January 1, 2019
Here at Camac, we have actually started 2019 at none other than the Neujahrskonzert of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. The TV broadcasts of this concert will be familiar to many of you, reaching over ninety countries as they do – and to be there in person is a once-in-a-lifetime occasion. The tickets are so much in demand, that when the box office opens in the February of the preceding year, tickets are assigned by drawing lots. I was so anxious not to lose mine, that I clutched it in my hand all the way to the Musikverein.
Never one for playing it cool in the face of extraordinary artistic experiences, I also arrived an hour and a half early. But I was not alone: a huge queue of fortunate audience members had already formed on the steps of Theophil Hansen’s magnificent building. Nobody pretends they always live like this; this concert is too special.
Once inside, you step into a glittering, other world, bedecked with gilded statues, red carpets, and gorgeous flower arrangements. Like the Musikverein its home, the Vienna Philharmonic is a world unto itself. It is one of the the best, and also most unique, orchestras in the world. Trying to describe the sumptuous plasticity of its sound in words is about as easy, indeed, as dancing about architecture: but it is undeniably, instantly recognisable, impossible to confuse with any other orchestra.
The tradition of presenting the music of the Johann Strauss family and contemporaries began in wartime – New Year’s concerts have taken place in Vienna since the 1830s, but it was not until 1939 that Clemens Kraus gave an “außerordentliches Konzert” (“special concert”) of music by Johann Strauss II. “Originating during the darkest chapter in Austria’s history”, the Vienna Philharmonic explains, “these concerts have continually grown in popularity in the decades since, which can be attributed to the verse and creative energy of the compositions of the Strauss dynasty, as well as their authoritative interpretations.” This last point is key: it is very difficult to play Strauss dances well, and to hear them performed to perfection, with the sound that evokes their 150 years of tradition, is unforgettable. “Today”, as the orchestra goes on to say, “millions of people throughout the world draw joy and optimism for the New Year ahead through the light-hearted yet subtly profound character of this music.”
It was also a moment of great joy to hear one of our instruments as part of the concert. But every instrument is silent until it is played by somebody, and to put it more accurately, it was joyous to listen to Anneleen Lenaerts. To hear such talent, at the heart of the Vienna sound, is also unique, and precious.
Be it at the opera, the ballet, in concert, or across disciplines: exceptional artistic achievement is above all the chance to witness something extraordinary. We leave the hall, but carry this with us, and are the better as we do so. On-stage, and off it, we hope that 2019 will bring you all happiness.