The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Leon Fleisher, the inspirational pianist and teacher who died a week ago, had ties to Madison

August 9, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

Famed American pianist and teacher Leon Fleisher (below, in a photo by Chris Hartlove), who also conducted, died of cancer at 92 last Sunday, Aug. 2.

Wisconsin Public Radio, like many other media outlets including National Public Radio (NPR) and most major newspapers and television stations, devoted a lot of time to tributes to and remembrances of Fleisher.

That is as it should be. If any musician deserved it, Fleisher did.

Fleisher (1928-2020) was a titan who became, over many years and despite major personal setbacks — stemming from an almost paralyzed right hand — a lot more than a keyboard virtuoso.

But despite lots of air time, less well covered has been his relationship to Madison audiences, who had the pleasure of seeing and hearing him several times in person.

In 2003 and then again in 2016 (below top) — at age 88 — Fleisher performed with the University of Wisconsin’s Pro Arte String Quartet (below bottom).

Both times he played the Brahms Piano Quintet in F minor, Op. 34, a masterpiece of chamber music. He and his wife, Katherine Jacobson, also performed a joint recital at the Wisconsin Union Theater in 2009.

Fleisher felt at home in Baroque, Classical, Romantic and even modern music. He was renowned as an interpreter of Brahms. Indeed, his early and widely acclaimed recordings of both Brahms piano concertos as well as of the Waltzes and Handel Variations remain landmarks.

Once he was again playing with both hands, Fleisher also recorded the piano quintet for Deutsche Grammophon with the Emerson String Quartet, another frequent and favorite performer in Madison. (You can hear the finale in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Here is a this blog’s review of his last Madison appearance: https://welltempered.wordpress.com/?s=Leon+Fleisher

Fleisher liked performing with the Pro Arte, and therein lies another historical tale.

His most influential teacher — the famed pianist Artur Schnabel, with whom the San Francisco-born Fleisher went to study in Europe when he was just 9 — also played often with the earlier members of Pro Arte Quartet. Together they recorded Schubert’s “Trout” Quintet by Franz Schubert, and that recording is still in the catalogue and available on Amazon.

Fleisher discusses studying with Schnabel in his entertaining and informative 2010 autobiography “My Nine Lives” (below).

Fleisher was a child prodigy who made his name while still young. Famed French conductor Pierre Monteux – who conducted the world premiere of Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” in Paris — called Fleisher the “musical find of the century.” Fleisher made his concerto debut at 16 with the New York Philharmonic under Monteux.

Fleisher was just 36 and preparing for a tour with the Cleveland Orchestra and George Szell – a perfect pairing and a conductor with whom he recorded all the Beethoven and Brahms concertos among may others – when he found he could not uncurl the last three fingers of his right hand.

Various diagnoses and causes were offered, and many cures were tried. In the end, it seems like that it was a case of focal dystonia that was caused by over-practicing, especially octaves. “I pounded ivory six or seven hours a day,” Fleisher later said.

After a period of depression and soul-searching, Fleisher then focused on performing music for the left hand; on conducting; and especially on teaching for more than 60 years at the Peabody Institute, located in Baltimore at Johns Hopkins University.

There he helped shaped the career of many other famous pianists, including André Watts, Yefim Bronfman and Jonathan Biss (below, in a photo by Julian Edelstein), who played when Fleisher received the Kennedy Center Honors in 2007. (All three have performed with the Madison Symphony Orchestra.)

Here is an inspiring overview of Fleisher’s life and career from the Peabody Institute: https://peabody.jhu.edu/faculty/leon-fleisher/

And here is another short biography from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leon_Fleisher

Here are three especially noteworthy obituaries:

NPR: https://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2020/08/02/702978476/leon-fleisher-the-pianist-who-reinvented-himself-dies-at-92

The New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/02/arts/music/leon-fleisher-dead.html

The Washington Post, written by critic Anne Midgette who worked with Fleisher on his memoir: https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/leon-fleisher-sublime-pianist-with-one-hand-or-two-dies-at-92/2020/08/02/c7c98f90-527d-11e6-b7de-dfe509430c39_story.html

The Ear has always found Fleisher’s playing remarkable for its technical fluency combined with the utmost clarity and exacting but flexible sense of rhythm. He always managed to make a piece of music sound just right, as it was intended to sound. His musicality always seemed innate and perfectly natural.

