
    The VPO only offers the New Year’s concerts to conductors that they trust and regularly work with. It’s basically a sign of gratitude for years of collaboration.
    Therefore, the list of candidates for 2023 was relatively short:

    -Barenboim, Muti & Nelsons conducted it too recently
    -Thielemann
    -Welser-Möst
    -Dudamel
    -Mehta (I don’t know what his health status is)

    And a few potential newcomers:
    -Blomstedt (I don’t know if the VPO would risk this given his age, but it would be a great fit IMO)
    -Eschenbach (not sure if that’s a good idea)
    -Gergiev (maybe the VPO is shying away from a potential media backlash)

    Maybe I’m missing someone, but what is for sure is that the VPO won’t offer this gig to someone who they don’t know very well. They are of course looking for potential new conductors for their subscription concerts, but it’s going to be a long time before someone filters through to be considered for New Year’s.

  • Franklin Orosco says:

    I have never been to any of the New Years concerts, but I enjoy watching them, no matter who the conductor is. I`m not looking for Hollywood effects, awkward, forced lines given by presenters or special wardrobes and glamour. I like what I see, and that`s why I watch the concerts. I realize others may have their preferences, but they can turn to other, more preferable New Years concerts, just as I turn to mine.

  • Ziobrifa says:

    I don’t understand all this acrimony about the New Year’s concert! its beauty is its repetitiveness, the Strauss repertoire is rarely performed by other orchestras and, at least once a year, there are excellent performances by the Wiener. It amazes me then that the logic of how a conductor is chosen for the concert is not yet understood: only those who have a long and continuous relationship with the Wiener are invited to conduct the concert, some names mentioned have rarely conducted the orchestra, so for now it is difficult for them to be invited. The exception is Gergiev but I imagine the controversy when ever he should be chosen ..

  • Eyal Braun says:

    I am surprised that they do not invite Manfred Honeck- such a great Straussian – perhaps the best since Carlos Kleiber. He was a viola player in the orchestra: He has a magnificent Strauss CD with the VSO.

    • Lachera says:

      Not only Honeck would be a very good choice, he is the brother of the concertmaster. – A couple years ago we had on Italian TV a Joh. Strauss concert with Honeck and the S. Cecilia Rome orchestra, it was really good. Could get better with VP.

    • Steven de Mena says:

      Manfred Honeck has little experience conducting the VPO. Only 3 times, the last 15 years ago, in Mozart-era concerts in Salzburg.

      • Eyal Braun says:

        The loss is their. His discography in Pittsburgh is one of the glories of recent times (Mahler 1,3,4, Brahms 4, Beethoven 3, Dvorak 8 and many more)- they regularly work with Andris nelsons mediocre . I was fortunate to hear many concerts of Honeck in his many visits to Israel to conduct the IPO- he is surely among the finest conductors of our era.

    • John Kelly says:

      Perhaps they don’t invite Honeck (who I agree would be splendid) BECAUSE he was formerly a viola player in the orchestra…

  • NJTP says:

    Why do they even need a conductor to do this concert? They can play this music in the dark. Plus it would be a novelty for the public. No conductor, and divide his fee among the orchestra.

  • PaulD says:

    I wish they would revamp the very mannered ballet sequences. Maybe I shouldn’t have watched “The Red Shoes” the night before.

    • amazonian says:

      Right on. The first time i tried to watch the viennese New Year’s concert, I gave up because of the mannered baller sequences, as you say. That’s the trouble of trying to turn a charmingly old-fashioned, local house party, into something grander and awkwardly pompous.

  • IP says:

    Not convinced. This is a museum-like thing that is best left alone. It is indeed possible to stick a mustache onto Mona Lisa, and it has been done before. But — Currentzis?

  • If I remember right, Maazel led the New Years concerts 11 times, more than any other except Willi Boskovsky.

    To be authentic, Strauss waltzes should be performed by a small orchestra led by a Stehgeiger just as the VPO’s concertmaster, Willi Boskovsky, did every year from 1955 to 1979. He generally led the full orchestra, but the Strauss spirit remained. Was there no one in the orchestra to take Willi’s place?

    The VPO could return to authentic performances, but the concerts are broadcast to a potential audience of 50 million people (as claimed by the orchestra.) The royalties are huge and they milk it even further by putting figurehead conductors in front of the ensemble.

