An Annual Bestseller Mariss Jansons conducts his first New Year's Concert
The name of the musician chosen to conduct the New Year's Concert is one of the best-kept secrets in the world of music. Surprises are consciously taken into account. But one thing is certain: for the fourth year in succession, Deutsche Grammophon will be recording this greatest of musical events to mark the New Year. And, once again, their co-producers will be Austrian Radio and Television. Equally certain is the fact that in 2006 the CD and DVD recordings will appear in the shops a day earlier than in 2005: CDs will go on sale on 6 January, DVDs ten days later.
In fact, the orchestra made its decision some time ago, a decision as surprising as it is logical: Mariss Jansons, the internationally sought-after music director of Amsterdam's Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. "For the true music lover, he is one of the greatest of all conductors," declares the chairman of the orchestra's board of directors, Clemens Hellsberg. And so the charismatic conductor from Riga will take to the podium for the 2006 concert.
Jansons first worked with the Wiener Philharmoniker in 1992 and since then he has appeared with them on no fewer than sixty-five occasions, including three highly successful concerts in New York last March. The New York press wrote enthusiastically about the "very special partnership" between orchestra and conductor. Central to these three concerts were symphonies by Beethoven, Brahms, Mahler, Sibelius and Shostakovich, but in keeping with tradition the encores included works by the Strauss family, thereby providing a foretaste of the 2006 New Year's Concert. Here, too, we have Voices of Spring by the Waltz King himself as well as Josef Strauss's polka Letter to the Editor. Not many people will know that both these pieces have long been favourites of Mariss Jansons.
Mariss Jansons's affinities with Strauss are no accident. His father was Arvid Jansons, for decades Evgeny Mravinsky's associate as principal conductor of the Leningrad Philharmonic and later the first teacher of his highly gifted son, whose career was also assisted by Karajan. Year in, year out Arvid Jansons used to conduct an all-Strauss programme on New Year's Eve in St. Petersburg. Later still, Mariss Jansons studied with the legendary conductor Hans Swarowsky in Vienna, where he had ample opportunity to explore the works of the Strauss family.
Just as Mariss Jansons has long been fascinated by Vienna, so he remains drawn to the New Year's Concert: "It's something very special," he says, giving free rein to his enthusiasm. "It's a wonderful chance to hear this music and to get to know it. This atmosphere, the Wiener Philharmoniker, the Musikverein - it's a long and wonderful tradition with fantastic, very specific music." Jansons had only just received the invitation to conduct what is in effect three concerts - the programme is played first on the morning of 30 December, then on New Year's Eve and finally on New Year's Day, when the performance is recorded live by radio and television - when he had already begun to make preparations for a programme which, after all, needs careful thought. Fixed points are Austria's unofficial national anthem, the Blue Danube Waltz by Johann Strauss the Younger, and, to end the concert, his father's Radetzky March, a piece guaranteed to whip up applause and to have the audience clapping in time with it.
With the other pieces, the choice is more open, albeit within certain parameters: two great waltzes have to be performed before and after the interval, with a varied mix of polkas, quadrilles and marches. Anniversaries and jubilees also have to be taken into account, whereas works that have featured on the programme in recent years should be avoided if at all possible. Above all, the programme must be one that suits the conductor or, as Jansons himself puts it, "The most important thing is that the music speaks through my mind and soul and body."
The exact choice and order of the works is traditionally left to the very last moment, but Jansons - like his predecessors - has already chosen a colourful blend of popular tunes and lesser-known pieces. Among works by the Waltz King himself are two of the greatest of all concert waltzes, Voices of Spring and An Artist's Life, together with his Lagoon Waltz, which is based on motifs from his operetta A Night in Venice. Orchestra and conductor will also be throwing themselves into Love's Message, a galop by Johann Strauss derived from motifs from his ballet Cinderella. And they will additionally regale their audiences with the Spanish March and the Entrance March from The Gypsy Baron, not to mention the Furioso polka, a polka française, In the Krapfenwald'l, and the fast polka Éljen á Magyar, which includes a quotation from the Rakoczi March and allows the members of the Philharmonic to show off their vocal talents.
"He's more gifted than I am, but I'm the more popular," Johann Strauss said of his brother Josef, his junior by two years. The fact that Mariss Jansons may well agree with this sentiment is underscored by his inclusion in the programme of two of Josef's quick polkas: Without a Care and, of course, Letter to the Editor. The youngest of the Strauss brothers, Eduard, also gets a word in with his polka française, Telephone. The 250th anniversary of Mozart's birth is appropriately marked with the overture to The Marriage of Figaro followed by Joseph Lanner's waltz, The Mozartists, which begins with a quotation from one of the Queen of Night's coloratura arias and ends with the overture to The Magic Flute cunningly transformed into a triple-time metre.
Two of the pieces - the New Pizzicato Polka and the Waltz from Die Fledermaus - have been choreographed by John Neumeier, no less, for the Vienna State and Volksoper Ballet, although the dancers will be seen only on television and on DVD - a consolation for all those unable to attend the live concert in the Großer Musikvereinssaal on the morning of New Year's Day. Demand for tickets for this event remains as great as ever, even though the concert is broadcast on both radio and television and available on CD and DVD within days of the concert. One can only speculate on the reasons for its popularity. Is it a passing desire to return to a bygone world when all seemed well? Is it the electrifying charm of the music that invariably reasserts itself? Are audiences paying tribute, however unconsciously, to the first pop star in the history of music? Whatever the explanation, the fact remains that Vienna's New Year's Concert remains an annual bestseller.