Sample it for yourself. The Ear thinks the performance of all five Beethoven concertos with George Szell still sets a high standard with its exciting, upbeat tempi, its exemplary balance between piano and orchestra, and its exceptional engineering.

The affable Fleisher will long remain an inspiration not only for his playing and teaching, but also for his determination to overcome personal obstacles and go on to serve music — not just the piano.

Did you ever hear Leon Fleisher play live or in recordings? What did you think?

Do you have a comment to leave about the legacy of Fleisher?


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Classical music: The Library of Congress has commissioned new music about the coronavirus pandemic. You can listen to the world premieres from this Monday, June 15, through June 26

June 13, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

The U.S. Library of Congress (LOC, exterior is below top and interior is below bottom) has started a new artistic project relevant to a public health crisis in both a historical era and the current times.

The LOC has commissioned 10 different short works, experienced in 10 different performance videos recorded at their homes — that pertain to the coronavirus pandemic and COVID-19 from American composers and performers.

It is called The Boccaccio Project after the Renaissance poet Giovanni Boccaccio (below), a 14th-century Italian writer who wrote “The Decameron,” a series of stories told by 10 people who fled from Florence, Italy, to find refuge in the countryside during the Black Plague.

The musical works will start being premiered on weekdays this coming Monday, June 15, at the Library of Congress website. The works will also be broadcast on social media including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

The website, which now has a complete list of performers and works, will soon have a complete schedule of world premieres, running on weekdays from Monday, June 15, to Friday, June 26. Then the manuscripts will be transferred to the LOC archives.

Here is a link: https://loc.gov/item/prn-20-038/

Many of the names will be unfamiliar to the general public. But an excellent story about the background and genesis of the project, including music samples, can be found on National Public Radio (NPR), which aired the story Friday morning.

Here is a link to that 7-minute story (if you listen to it rather than read it, you will hear samples of the music): https://www.npr.org/2020/06/12/875325958/a-new-library-of-congress-project-commissions-music-of-the-coronavirus-pandemic

And here are some of the participants, who are noteworthy for their ethnic and geographic diversity:

Flutronix (below) includes flutist Allison Loggins-Hull, left, and composer Nathalie Joachim.

The work by composer Luciano Chessa (below top) will be performed by violist Charlton Lee (below bottom), of the Del Sol Quartet:

And the work by Damien Sneed (below top) work will be performed by Jeremy Jordan (below bottom):

The new project strikes The Ear as a terrific and timely undertaking — the musical equivalent of the photographic project, funded and staffed by the Farm Security Administration (FSA) during The Great Depression of the 1930s. That project yielded enduring masterpieces by such eminent photographers as Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans.

But several questions arise.

How much did the project cost?

Will the general public be able to get copies of and rights to these works to perform? One assumes yes, since it is a public project funded with public money.

And will this project give rise to similar projects in other countries that are also battling the pandemic? New art – literature, films, painting, dance and so on — arising from new circumstances seems like something that is indeed worth the undertaking.

Listen to them.

What works stand out for you?

What do you think of the project?

The Ear wants to hear.


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Classical music: Legendary American cellist Lynn Harrell, who performed in Madison, is dead at 76

April 29, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

Legendary American cellist Lynn Harrell (below) died Monday at 76.

If his name sounds familiar, it could be because Harrell performed in Madison at least three times – twice with the Madison Symphony Orchestra (2007 and 2011), in concertos by Lalo and Victor Herbert, and a recital with pianist Yefim Bronfman at the Wisconsin Union Theater (1994).

No cause of death has yet been given, but various sources say it was unrelated to COVID-19 or the coronavirus pandemic.