    One variance was when Ozawa led the concerts. He programmed fewer waltzes and included other lighter fare. My impression was that the orchestra consciously ignored him. It seemed like a war of wills. He was GMD of the Staatsoper at the time and was appointed by the administration, not the orchestra. The relationship did not seem to be a happy one one.

    Another variance was when Nikolaus Harnoncourt led the concerts. Given his historical approach to performance, the concerts were promoted as being especially authentic . He presented the same program with the VPO during its annual US tour. The critics were underwhelmed and disappointed that the orchestra brought a program of waltzes. The concerts were not authentic and sounded tired.

    I know it is sacrilegious and highly questionable, but I find Andre Rieu’s performances as a Stehgeiger in front of a small orchestra much better. His lively spirit of good fun is much more authentic and definitely more entertaining. Strauss waltzes were not meant to be a yearly Staatsakt.

    If the VPO really wanted to excite people, they should prepare an arrangement that features the women of the orchestra. People would be so excited. The whole world would cheer. And it would give the pioneering women in the orchestra some credit they deserve. Perhaps the gentlemen will someday give that some thought.

  • Evan Tucker says:

    The problem is that you can only invite conductors who have been demonstrably enthusiastic about the repertoire and won’t be doing it for the first time in front of hundreds of millions of people. So Austrians and musicians trained around Vienna will gravitate to the music in a way other people might not.

    Welser-Most can honestly do much better in Johann Strauss than he ever did in the New Year’s Concerts so far. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RMUZrCbMHRM

  • Lothario Hunter says:

    A decrepit format is just as responsible for this undoubtedly low state of affairs as an unappealing baton.

    The nightmarish, terrifying scenario of seeing Muti for a seventh time (perhaps in 2024?) could be alleviated with the right level of innovation: use technology and special effects and have Muti conduct the Viennese masters from a virtual location. For instance, from inside a rendered rain forest surrounded by tropical flowers sprinkled with dew.

    That simple tweak, not too onerous for the Vienna machinery to pull off, would send the ratings through the roof and fulfill the Maestro’s wants, all at the same time.

    If not .. well, it’s Vienna’s loss. Chicago has that Muti treat down and … on call. 🙂

    • prof says:

      what the hell is this person talking about

    • Tristan says:

      you should have gone to Nabucco workshop in Milano then you would write differently
      I wished we had a few more of this caliber, knowledge and charisma but if course it depends on the repertoire
      Verdi with him is simply amazing especially when you hear overrated Chailly one day earlier at La Scala with another highly overrated Russian soprano

      • Judit Meszaros says:

        Excellent!

      • Chicagorat says:

        So much knowledge.

        In the workshop, did he explain the hidden meaning of his favorite aria (“Rivedrai the foreste imbalsamate?”)

        Oh that’s not Nabucco … then, just wait for the next workshop. Such knowledge is worth the wait.

    • steve says:

      this is utterly ridiculous, please stop spewing such stupid nonsense.

  • dalet says:

    FWM conducted a mean Imperial March from Star Wars with Vienna that’s on youtube, I hope he ends the New Year’s concert with it, replacing the traditional and all-too-silly Radetzky March with its faux-spontaneous clapping.

    There will be genuine applause when the Vienna State Opera ballet corps come in as Storm Troopers led by FWM as Darth Vader.

  • freddynyc says:

    Kleiber is the most overrated conductor of these concerts. His brisk and high strung performances are the antithesis of what the genre is about. Those who idolize him are probably more smitten by his looks and elegant style of conducting……

    • Matthew DeNero says:

      II don’t think think anybody would consider Kleiber especially good-looking, with his crooked teeth, bird beak nose, and ubiquitous liver spots. He was a hell of a conductor, though!

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    Your points are taken, Norman, but I’m certain they had very limited rehearsal time this year (and probably most every year). In truth, this show is run by the orchestra. They don’t want young blood intervening and ‘trying’ to tell them how to play J. Strauss and Lehar. Regardless of who’s conducting, it pretty much comes out sounding the same (as you’ve indicated). I think the bigger issue isn’t about who’s conducting, but about the repertoire itself. I would like to see this program become something between what it is now, and their annual Summer Night’s program. In other words, mix in a few longer works that are outside of the usual 19th Century Viennese ball repertoire. A guest soloist wouldn’t hurt either. I think such a program could draw more interest from potential conductors, especially if they had a say in it. And for Pete’s sake – (whoever Pete was) – can we please stop going on and on about Carlos Kleiber. He’s gone. Period. End of story. Personally, I enjoyed George Pretre even more.

