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Each New Year begins with a glamorous event broadcast around the world. The Vienna New Year’s Concert, which takes place in the first hours of the year, presents the timeless music of the composers of the Strauss family and features soloists of the Vienna Opera Ballet. Sparkle in thousands of lights and vibrant flowers provided by Vienna’s municipal greenhouses, the concert hall turns into a living fairy tale.
Musical message for a peaceful and prosperous New Year
The Vienna New Year’s concert is the most-watched classical music event worldwide. It became Austria’s message for a peaceful and prosperous New Year. Right from the first notes, the distinguished spectators in the hall and those behind the screens tap into the magic world of the immortal waltzes and polkas performed by the Vienna Philharmonic.
However, the history behind that glamorous event is not that beautiful. Shortly after the outbreak of World War II, the New Year’s Eve concert first appeared as part of propaganda aimed at distracting the population from the bloody Nazi rule. Like the entertainment films produced back then, the New Year’s Concert intended to present Vienna as a city of optimism, music, and joy.
New Year’s global music celebration
The first concert was on December 31, 1939, dedicated to the Strauss family. The second concert took place on January 1, 1941, and from that moment on became an integral part of the concert poster in Vienna. Clemens Krauss was its conductor for 13 years. After his death, it was impossible to find a replacement, so on January 1, 1955, a musician who had never held a conductor’s baton had to step up to the podium: the violinist Willi Boskovsky, concertmaster of the Philharmonic, who, like the waltz king Johann Strauss, performed standing up straight and led the orchestra.
And then the miracle happened: concertmaster Boskovsky conducted the polkas, waltzes, and marches with compelling passion and charm. Therefore, he was the longest-serving conductor ever. He has led his colleagues for 25 years. In 1959, television started broadcasting the concert for the first time, so it became a worldwide glamorous celebration. After the Willi Boskovsky era, the world’s best conductors shift yearly.
Initially, there was hesitation about setting concert dates on the last day of December or the first day of January. The concerns emerged with the assumption of possible unpleasant effects following the New Eve celebration. Or if some visitors would appear still drunk. The official concert date is on January 1, set in 1941. Since 1952, the equivalent event is on December 31, but without media coverage.
Since 1958, the concert has been ending with three encores after the major program. A fast polka is the first encore. Then comes the waltz, The Blue Danube, by Johann Strauss (son), applauded by the audience. The musicians and conductor greet everyone for the New Year. The third encore is Johann Strauss (father)’s Radetzky March. During this last performance, the audience applauds the rhythm of the music while the conductor faces them.
Vienna Music Association and dignitaries such as the President of the Republic of Austria and diplomats always reserve part of the tickets in advance. Music lovers from everywhere can purchase the remaining tickets through a lottery where the odds are equal for everyone. About 30k of flowers decorate the concert hall. So the magic of-the-art mastery happens.
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