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The next New Year’s Day conductor in Vienna is….

… announced tonight. It’s…

barenboim-emiMeanwhile, voices are being raised in Vienna to suggest the concert’s abolition in view of its intense links with the Nazi era. More here. It will be interesting to hear what Daniel Barenboim has to say on the subject.


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  1. Robert Fitzpatrick says:

    OMG. Insh’allah. There might be hope afterall.

  2. Michael Endres says:

    Norman,I don’t know where you got the idea that anybody demands the abolition of the New Years concert.
    In this article even the most staunch critic is clearly against this idea,which is utterly crazy.
    Where is the source for that claim ?
    Is this a Fatwa now ? “Keep it real ! ” ( Ali G ).

  3. Michael Endres says:

    The headline is not based on anything else than the fact that the journalist who writes this article ASKS a member of The Green party member Walser –one of the staunchest critics in this affair– whether he would recommend to to abolish the event :
    “,Nein, sagt der Abgeordnete Walser, „die Philharmoniker sind eine zentrale kulturpolitische Einrichtung, deren Arbeit natürlich unangetastet bleiben muss.”
    ” No, says the member of parliament Walser,” the Philharmonic is a central cultural institution,whose work has to remain naturally untouched.”
    The journalist himself doesn’t advocate the abolition anywhere in this article. It is a rhetorical question to produce a catchy headline .So nobody “demands” the abolition here.

  4. What Daniel Barenboim has to say on the subject can partially be read here.
    He is against any quota and considers himself a “cultural nationalist”. (spoken within the context in the linked interview)
    Certainly DB has an opinion that has weight and is full of wisdom, unlike so much of the stuff we have to read here…

    The fact that DB took over the Staatskapelle Berlin in 1992, an orchestra at least as involved with the Nazi regime as the Vienna Phil by itself, should put things in perspective.

    This blog of Mr. Lebrecht is so obviously engaging in a cultural mud slinging contest, Vienna Phil, Berlin Phil, Bayreuth being favorite targets.

    There is an eery absence of British topics in this blog, is there nothing to talk about in the homeland of Elgar and Britten?

    • Mr MT: Please read Slipped Disc more attentively. There is plenty about the UK, some say far too much. NL

      • There is indeed plenty of interesting music news here from the UK and indeed around the world, but while there seems to be a “Nazi! Nazi!! Nazi!!!” thread here every other day, I do not recall the last time I saw a thread here along the lines of “While Elgar penned his sentimental melodies, the British Empire systematically starved tens of millions of Indians to death so that Britannia could rule the waves”.
        While I understand the Nazi thing still holds a sinister fascination for a lot of people, there is a bit more history out there than 1933-45, and in most countries, most of that history is still largely unprocessed and swept under the rug.

        • According to “World History : 50 Key Milestones you really need to know ” (a most welcome gift i received last year) people often complain that in school history lessons they were taught just a few topics- the Romans,the Tudors, the Nazis-and how thay have no idea at all about what happened in between.

  5. Michael Endres says:

    PS Peter Poltun ,Director of the Archiv of the Vienna Staatsoper states in a letter commenting on this article ( you find it below the article ,it is all in capital letters ) that all the musicologists and researchers had full access to the complete archive of the Wiener Staatsoper all the time. There are no secret archives as it is claimed by some.
    And he also states that the president of the Vienna Philharmonic ,Clemens Hellsberg was awarded in June 2012 the Thorberg award by the Israelitische Kultusgemeinde ( Vienna Israelite Community ) in Vienna for his efforts regarding uncovering the connections of the VPO during the NAZI era.
    Why on earth would the Israelitische Kultusgemeinde award Hellsberg ? Because he is hiding and hindering efforts to come to terms with the gruelling past ? And the Green Party in Austria’s idea of culture,let’s not get into that….
    It reminds of their comrades in Germany whose idea of a cultural event is limited to street music festivals,with -you bet-PC correct “world music” ( what the hell is that anyway ? ) .
    I am happy to translate Mr. Poltun’s letter to my best abilities if desired.

    • Michael – Please do supply a translation. PP is an old friend of mine but sadly inaccessible by mod comms. best, Norman

      • Michael Endres says:

        Here is a reasonably accurate translation of Peter Poltun’s letter.