  • Elizabeth Twohig says:

    Couldn’t agree more. But the lack of women in the orchestra is also to be deplored. They need to move with the times

  • Gustavo says:

    Neeme Järvi

    Leif Segerstam

  • Charles C. says:

    Listening to Kleiber 1992…

  • Gaffney Feskoe says:

    Apart from the two concerts conducted by Georges Pretre, I thought Mariss Jansons did a fine job in 2003. Two conductors not normally associated with this music. I agree that Manfred Honeck should be given a chance. He certainly has the credentials.

  • amazonian says:

    The traditionalist artillery with all guns blazing here….
    But even hardened tradition requires some dusting off once in a while. Otherwise, it will go the way of the Austro-Hungarian empire, the sword (or pistol) duels and the Orient Express.

  • Edward says:

    Well, if it never bothers you to listen to the same kind of waltzes and polkas at the New Year’s Concert every year, then why complain about a repetition of conductors?

  • Austria or should I say Vienna has always been a musically incestuous location.Thank god I live in London,in fact, musically speaking it doesn’t even have Birminghams Catholic approach.

  • prof says:

    What needs to change is the Star System which ensures a Barenboim or a Dudamel. Both are unsuitable. Barenboim looked half dead and is devoid of levity. Dudamel lacks the cultural understanding of central European music to really do justice to the repertoire, and is also devoid of levity.

    As long as it’s about the Star System you’ll always get conductors for this event who lack what’s required to make the music speak.

  • Tom Tulen, flutist in Holland says:

    You will all miss the refinement of Barenboim when he is gone… He has taste, respect and the necessary musical intensity, no unnecessary show, making but beautiful and thought through results. Also the remark about Harnoncourt is totally misplaced: the 2001 concert to me is still the most moving one. He showed that the quality of the so called b-composers like the Strausses, Lanner and such was equal to any other 19th century masters. There are plenty of ‘ serious’ composers from that era who are light years removed from that quality, and about whom nothing is ever mentioned. Genius in your own field is still genius. Harnoncourt never mentioned the word authenticity to anyone and never pretended to strive for authenticity but always was on the lookout for the best representation, musically, of works on offer. He was exceptional and sorely missed. And even if you do not like the music, sit back and marvel at the orchestral playing, it is like chamber music playing, unbelievable. Also the pieces during the interval… Wow. Have a good music year and do not forget: an opinion is strictly personal, not against someone else and most certainly not a fact… And also mine.

  • margaret koscielny says:

    One of the video recording of Carlos Kleiber was the best performance I have ever seen of these concerts. Barenboim lacks the warmth and joy which radiated Kleiber’s performance. Also, the orchestra is much younger now. The old fellows (mostly men, few, if any women) are gone. The orchestra is great, of course, but the old Viennese magic is gone for me.

  • Anonymous Bosch says:

    The official motto „Wien ist anders“ („Vienna is different“) could be interpreted in any number of ways!

    Hanging on to traditions beyond their last dying gasps is one way to look at it. We are only now discussing ways to either get rid of the Fiaker (horse-drawn carriages) or find ways to make life easier for the poor animals; same applies to the Lipizzaner and the Reitschule: these exist purely for tourists, as do the Silvester concerts.

    In the record-breaking heat of the summer of 2021, there was a nasty accident with a Fiaker turning over and injuring a passenger, rousing the loudest call to date from citizens of Wien to abolish them.

    I have been once to a Silvester concert (a Muti year) only because I was paid to do so by a UK newspaper. I don’t recall hearing much German spoken.

  • Mark Cogley says:

    In the last twenty years, most of the Vienna New Year’s conductors have been seniors and often really elderly. It wasn’t like this in the previous century. Frankly, Barenboim was depressingly enervated.

  • William Lightfoot says:

    The musicians of the Vienna Philharmonic themselves select who conducts the orchestra, and they select whom they feel most comfortable with.

    • Achim Mentzel says:

      But you have to understand that the ridiculous woke bubble knows better who should to conduct than the orchestra itself, of course.