To know more about his remarkable life and impressive career, go to his biography on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lynn_Harrell 

Colleagues were quick to praise Harrell not only as a master musician – gifted with beautiful tone and sensitive, expressive interpretations — but also as a great teacher and a congenial man who made friends easily. He also cut promotional ads for National Public Radio (NPR) urging members to donate, as he himself did.

Here is an interview he did in 2011 with host Norman Gilliland for Wisconsin Public Radio:

https://www.wpr.org/shows/lynn-harrell

Here is a link to an obituary from The Violin Channel that features quotes from many musicians who admired Harrell:

https://theviolinchannel.com/cellist-lynn-harrell-has-passed-away-died-obituary-rip/

And here are tributes from many of his colleagues for British critic Norman Lebrecht’s blog “Slipped Disc”:

https://slippedisc.com/2020/04/lynn-harrell-tributes-pour-in/

A prodigy who made his Carnegie Hall debut at 17, Harrell, who studied at Juilliard and the Curtis Institute, was renowned internationally. He later taught at the Royal Academy of Music in London.

In 1994 he played a Papal Concert at the Vatican to mark the first commemoration and remembrance of the Holocaust. His performance there of Max Bruch’s “Kol Nidrei”  for cello and orchestra can be seen and heard at the bottom in the most popular of Harrell’s many YouTube videos.

 


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Classical music: Here are many more FREE online and streamed concerts to follow and listen to as you quarantine during the COVID-19 pandemic

April 25, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

During the COVID-19 public health crisis and coronavirus pandemic, live streaming of concerts has taken off. It started with daily broadcasts of past productions by the Metropolitan Opera and the Berlin Philharmonic.

Local organizations have followed suit. They include the Madison Symphony Orchestra; the “couchertos” of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra; the twice weekly “tiny desk concerts” by the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society sent to email newsletter subscribers and other recorded audiovisual performances; and local recordings made by Rich Samuels and aired on WORT-FM 89.9.

Here is a compilation, from the British radio station Classic FM with many other FREE listings that also get updated: https://www.classicfm.com/music-news/live-streamed-classical-music-concerts-coronavirus/

Here is another listing of FREE live streams and archived performances from Minnesota Public Radio (MPR): https://www.classicalmpr.org/story/2020/03/16/free-online-classical-concerts

And below are several more that The Ear has checked out and recommends:

CARNEGIE HALL LIVE

Carnegie Hall (below), America’s premier concert venue, has started a series of live streams that include world music, jazz and of course classical music.

The format includes conversation and remarks from homes as well as first-rate live performances from the past. (You can also hear many of the concerts on radio station WQXR in New York City: https://www.wqxr.org)

This past week, The Ear heard an outstanding concert with three pianists, all of whom appeared in Madison last season: Emanuel Ax, who performed an all-Beethoven recital at the Wisconsin Union Theater, played the piano and acted as host; Orion Weiss, who performed a Mozart concerto with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra; and Shai Wosner, who gave a terrific master class and a memorable recital on the Salon Piano Series at Farley’s House of Pianos. If you missed it, it is still archived and accessible.

On this Thursday, April 30, at 1 p.m. CDT you can hear violinist Joshua Bell with pianist Jeremy Denk and cellist Steven Isserlis.

Here is a link: https://www.carnegiehall.org/Explore/Watch-and-Listen/Live-with-Carnegie-Hall?sourceCode=31887&gclid=EAIaIQobChMIsYigzumB6QIVjIbACh061Qz2EAAYASABEgJE3fD_BwE

DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON

Deutsche Grammophon, the world oldest record label, which was established in 1898, has several online series of live streams and archived concerts.

They include “Moment Musical” (Musical Moment) by Daniel Barenboim and guest artists, broadcast from the Pierre Boulez Saal (concert hall) in Berlin.

Barenboim, who started as a child prodigy pianist and ended up being a world-class conductor who once headed the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, has done solo piano and chamber music concerts with the Piano Quintet and two solo pieces by Robert Schumann; the epic Diabelli Variations by Beethoven; and an all-Chopin program of encores. You can also find individual ones on YouTube.