        The time has come that those repeated false claims regarding the Historical archive of The VPO are being stopped.They are simply untrue.Several international musicologists ,historians and myself have complete access since decades to all the documents in the VPO’s archive.Included in this are historians who have researched about the NS era and antisemitsm. There is no ” secret archive ” where potentially secret documents about the orchestra’s history during the NS time are lying ” hidden or secret”. Dr Clemens Hellsberg has done more than any other member of this orchestra to write about the terrible time within the orchestra’s history in an open ,honest and complete way.In June 2012 he was honoured by the Israelische Kultusgemeinde exactly for his groundbreaking clearing up research regarding this topic with the Thorberg award ( medal ),it was the first time in the history of this community that a member of the orchestra has been honoured.I believe this award speaks volumes about Hellsberg’s moral strength and makes it superflous to keep going on mentioning an allegedly closed VPO archive.
        Peter Poltun
        Director of the Vienna State Opera

    • There is little to be added by a full translation of this comment to what Michael Endres has already noted, except perhaps that the ‘secret section’ Poltun refers to would be (so he claims others of falsely alleging) a secret section that hides compromising documents from the Nazi era. Poltun also adds that those who say access to the archive is deliberately hindered should cease making this false claim. His evidence for this, beyond simply asserting that it is untrue, is that the Israelitische Kultusgemeinde would not have awarded Hellsberg the Marietta and Friedrich Torberg medal (note Torberg not Thorberg, as printed in a number of places, including Poltun’s comment) were he less than honest and engaged about confronting the orchestra’s past. The Torberg medal is awarded specifically to public figures who confront anti-Semitism and national socialism, as well as stand up for democratic values in Austria.

      I must say I find this a disappointing comment unworthy of Poltun’s position. He does not name those he says have made false allegations and one claim he attributes to them (the existence of a ‘Geheimabteilung’, or secret section) is his own invention. He makes it sound almost like the Vatican archives. I know, individually, all of the small handful of people who have tried to work at the archive on NS-related matters over the past few years and none of us has ever suggested such a ridiculous thing.

      A few words here about how access to the archive works may be in order. As with many other Austrian archives of its size (small) and status (i.e. private), access begins with a research inquiry. One cannot simply show up at the archive and browse through a catalogue. This inquiry is directed to Silvia Kargl, who is responsible for the running of the archive, and – for anything pre-1930 – the permission which Clemens Hellsberg grants is merely a formality (provided the topic lies outside his own research interests). A scholar I know who did research there some years ago on Haydn sources found the archive most cooperative, and just as much so when he found himself looking in a place where he was not initially directed; an American scholar (David Brodbeck) has also reported no difficulties working on late-19th-century Vienna from a political angle. It can also happened that one’s initial inquiry comes to a dead end – abgrenzbarer Bestand or some such reason – but at most archives one might be able to pursue certain lines further. (For many researchers not finding something easily in a Viennese archives is a sure sign that there is something of worth to be discovered.) Hellsberg has previously stated that this creates too much work for Kargl and can lead to time delays for other researchers. In my experience this is not the case at all: at another Viennese archive of similar inventory and organization to the Philharmoniker’s, I have received advice on where something is less likely to be found and the longest of these consultations, involving a fairly complex matter, lasted around fifteen minutes and in the end I did find what I was looking for (it is, after all, researchers who research). It is under this principle that Hellsberg can legitimately describe his access policy – no different to many Viennese archives with partial or no searchable catalogue of holdings – as unrestricted. That is unless one has no reason to doubt the credibility of what one is told by archival staff.

      The archive of the Vienna Philharmonic is the only archive where I have doubted the credibility of reasons given to me, reasons which delayed certain enquiries I had hoped to pursue in the archive for such length that I gave up. This mostly included privacy, and on this matter I was able to discern that cover was extended beyond that provided by the Viennese law on archives (Wiener Archivgesetz) – needlessly so, it may be argued, as the Archivgesetz is plenty tough enough on data protection. One hears excuses and explanations for this where it sounds as if privacy is being invoked not so much to protect individuals as the archive itself. When I pointed this out my emails went unanswered. The excuses only got more evasive after this and refusal of access was given only over the phone, never in writing. Even then this was – very carefully – a refusal in all but name; for instance I was told by Hellsberg, and not entirely correctly, that the information I was looking for had already been published in his book (Demokratie der Könige. Die Geschichte der Wiener Philharmoniker). I am not the only person to make such claims recently. It took Fritz Trümpi, who has recently published his PhD dissertation as a book (Politisierte Orchester: Die Wiener Philharmoniker und das Berliner Philharmonische Orchester im Nationalsozialismus), well over a year to be granted access to internal committee minutes essential for his research. Bernadette Mayrhofer, who has also researched the orchestra’s role during the Nazi era, has been told the same things by Hellsberg over the phone as I was. These two were eventually granted access to the archive when complaints made by their advisor, the historian Oliver Rathkolb, were reported in the press. Since then, Hellsberg’s line has been that access to the archive has been unrestricted since Rathkolb’s complaint (c. 2008), but for myself this has not been the case. The situation is all the more unusual as Hellsberg’s two excuses for refusal sound almost contradictory: either he is too busy and the archive is understaffed and he doesn’t have the resources to deal with my inquiry, or what I am looking for does not exist (explained away again with reference to Demokratie der Könige). The second excuse implies that Hellsberg has phenomenal powers of memory, over and above those of us who spend our working lives in archives, and the first something to the contrary. Both excuses dismiss what have been known to turn up frequently in Viennese archives: unknown knowns and unknown unknowns, to use the Rumsfeldian terminology.