  • Rabengeraun says:

    Familiarity is the big pull of this concert – nobody switches on to hear or see anything or anyone that might disturb them.

  • Elmar says:

    Since Johann Strauss wrote a lot of music for St. Petersburg, Gergiev might be an intersting choice (there is a great CD by Neeme Järvi- Strauss in St. Petersburg which proves this). And the orchestra failed to make a program devoted to Josef Strauss who died in 1870 and wrote some of the greatest music ever. I´m mainly missing a clear dramaturgy of the program and the spirit which made the audience going crazy 150 years ago

  • Maura Schmidt says:

    This is so true! I lived in Vienna for 19 years and have tight bounds to that city, but this year I didn’t even turn the TV on to watch the New Year’s Concert. The choice of music pieces isn’t demanding enough, it’s boring!

  • Andrew Baker says:

    Seems like you misunderstand the purpose of this concert (presumably wilfully, because I know you understand this!)
    Every band has gigs that pay for the rest of the year; the stuff that allows them to try new blood and new pieces that might not sell. They don’t need a conductor for this gig and never have; the purpose of a conductor on NYD is to make the event more marketable for TV, pure and simple. As evidenced by the fact that when it was just a Vienna concert, the concertmaster directed it. If Lenny were still alive he’d be doing it every year.

  • Neujahrskonzert says:

    No thanks to this article! The Vienna NYD concert is unique and it should stay that way! If anyone fails to realise what makes this concert so great is its tradition, not only in its choice of repertoire but the way it’s played! If you want to hear on New Year’s Day the same style of concerts we hear all year round, same Mahler, Bruckner, and so on then go elsewhere! The way this orchestra performs this music is unparalleled and rightly so they should stick to their traditions. Many other orchestras (practically everywhere) have attempted to copy this tradition and every concert ended up as an opportunity to trash this music that is so hard to perform, to get the right balance, style, rubato, timing, making it sound effortless! “Similar” concerts by other leading orchestras ended up as gig events, on many occasions with just one rehearsal being “sufficient” to put together a show! They always ended up sounding that way and it’s an insult to treat this kind of music in this way! This orchestra is unique in performing this music every year and there’s still around 50% of the repertoire to be performed which has never been performed yet!
    I do not support such an article, and correct is the fact that certain conductors will only dream of getting on that podium, no matter who they are! Other great conductors who sadly passed away never made it on that podium on 1st January and there are reasons for it, the orchestra knows who they can trust to bring off such an event and they have the full right to decide, with no pressures whatsoever from anyone! They got this one right and it’s here to stay! It’s their own yearly biggest event in the diary and they are very proud of it. Not everyone will support such a negative view and that’s coming from a professional musician.

  • Mickey says:

    Last Saturday, after Wiena broadcast,l watched on Mezzo Karajan’s New Year Day’s concert 1987. Wounderful, full of joy from the baton’s part,beatiful program

  • John Soutter says:

    Hasn’t the entire institution, unsurprisingly, become one, big yawn because of the same old thing always being rolled out? I find the VPO boring … Help – Boris Johnson must be in charge!

  • Schicchi, Gianni says:

    And what about a lesser known Takàcs, of the Verbier ensemble?!

  • Mirel Iancovici says:

    I think they should invite André Rieu. He knows the repertoire as nobody else, he can fiddle, as Strauss did and more than one smile once in awhile he will laugh all the time telling jokes and other nonsense instead of “pacifist“ speeches.

  • MILES SMITH says:

    Surely André Rieu?

    • John Soutter says:

      Nigel Farage. He could conduct the greatest Viennese Waltz ever composed while turning his back on it … or dropping his trousers!

  • Allardyce Mallon says:

    There was once, back in the 80s, the Roman Carnaval Overture (Berlioz) and some other non Viennese pieces which crept into the programme. Certainly made it a bit more interesting, with just a tiny bit of variety.

    • Elmar says:

      In 1992 Abbado made an interesting program starting with Rossini and then showing the development of entertaining music from Mozart, Schubert (Webern instrumentation!) towards the Strauss dynasty. Unfortunately Deutsche Gramophone mutilated this program in their selection for CD

  • Mirel Iancovici says:

    This is the conductor who would have marked for ever the way this music should be performed even by Wieners, but the relationship between Celibidache and VPO is an other story….
    https://youtu.be/sLKRkS2S7tU

  • Aleximor says:

    A rather cantankerous, mean-minded article. The New Year’s Day concert has been going long enough to class as a tradition, and let the orchestra do it as they please. There aren’t an awful lot of empty seats any year.