Along more promotional lines, DG also offers a “Best of” series that features movements and excerpts from their newer recordings by some of the best known artists – including pianists Lang Lang, Danill Trifonov, Yuja Wang, Vikingur Olafsson, Jan Lisiecki and Seong-Jin Cho; conductors Gustavo Dudamel, Yannick Nézet-Séguin and Andris Nelsons; opera singers Anna Netrebko and Elina Garanca.

Here is a link to DG’s homepage from where you can get to the various series: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC34DbNyD_0t8tnOc5V38Big

MILWAUKEE SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA

Closer to home, every Friday you can listen to weekly concerts by the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra called “Musical Journeys.”

Performers include the MSO’s new music director Ken-David Masur as well as guest conductors like Jeffrey Kahane and the past conductor Edo de Waart.

You can hear the past five episodes, and join new ones. You can also hear past concerts by the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra (below) on Wisconsin Public Radio. Broadcast time is Sunday at 2 p.m.

Here is a link to Musical Journeys: https://www.mso.org/about/music/mso-musical-journeys-5/

VIOLINIST DANIEL HOPE AT HOME

British violinist Daniel Hope – who has performed with the Madison Symphony Orchestra — has been streaming chamber music concerts from the living room of his home in Berlin.

A prolific concert artist and 25 recordings and four Grammy Award nominations to his credit, Hope (below) has many invited guests and offers a wide range of repertoire.

Here is a link with past episodes. You can also click in upcoming episodes: https://www.arte.tv/en/videos/RC-019356/hope-home/

Are there other sites and streamed performances that you recommend?

Please leave the name and a link in the Comment section.

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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Classical music: NPR explores musical responses to epidemics and pandemics from The Black Plague through HIV-AIDS and COVID-19. Do you know of any more?

April 15, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

For many centuries, artists of all kinds have responded to major social catastrophes or crises. (Below is “The Dance of Death” from the Wellcome Library in London).

Musicians and composers are among them.

Many musicians are now performing and then live streaming music in their homes because of the need for self-isolation and quarantining or social distancing.

But here we are talking about composers who tried to translate the tragedy of sickness into sound.

So it is with the coronavirus and COVID-19.

But the writer puts in it in a context that transforms it into a kind of tradition.

Tom Huizenga, who writes for the “Deceptive Cadence” blog of NPR (National Public Radio), also provides audio samples of the work he is discussing.

He starts with The Black Plague of the 14th century and British composer John Cooke (below), who wrote a hymn to the Virgin Mary.

He offers an example of how Johann Sebastian Bach (below), who suffered his own tragedies, responded to a later plague in France in one of his early cantatas.

The story covers the HIV-AIDS pandemic in the 1980s and how both the disease and the government’s slow response to it inspired a symphony by the American composer John Corigliano (below).

The survey concludes with a contemporary American composer, Lisa Bielawa (below), who is in the process of composing a choral work that responds to the coronavirus pandemic.

Here is a link to the NPR story, which you can read and or else spend seven minutes listening to, along with the audio excerpts of the works that have been discussed.

Here is a link: https://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2020/04/13/827990753/when-pandemics-arise-composers-carry-on

What do you think of the story?

Do you know of other composers or musical works that responded to epidemics, pandemics and other public health crises?

The Ear wants to hear.


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Classical music: The Virtual Bach Around the Clock 2020 festival ends today. Here’s how to catch up on the 10 days of making Baroque music

April 7, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

If you recall, this year’s 12-hour Bach Around the Clock festival – a platform for students, amateurs and professional musicians to celebrate the birthday of Johann Sebastian Bach (below) — was scheduled to take place at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church on Saturday, March 28.

Faced with cancellation of the annual free event because of the public health dangers posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the need for social distancing, the organizers decided to try going virtual and hold the festival online by asking performers to send in short videos made at home.

And it worked.