      I work independently from Fritz Trümpi and Bernadette Mayrhofer, and have limited contact with Oliver Rathkolb. To say that we are all lying, as Peter Poltun does, is to allege an improbable conspiracy. That access is restricted and Hellsberg’s book less than comprehensive on 1938-45 has been demonstrated this last week by the revelation that having neglected to commemorate their murdered Jewish members, the orchestra remembered in 1966 that the former Nazi-Gauleiter of Vienna and convicted war criminal Baldur von Schirach was due to be released from Spandau, without remorse for his crimes, as his son Richard documents (Der Schatten meines Vaters), and duly dispatched a representative with a copy of the Ring of Honour the orchestra awarded to Schirach in 1942.

      I have been informed today that Hellsberg is currently resuming his work on the orchestra’s history from 1938-45, presumably for dissemination beyond the updated website. That he also intends to write more books following his retirement from the orchestra in three years is no secret. The most harmless explanation for ongoing problems with access is that there are certain revelations he wishes to make himself, either out of scholarly vanity or to frame them as he sees fits. I can think of a few things he wouldn’t have wanted to publish in 1992, for several reasons beginning with his own career; the irony is that it is not the release of these material but their drawn-out suppression that is doing the orchestra the most damage.

      • Thank you for this very interesting report. I find that the chapter in Hellberg’s Democracy of Kings about the orchestra during the Third Reich has a clearly rationalizing tone. So I agree with your reasoning that he is blocking the archive so that he can present this history from his own perspectives.

  6. … I’ll cede at least one inch…. If they abolish anything, it should be the Radetzky March as an encore, with the crowd clapping along. That always strikes me as really really NAZI :)

    • I totally agree about the clapping along with the Radetzky March and its implications. I don’t even stand up during the Hallelujah Chorus — another musically distracting tradition. But before we go about banning the New Year concerts (which contain almost exclusively music from well before the pre-Nazi era) perhaps closer scrutiny should be given to Nazi-era, Nazi-allowed works, such as Orff’s Carmina Burana.

      • Carmina Burana was very unfavorably received by official Nazi party criticism. They objected to the “irregular rhythms” which they called, and I quote, “Bavarian nigger music”, the depictions of “shameless pleasures” in the music and the onstage action (as the piece was originally staged), and also that many of the texts are in Latin, therefore not really “folk art”.
        So it was not the kind of piece that the Nazis wanted to see and hear at all. But it proved so popular, or reasons which have absolutely nothing to do with the Nazis, and for the same reasons that the piece still is very popular, that they had to allow it.

  7. Petros Linardos says:

    There is a lot to appreciate in Barenboim, both as a pianist and as a conductor. And yet I cannot understand why his talent would be a good fit for the New Year’s Day concert. Show business as usual?

  8. D. Wilson says:

    How foolish to promote the idea that a major tradition in Vienna be abolished, for political reasons related to Nazism. However, the Vienna Philharmonic is one of the few, if only, prominent institutions in Europe that is quite blatantly discriminatory in who it selects for its employees (ie, musicians), in terms of their race, ethnicity and gender. But political correctness has become so absurdly overdone — so excessively liberal — in this day and age, that I do have mixed emotions about whether the Vienna Philharmonic should be roundly chastised for philosophical reasons.

    As to one other aspect of the tradition of classical music being performed before an international audience on New Year’s Day that I wouldn’t mind seeing upended. Although the Musikverein is beautiful and historic, there’s at least one alternative spot in the world where the sound of an orchestra is better, more pleasing to the ear. A concert hall where sound is clearer, bass is deeper, and resonance is more intrinsic. So listening to symphonic music, including on broadcasts, is more of a pleasure. But the tradition that originated in Vienna, which is a creation and New Year’s “baby” of that glorious city, really rules all other options, and so I’m being merely tongue-in-cheek.