  • Paul says:

    Andre Rieu –

  • Iris says:

    I was so depressed to see only 4 women are playing the new year concert. Unbelievable and unacceptable. You know how far are they from inviting a women conductor…

    • Marija Rencar Horvat says:

      Totally agree with you Iris.If you want to survive and thrive you have to move forward:carefully pick repertoire and add some new (written) pieces, chose between excelent conductors with fresh approach (nothing radical), more equality in numbers of two sexes (process that takes time), and most importantly :joie de vivre, smile, joy on the faces of the conductor and performers. Even the museums have to change,and this is a beautiful tradition that we want to continue not as some taxidermy project, a dusty bird on the top of ihe armoir.
      PS Just a comment from a fellow musician

    • hanshopf says:

      Just work hard and apply there. That‘s how change works.

  • CR says:

    What a preposterous statement!

  • I switched it off. Dour conducting by Barenboim!

  • Piano Lover says:

    “””If ever there was an event in need of new blood, its the Vienna New Year’s Day concert.”””
    The copy/paste of the program should be easy to record.
    Make Cd copies of the same program and change the conductor’s name.
    Business it wants to be,business it will remain!

  • Patrick Gillot says:

    This concert requires some special talent as this so called “light music” is fiendishly difficult to interpret properly. Nos so many conductor outside of Austria have the Stimmung. Kleiber and Prêtre had it.

  • Michael C says:

    Agreed. Kirill Petrenko would be a fantastic choice, very Kleiber like in his capacity for transmitting enthusiasm to the orchestra.

    I believe Jansons did it a few years ago and that was very enjoyable.

    Apart from a few pieces, the whole concert this year felt uninspired and heavy.

  • Robert says:

    Stop complaining over something so good!

  • E. Reinermann says:

    By choosing beloved senior conductors who might soon retire, the orchestra celebrates tradition, experience and elegance. As an Austrian living abroad I enjoy these concerts deeply. This event is not for a conductor with a big ego and a need to assert themselves. It is, maybe, an anachronism, but a fitting one, a self-celebrating Austrian ball, with a twinkle.

  • Michael P McGrath says:

    Brilliant catch-out. I was thinking the same thing as I watched the tired old show on Jan 1st. Rigged ticket sales for a concert of largely old boring men. I though Barenboim was going to fall asleep as he ‘conducted’. Where is Joanna Mallwitz, who has been celebrated in Salzburg these past two years and is conducting the Magic Flute with the Viennese this summer at the festival? Dear God, can you imagine the … energy? Oooo. What a combination. Energy and the Blue Danube!

  • Rog says:

    “Wein Bleibt Wein!” A popular old Austrian march says it all in its titie. “Vienna Remains Vienna”. That’s how it should remain with the New Years concert.

  • john humphreys says:

    No visual evidence of Barenboim enjoying himself – competent conducting for sure (mostly three in a bar and non too taxing) but I don’t want to feel that I’m observing a requiem. Nice little earner though.

  • SMD says:

    Thankfully, the Philharmonic is NOT the only great orchestra in Vienna; let’s see how it goes with the Vienna Symphony, conducted by Colombian rising star Andres Orozco-Estrada..

  • Styra Avins says:

    I don’t often agree with M. Lebrecht, but I sure do this time. I don’t bother to tune in anymore.

  • Brianna Skinner says:

    I love this concert and living and watching from Sydney Australia I was happy to subscribe to the (medici.tv) broadcast however in 2022 I think such a broadcast should be streamed in UHD (4K) and Multi channel dolby atmos or equivalent. Every other streaming service offers this quality so please next year can you please bring this concert into the 21st century. Thank you Brianna

  • Swiss-MM says:

    Harnoncourt wasn’t a conductor of “radical tendencies” starting the 2003 concert with the original version of the Radetzky March?

  • Maria says:

    Such a boring concert verging on mindless ritual. Pandemic a great opportunity to revamp the whole thing.

  • L.L. Holt says:

    I could have sworn that Barenboim froze, then nodded off a few times during the concert. What a waste of everyone’s talent! But if the public wants predictability, the marketing gurus are not going to rock the boat.

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