“From what we have heard, it has been a very rewarding experience for both the performers who sent in videos and for the people who watched and listened to them,” says violist and BATC artistic director Marika Fischer Hoyt (below).

The cost of going virtual was not great, but it took lot of time and hard work, admits Fischer Hoyt, who says she spent between 7 and 10 hours a day to post each day’s Bach video.

It was hard especially at the beginning, she notes, when she had to learn how to use software programs, such as iMovie, to make and then upload and post the videos.

She didn’t just organize the online festival. She also performed and provided gracious introductions to the program for each day.

Lately, the videos average about 20 minutes – your Daily Minimum Requirement of Bach, as the witty Wisconsin Public Radio host Anders Yocom would say. But they were longer at the beginning when more videos were sent in. Towards the end, the festival even used some photos and audio recordings from past years to round out programs.

But the reach of the virtual festival, intended to be local, was wider than Fischer Hoyt had expected. Musicians replied and participated from Florida, Minnesota and – as you can hear today – from Costa Rica.

All the effort worked.

In one of the major victories against all the coronavirus cancellations and postponements in the Madison music scene, the Virtual Bach Around the Clock 2020 brought the public beautiful Baroque music by voices, strings, keyboards and winds in cantatas, partitas, preludes and fugues, sonatas and suites.

Listening to just one a day would be a good way to spread out and savor the joy of the festival for 10 days while you self-isolate and shelter in place at home.

You can find the videos on YouTube. In the search bar, just type in Virtual Bach Around the Clock 2020, Madison, Wisconsin.

But a much easier and more organized way can be found here on the festival’s home website, which lists the videos in chronological order and links to them: https://bachclock.com/audience-listening-viewing

Try listening to them and tell us what you think about the individual videos and performances — do you have a favorite? — and about mounting the virtual festival.

And, if you like, leave a note of thanks in the Comment section.

The Ear wants to hear.

Here is Day 5:

 


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Classical music: The coronavirus forces the cancellation of Bach Around the Clock plus concerts by pianist Drew Petersen and violinist Gil Shaham. Other groups will wait and see. Read local and national overviews

March 13, 2020
2 Comments

PLEASE HELP THE EAR. IF YOU LIKE A CERTAIN BLOG POST, SPREAD THE WORD. FORWARD A LINK TO IT OR, SHARE IT or TAG IT (not just “Like” it) ON FACEBOOK. Performers can use the extra exposure to draw potential audience members to an event. And you might even attract new readers and subscribers to the blog.

By Jacob Stockinger

The pandemic of the coronavirus (below, from by the federal Centers for Disease Control) has now put Wisconsin into a public health emergency, as declared Thursday morning by Gov. Tony Evers, and continues to take its toll on the local art scene – and does so very quickly.

Since yesterday, the threat posed by the coronavirus and COVID-19 has forced the cancellation of three more major musical events:

The biggest is the cancellation of Bach Around the Clock 2020 on Saturday, March 28.

BATC is the FREE annual event celebrating the birthday of Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750). It runs for 12 hours, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., and offers dozens of performances by student, amateur and professional musicians.

A Saturday night concert and Sunday afternoon master class by up-and-coming pianist Drew Petersen (below)  — for the Salon Piano Series at Farley’s House of Pianos– has been cancelled and postponed until the summer.

And the March 28 recital by violinist Gil Shaham (below) and pianist Akira Eguchi at the Wisconsin Union Theater has been cancelled

Some other major groups are taking a wait-and-see approach about cancelling events. They include: the Madison Opera, the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

You can read more about them, and about other local arts events, including pop music as well as museum openings and exhibitions, in a comprehensive overview by Michael Muckian in Isthmus: https://isthmus.com/news/news/coronavirus-impacts-arts-events/

And here is an excellent story from National Public Radio (NPR) about the national context of how the Coronavirus is impacting the arts across the U.S. https://www.npr.org/2020/03/12/814992409/in-the-age-of-covid-19-event-cancellations-precipitate-a-large-economic-impact

DETAILS ABOUT POSTPONEMENTS AND REFUNDS

Here is the announcement from BATC artistic director Marika Fischer Hoyt (below):

“Dear friends and colleagues,

“We on the BATC board have been carefully monitoring this rapidly-developing situation:  the exponentially increasing number of cases being diagnosed in the U.S., the recommendations from the medical community, and responses from other organizations large and small.