  9. Christopher Oakmount says:

    Are you sure there is nothing more evil in the world than the new year’s concert and the VPO?
    I am sure there must be other worthy things that might be abolished first.

  10. An overview of the history of the New Years Concerts might be useful. (I wrote most of this last year for the AMS-List and provide here an adapted version.) For the first 21 years of the post war Austrian Republic (1955-79) the concerts were led by the Philharmonic’s concert master, Willi Brodsky. He sometimes even led as a _Stehgeiger_, which is perhaps the most authentic way to do Strauss Waltzes.

    Under Brodsky’s leadership, the concerts had a very authentic character, but by the mid 80s they had developed an enormous international following, eventually reaching an audience of about 50 million in 72 countries. (Its now 81 countries.) The royalties became a windfall for the musicians. After Brodsky retired in 1979, Lorin Maazel conducted the next six concerts. The musicians then voted to rotate star conductors to further increase the marketability of the concerts – even though many of the conductors did not have an understanding of the style that even remotely approached Brodsky’s. In some of the performances since then, one can even see that the orchestra often all but ignores the conductors (though of course the orchestra denies this.)

    With such a large international audience, the concerts also gradually became something like an act of state for the Austrian Republic . The light heartedness and _Gelassenheit_ (an untranslatable German word that means something like relaxed ease) that should characterize the waltzes, was at least partially lost as the concerts came to be viewed as a money-making appartus.

    This Youtube video of the Philharmonic performing the “Spanish March” under Brodsky in 1963 shows what the authentic style was like:

    Note the poor intonation, the imprecision of Austrian _Gelassenheit_, the silliness of the castanet player putting on a Spanish costume, and the light-hearted sense of entertainment. Note also how the rhythmic nuances and elegant phrasing that characterizes the Viennese style were much more apparent back then One can see that what we hear today, and which is proclaimed as being authentic, is quite different. Some of the old style remains, but some has been lost.

    The history of the Philharmonic’s New Years Concerts might be divided into five periods:

    1. 1939-45. Austria had become part of Germany through the Anschluss. To weaken any sense of Austrian nationalism, the National Socialists planned to reduce Vienna to provincial status and make Hitler’s hometown, Linz, the new cultural capitol of the region. During this era, expressions of Austrian cultural nationalism through the Vienna Philharmonic were strongly suppressed – and perhaps even dangerous. Clemens Krauss conducted all of the concerts during this era (1939, 1941-45.) The series was initiated to bring ease to the city during the time war. (I’m not at all certain, but I don’t think there was a concert in 1940. Perhaps someone can let us know.) Krauss had become Director of the Vienna State Opera in 1929, and Music Director of the Vienna Philharmonic in 1930. He developed close relations with the Nazi Party. In 1935, Krauss replaced Erich Kleiber as conductor of the Berlin State Opera after Kleiber resigned in protest against National Socialism. Krauss’s close association with the National Socialists probably helps explain, at least in part, why he led all (or all but one) of the concerts during this period. Through associations with Krauss and the initation of the New Years Concert as part of apropgranda apparatus, some in Austria still associate the event as stemming from a Nazi past, even if the concerts now have an entirely different character and purpose.

    2. 1945-55. Austria as an allied protectorate. This era is interesting because efforts were made to reestablish Austria’s autonomous political and cultural identity. In 1946 and 1947 the concerts were led by Joseph Krips who was also Viennese, but in 1938 he had to flee the country because his father was Jewish. His return to conduct the New Years concerts illustrates the changes that the Allies were trying to establish – a conductor with a Jewish heritage replacing a Nazi collaborator. It is thus interesting that from 1948-54 Clemens Krauss once again conducted the concerts, in spite of his strong associations with the National Socialists. This was another manifestation of the lax de-Nazification process that surrounded the Vienna Philhamronic.

    3. 1955-79. The Willi Boskovsky era. As mentioned, he was a concert master of the orchestra and was already known for his work as a Stehgeiger who led Strauss waltzes. My sense is not that he was appointed for reasons of cultural nationalism or political affiliation. It was more that these were “Sonderkonzerten” oriented around “Unterhaltungsmusik.” The occasion was seen as informal and festive, and so it was thought appropriate that a concertmaster who specialized in waltzes could lead them. By the end of Boskovsky’s tenure the concerts had begun to reach large international audiences. They became an important source of income for the musicians, and an important tool for promoting Austria and its tourism. The marketing apparatus surrounding the concerts eventually evolved toward promoting them as something deeply and uniquely Austrian.

