Vienna’s New Year concert tradition recreated with humour at Saffron Hall

PUBLISHED: 14:18 06 January 2020 | UPDATED: 15:02 06 January 2020

BBC Concert Orchestra. Photo: CONTRIBUTED.

BBC Concert Orchestra. Photo: CONTRIBUTED.


Vienna’s annual New Year’s concert is so famous around the world that tickets are given through a lottery system a year in advance, with best seats costing over a thousand Euros. Luckily, the Viennese tradition was recreated by the BBC Concert Orchestra at Saffron Hall on Saturday, January 4.

Conductor Bramwell Tovey. Photo: CONTRIBUTED.Conductor Bramwell Tovey. Photo: CONTRIBUTED.

The skills of the orchestra were only surpassed by the feeling the audience took home.

From the opening performance of Johann Strauss' Overture to Die Fledermaus, the atmosphere was already so relaxed that even the conductor was dancing a bit. The grandiose strings were enhanced by the percussion at the very end of the piece, followed by the first words from conductor Bramwell Tovey:

"I am thrilled to be the orchestra conductor tonight as a lot of this orchestra have played in this venue before but it is my first time. I hope you are really proud of it. I lived for several years in Great Bardfield. Usually this concert is done on New Year's Day. This is meant to be a light-hearted night."

Mr Tovey then introduced the second piece, Mozart's first movement of Eine kleine Nachtmusik (A little night music), by speaking about the composer and his work: "Viola was Mozart's favourite instrument… no one is perfect.

Martin James Bartlett. Photo: Paul Marc MitchellMartin James Bartlett. Photo: Paul Marc Mitchell

"He wrote it at 14. It's the sort of piece that is played at wedding receptions, so some of you will have heard it several times."

The orchestra was joined by pianist Martin Bartlett, the 2014 BBC Young Musician winner, for Rachmaninov's Rhapsody. Inspired from Paganini's 24th Caprice, it has a very famous theme, also heard in this performance.

The fourth performance of the night brought the Polish spirit from 1943 right to Saffron Hall, with what BBC considers one of 10 "neglected works that need to be in an orchestra's repertoire". The beautiful slow part of Bacewicz's Overture contrasted with what was to follow - the first movement of Mozart's Symphony No. 25, K. 183.

The conductor said: "This is a piece by 17-year-old Mozart. Mozart wrote two symphonies in G minor. The other one is the more famous one. This was made famous by being the introductory piece of the film Amadeus. We have four French horns and this is very unusual for the 1770s. It's got a whole range of emotions.

The conductor warned the public about the similarity between the start and the end of Perpetuum Mobile Op. 257 by Johann Strauss II: "What happens is, you think, if I don't clap, they will play it all again."

The Alpine Rose Op. 127 by Eduard Strauss was also given a humourous line: "The Alpine Rose is the national flower of Switzerland so this mazurka is dedicated to that. And I see a little bit of recognition in literally no one's eyes," Tovey said.

During the Pizzicato Polka by Strauss II, even the violinists were laughing at the conductor's dances, movements and gestures.

An interesting instrument was used during the same composer's Champagne Polka, designed to imitate the sound of champagne popping. A man dressed as a waiter brought a bottle of bubbly, which the conductor opened simultaneously with the instrument popping. Mr Tovey then downed one glass while facing the public, another facing the orchestra, and distributed some to a few string players.

The evening ended on some wonderful notes. Strauss II's Blue Danube, played on New Year's Day in Vienna, was followed by two encores, offered, according to the conductor, due to Saffron Walden being a "fantastic town" and having a wonderful "international hall".

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