Sunday, 1 January 2023

By Strauss – New Year in Vienna


Whether you’re starting the morning all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed or nursing a Hogmanay hangover there’s no finer way to usher in the New Year than a with a Strauss waltz. This morning’s New Year concert from Vienna, now in its eighth decade, offers its usual menu of marches, polkas and waltzes from the opulent Musikverein in Vienna’s first district. It’s been a staple of New Year’s Day broadcasts in the UK for 64 years.

The early wartime concerts – the first was on New Year’s Eve 1939 – were tainted by their Nazi associations. Post-war the concerts were re-invented under concertmaster Willi Boskovsky who conducted on 25 occasions between 1955 and 1979.

Broadcasts of the concert are hosted by Austria’s ORF and relayed worldwide via the EBU to over 90 countries.  The BBC has been broadcasting the concert since it was first televised in 1959. The programme was always a recorded version shown later on the 1st until 1987 when it started to be shown live, though there was a one year hiatus in 1982.From 2003 BBC Four broadcast an evening highlights version; this moved to BBC Two in 2019, but it’s back on Four this year.     

BBC Radio was a little slower to pick up the concert but has been broadcasting it live every year since 1972. (It had first been broadcast by Austrian radio in 1953).It’s always, I’d you’d expect, on Radio 3 though with one exception; in 1995 it appeared on Radio 2 instead. There had been a couple of earlier radio broadcasts. In 1966, on 2nd January, the Light Programme carried highlights of the New Year’s Eve concert and a few days later more excerpts were heard on the Home Service. In 1969 there was live coverage on Radio 4 and then highlights over on Radio 2 during Sam Costa’s lunchtime show.   

Remarkably only five people have introduced the concert for BBC tv and radio over the last six decades. First was Lionel Salter a former conductor turned BBC administrator and at the time was Head of Music Productions, Television. In 1964 for one year only, it was the turn of Antony Hopkins, musician and Talking About Music presenter. The microphone then passed to Richard Baker who introduced the concert for an incredible 30 years. Richard’s last Vienna duty was on that 1995 Radio 2 broadcast. Here’s Richard Baker saying Grüß Gott to listeners in 1992.

In 1996 former King’s Singer turned broadcaster Brian Kay took up the gig. Since 2011 Petroc Trelawny has been doing the honours throwing himself into the part by tracking down a second-hand Loden coat and black fedora “so I’d look suitably Third Man-ish”. This year Petroc is back in Vienna after two years of providing the commentary from London (at the Olympic Park studios) due to Covid restrictions.    

To get you in a suitably Viennese mood from a year ago comes this programme in which Moira Stuart celebrates the music of Vienna and of the Strauss family. Moira Stuart’s Viennese Concert was broadcast on Classic FM on 1 January 2022. 

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