    4. 1980-86. The Maazel years. He was selected as a replacement for Boskovsky, even though he did not have a particular connection to Viennese culture – nothing remotely similar to Krauss, Krips, and Boskovsky. Perhaps it’s worth mentioning that Mr. Maazel is also Jewish. He had worked for years in the German-speaking world and was well-known and respected. The issue seemed to be to find a famous conductor who would serve as a good marketing image for the recordings. Concerns about Austrian cultural authenticity and ethnicity were secondary.

    5. 1987 to the present. The era of rotating conductors. The concerts had begun to reach about 50 million viewers in 81 countries, and had become a considerable source of income for the musicians. They voted to rotate conductors because it would allow them to market the recordings of each year’s concert as a completely new product. Concerns about cultural authenticity were largely abandoned. And even the racial image was varied with conductors like Seiji Ozawa who led the concert once and Zubin Mehta four times.

    We thus see that there were radical variations in issues regarding Austrian cultural identity that ranged from its strong suppression to its promotion as something inherent and uniquely Austrian to the later period that is more cosmipolitan, at least in terms of conductors. We also see that this was shaped by the extreme circumstance of Austria literally having to reinvent itself as a nation. These issues were part of a very complex Gestalt that created the orchestra’s racial ideologies – though the locus of the history is probably centered more in 19th century, Romantic cultural nationalism than in the war and post-war eras.

    • I put my post up about the history of the New Years Concert knowing that my comments will likely be intentionally misappropriated and used for the sorts of reactions that have come to characterize these discussions here on SD. Perhaps one value they have is that discerning readers can see actual examples of the problems that still exist in Germany and Austria when dealing with their history. On one hand, Germans and Austrians face mean-spirited stereo-typing that causes them genuine harm and which they rightfully resent. And on the other, the issues of the Second World War and the Reich are still very difficult for those on all sides to objectively process. The horrors were so great, and the scars do enduring that we can hardly expect anything else. Discussions can quickly degenerate. For these reasons, forgive me if I do not participate unless genuinely meaningful comments are made.

      • Thanks for this great video… funny, I don’t notice particularly slouchy intonation – though there is a less blended sound in the audio, which might make it seem so.

        What I DO notice that diverges from today’s concerts is the fact that Mr Brodsky overconducts like a fool, almost stomping out the ensemble’s subtle rubato. The number one rule for NJK conductors is “stay out of the way”.

        • Listen to the brass chord at 0:41. Yikes! I think the trombones had a Silverster hang over. All the same, the music is great and perhaps reveals once again that technical perfection does not trump stylistic sensibility.

          • “Listen to the brass chord at 0:41. Yikes! I think the trombones had a Silverster hang over.”

            Yes, one trombone hits one note not quite on, that must mean they are all Nazis, right? BTW, it’s Silvester, not “Silverster”. [redacted]

        • I happen to enjoy Boskowski’s conducting a lot. In my opinion he captures the spirit of this music better than many “real” conductors that came after him. There are also videos of him leading with his violin, like they used to do in the old times. This music should be about fun but the NYD concert has become so stuffy recently, and I see no hope for a turnaround.

    • As I remember it, Maazel taking over of the New Year’s Concert was more of a coup d’ etat. One year Boskovsky (not Brodsky) was ill, and Maazel, as Director of the Staatsoper, took over. Suddenly everybody saw the marketing and money-making potential of the concerts and violà, the modern New Year’s Day Concert was born. Boskovsky was edged out, and retired to Switzerland, a very bitter man.

      • Thank you for this very interesting comment (and correction.) By the time Maazel replaced Boskovsky the concerts were already a cash cow. Perahps it was Boskovsky’s very success that put him out of of job.

        • Maazel did not become director til 1981. Was Boskovsky still around?

          • Boskovsky retired from the orchestra in 1979, so that might be the actual reason he stopped leading the concerts and Maazel took over in 1980. Or did he want to continue leading the NJK after retirement? I think he died in 1991 in Switzerland — 22 years after retiring.

          • I remember reading an interview with him, just before he died, in a Swiss weekly. He was still extremely angry and bitter about the way he had been treated.

    • “For the first 21 years of the post war Austrian Republic (1955-79) the concerts were led by the Philharmonic’s concert master, Willi Brodsky”

      The man’s name was Willi Boskovsky, not “Brodsky”. [redacted]

  11. Zev Schneider says:

    Even thinking about abolishing good and/or successful things created during the Nazi era is ridiculous. We shouldn’t constantly and at every opportunity bring that age into today’s discussions, but move on. The longer we butcher the current generation with such unjustified hatred, the more people will hate back.

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