Friday, December 31, 2010

On your marks, get set...

...And they're off! It's a race to the finish between Dudamel with the Berlin Phil on German TV's ARD and Thielemann with the Dresden Staatskapelle on ZDF for the big New Year's Eve musical celebration! Who will win the race for the hearts and minds of the German TV viewers tonight?... Norman Lebrecht has more on this extraordinary contest here.

Can you imagine such a thing taking place on these mild, grey shores? Just picture the competition: say, Jurowski and the LPO on ITV versus Petrenko and the RLPO on Channel 4, and maybe even one of the BBC's own orchestras kicking in with a fresh Straussy confection under Belohlavek on BBC2, the broadcasters falling over themselves to pay most to snaffle the best Blue Danube in the land. (Oh look -- there goes another of those flying pigs -- they're quite common at this time of year...)

We'll have the Vienna Philharmonic concert live from the Musikverein on New Year's Day, as everyone else does -- it's broadcast all over the world and it's one of the few seasonal traditions I really love. In Vienna, if you can't get into the Musikverein, you can join the happy throng on the Rathausplatz for the big screen showing. Nowhere else in the world does new year like Vienna. The rest of us can access the concert on radio and TV almost everywhere.

My late father, who was positively addicted to the old Vienna New Year performances under Willi Boskovsky (the VP's concertmaster for many years), always used to comment that the Viennese players didn't need a conductor at all - they could probably play this repertoire perfectly in their sleep. But since Boskovsky's demise in 1991, the maestroship has been taken by a wide range of different conductors, and the results have been demonstrably different. I loved last year's, with Georges Pretre, who brought the music a deliciously light touch and a gorgeous old-world sensibility.

This year the concert is to be conducted by Franz Welser-Most, whom I last saw in Lucerne a few months back with the Cleveland Orchestra. In certain repertoire he's Frankly Better Than Some these days, having had ample time to grow since his unfortunate stint in London some 20 years back. He got it in the neck then partly, I reckon, for being too young (it's odd to think that nowadays, the younger a conductor is when awarded a top job, the better). FWM admittedly wasn't entirely the best in the business back then -- I don't remember his concerts being any too inspiring -- but still he had a rougher run from the press than he deserved and his continuing artistic trajectory has served to prove this. Different artists develop at different rates: while Petrenko and Nelsons in their twenties can compete at the very highest level, this isn't always the case with other maestri, who need time to mature. Think of them as different types of fine wine... I have it on good authority that Johann Strauss is one of the composers at which FWM is finest, along with Bruckner, so it'll be intriguing to see him in action.

One little point he needs to address, depending on the nature of the Musikverein podium: over in Lucerne, he had a peculiar way of leaning back against the wooden bar that encircled his post at roughly hip height. His tailcoat bunched up against it and developed a little buttocks-shaped overhang, which wasn't necessarily what one wanted to look at in the middle of Ein Heldenleben. Dear Franz, if Vienna's podium is a similar design, please watch out for this -- you don't want that image to be the abiding one left by the vast international broadcast you will be undertaking tomorrow.

Have fun, folks! Have as much fun as you can. Then fasten your seatbelts. This new decade may bring us a bumpy ride and we're going to need all the quick thinking, good humour and originality we can muster.