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The New Year’s Concert

Every new year starts the same way for me – with the Vienna Philharmonic’s New Year’s concert on January 1. The beginning of this New Year’s “routine” originates in my childhood, when we used to go to my grandmother’s for New Year’s Day lunch. And after my grandmother passed away, the tradition continued – at my mother’s house. For me, the New Year’s lunch on January 1 consists of spaghetti with shrimp, wine, and the Vienna Philharmonic Concert. With no exception. And every year, I make a wish to be lucky enough to attend that glamorous concert one day.

What is the history of the Viennа’s New Year Concert?

The Vienna Philharmonic’s New Year’s Eve concert is the most-watched New Year’s classical music concert worldwide. The concert became Austria’s musical message for a peaceful and prosperous New Year.

Once the first notes of the immortal waltzes and polkas, performed virtuosically by the musicians, sound, the harmony fills the souls of the spectators. However, the history of that concert is not so peaceful and harmonious at all. The first one was only four months after the outbreak of the Second World War. The New Year’s concert was the idea of Propaganda Minister Goebbels to distract the population from the bloody and non-human policies of the Nazis. Like the entertainment films produced at the time, the New Year’s Concert intended to present Vienna as a city of optimism, music, and joy.

The first concert was on December 31, 1939, and it was dedicated entirely 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 Kraus 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 Willy Boskovsky, concertmaster of the Philharmoniker, who, like the waltz king Johann Strauss, performed straight and led the orchestra. And then the miracle happened: concertmaster Boskovsky conducted the polkas, waltzes, and marches with passion and charm that made him the longest-serving conductor ever – for 25 years, he has led his colleagues.

In 1959 television started broadcasting the musical event for the first time, and so year after year, Vienna Philharmonic’s New Year’s Eve concert became a worldwide musical celebration. After the Willy Boskovsky era, the New Year’s Concert, which became an institution, was conducted by the world’s best conductors.

A few interesting facts

  • The first New Year’s Eve concert was not on New Year’s Day. After hesitation whether to set it on December 31, 1939, or on January 1, 1940, the then conductor Clemens Kraus decided not to do it on January 1 before noon because the effects of the holiday might have adverse out-turn. Or in other words, there were fears that some of the visitors would come still drunk to the hall. After the second concert, held in 1941, the official date is 1 January. Since 1952, the same event took place every 31 December, but without television and media coverage.
  • Since 1958, the concert ends with three encores after the main program. The first encore is traditionally a fast polka. The second is the waltz The Blue Danube by Johann Strauss (son), the beginning of which is interrupted by applause from the audience. At this point, 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. Exceptions to this tradition are the years 1967 when the “Blue Danube” was part of the main program and 2005 without the “Radetzky March” out of respect for the victims of the earthquake and subsequent tsunami in Southeast Asia on 26 December 2004.
  • About 30.000 flowers are needed to decorate the concert hall.
  • 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 all over the world get the chance to purchase the remaining tickets through a lottery where odd is equal for everyone. Entries are only accepted via the Vienna Philharmonic website, usually between January and February each year.
  • Ticket prices for the New Year’s Eve concert on 1 January vary between 35 and 1,090 Euro.

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