“After careful consideration, we have decided, regretfully, that the most responsible course of action is to cancel the BATC festival this March.

“We on the board are so grateful to the performers, hosts and donors, who have invested time, talent and resources in this year’s festival. Our hope is to reschedule for a date in the fall. Stand by for more information on that soon.

“But for now, we ask for your understanding.

“I hope, even though we can’t celebrate his music together on the March 28, that we will all find ways to enjoy Bach’s music this month.”

For more information, go to: https://bachclock.com and facebook.com/batcmadison

Here are details about the Drew Petersen cancellations:

“Sadly, we are postponing both the Drew Petersen concert on March 14 and his master class on March 15 until the summer.

“New dates for the concert and master class are yet to be determined. We will announce them via email, the Salon Piano Series website and on social media for the Salon Piano Series.

“We know you’ll understand that our concern for your health and well-being made this decision necessary.

“You may request a refund or keep your ticket for the concert in the summer. Everyone who bought a ticket will have one week after the announcement of the new concert date to request a refund.

“If you would like a refund immediately, please follow the instructions below. Please allow several business days for refunds to be processed.

Paper Tickets: If you have a paper ticket, please take a photo of your ticket and email the photo to cristofori@salonpianoseries.org

explaining that you would like a refund.

Online Tickets: “If the ticket is not part of a season ticket, call Brown Paper Tickets at 1-800-838-3006.

If your ticket is part of a season ticket, contact Salon Piano Series at 608-271-2626. Refunds for season ticket holders will be issued through Salon Piano Series by check, not through Brown Paper Tickets.

Tickets Ordered by Phone

If you purchased a ticket by phone, contact Salon Piano Series at 608 271-2626 to request a refund.


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Classical music: Happy New Year! The annual New Year’s Day concert in Vienna, popular around the world, airs on Wisconsin public radio and TV this morning and tonight

January 1, 2020
3 Comments

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ALERT 1: What piece of music do you like most to celebrate the New Year? Leave the name and a YouTube link, if possible, in the Comment section.

By Jacob Stockinger

For many music fans, today just wouldn’t be New Year’s Day without the annual concert (below) by the Vienna Philharmonic with a famous guest conductor in Vienna, Austria, that is broadcast nationwide both on radio and television by PBS and NPR. (The concert also goes out to more than 90 countries around the world.)

In Wisconsin, the first hearing comes this morning from 10 a.m. to noon CST on Wisconsin Public Radio.

Then tonight from 8 to 9:30 CST, Wisconsin Public Television – recently rebranded as PBS Wisconsin – will feature a longer version with host Hugh Bonneville (below) of “Downton Abbey” and with choreographed dance interpretations by the Vienna State Ballet that take place in various historical sites in Vienna.

The broadcast will be available to stream tomorrow, Thursday, Jan. 2, on pbs.org/gperf and the PBS Video app.

Here is an overview with a biography of the critically acclaimed, Grammy-winning conductor Andris Nelsons (below), along with some background about the various orchestras he directs – including the Boston Symphony — and the spectacular floral arrangements in the Golden Hall:

https://www.wienerphilharmoniker.at/new-years-concert/new-years-concert-main

And here is a playlist of the waltzes, polkas and marches by the Strauss family and many other composers, including Beethoven since 2020 is the Beethoven Year and will celebrate the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth:

https://www.wienerphilharmoniker.at/concerts/concert-detail/event-id/10034

As always, the performance will conclude with the Radetzky March (heard in the YouTube video at the bottom) with the audience clapping along.

If you are a fan of the event, you might also be pleased to learn the Sony Classical will again be releasing the live recording (below) and DVD very shortly. Every year Sony rushes to get it out and on the market – something made easier, one suspects, by streaming.

 


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