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One of the most prestigious orchestras in the world has become famous for its starring role at its most popular musical event – the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra's New Year's Concert.
The programme varies only slightly from year to year, and is mostly selected from the works of the Strauss dynasty.
The orchestra's president and first violin Clemens Hellberg said:
"It is a very Viennese music, a Viennese expression and explanation of life. Our orchestra is so closely connected with this kind of music because most of us grew up with it. What we are looking for is a concert, or a kind of music, which is very popular, but on the other hand is of the highest artistic level because the works of the Strauss dynasty are masterpieces."
A unique feature of this orchestra, which is based at the Musikverein concert hall, is that it has no principal conductor – guest conductors are hired for each concert. For the New Year's Concert the guest was France's Georges Prêtre. The orchestra is a private self-governing body, though its members are also full-time musicians at the Vienna State Opera.
Despite the strongly central European character of this orchestra, some of its members come from very far away. They had to adapt, also musically. Like principal viola Tobias Lea, who comes from Australia:
"The way I play now is a truly Viennese way. What's left of my Australianism is the freedom which comes from having grown up in the sun, on the beach, and nine months a year with bare feet," he said.
In many ways, Vienna has been a city of music for centuries.
"Music always had a specific importance for the Habsburg family as well as for the inhabitants. If I'm walking through the city I'm well aware that Mozart went this way, or that Beethoven saw this palace when it was constructed, that Haydn was here, and Brahms. Politics and economics dictate everything. I'm convinced the world would be a better place if it would listen more to the message of the arts," added Hellsberg.
Few would argue Beethoven's Ninth Symphony does nothing to brighten our world and make it more majestic, though on New Year's Day Johann Strauss is quite perfect, and it gets the Viennese up and twirling.
© Photo: Terry