Looks easy, isn't: Lots of work goes into New Year's Concert

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Posted: Dec 30, 2015 8:25 AM
Looks easy, isn't: Lots of work goes into New Year's Concert

VIENNA (AP) — One, two, three, one, two, three. A Strauss waltz is a musical cinch, right?

Not even for the members of one of the world's best orchestras. Listening in to the final rehearsal of the Vienna Philharmonic's annual New Year's concert quickly reveals that lots of work goes into the final product of what is the world's most-watched classical music event of the year.

"It's very, very difficult," said Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra chairman and violinist Andreas Grossbauer ahead of Friday's big event. "Take the 'Blue Danube' waltz for instance. To create beautiful phrases here, these are really difficult things."

The effort that goes into each concert is as well hidden to the more than 50 million people tuning in from nearly 100 countries worldwide as the dark origins of the event. It was originally a morale booster staged by the Nazis to draw attention away from a losing war.

But now, as then, the music from the Strauss dynasty and their contemporaries is lilting. And the visuals have evolved.

The floral arrangements are spectacular, TV audiences are treated to ballet segments and stunning Vienna vistas, while the gilt Musikverein concert hall is the perfect venue for a slickly staged experience that can cost more than 1,000 euros (more than $1,000) for those lucky enough to get a ticket.

But it's a tough slog to get there.

For three hours this week, musicians clad in jeans and T-shirts instead of their concert finery repeatedly went over passages during their final rehearsal. Conductor Mariss Jansons was jovial but firm as he cajoled them to do it just a little better each time — more piano here, a smoother passage elsewhere.

He and orchestra members picked each of the 18 pieces from an original list of 800.

Even the traditionally comic segments needed honing. Blaring into a plastic horn to emit a discordant triad, Jansons asked repeatedly "can you hear?" before putting down the toy and picking up his baton.

Relaxing after rehearsal, the Latvian maestro also took issue with the idea that "light" music is light work.

"It's not easy when you take it seriously and want to conduct a very high-class concert," he said. "You must have a very special relationship to this music."

It will be Jansons' third New Year's Concert appearance. But he was less concerned with falling into a routine and more with blending the musical tradition of Strauss performances with an interpretation that is his own.

"An element of intuition is very important," he said.

For orchestra chairman Grossbauer, Jansons' ability to feel the music is only part of what makes him ideal for this year's performance.

He spoke of "moving feelings and unique moments" experienced by the orchestra during performances conducted by the Grammy-winning maestro. With him at the podium, performances are "not shows but deeply felt emotion," he said.

Still, he demurred when asked who his all-time favorite New Year's conductor is.

"How can you compare?" he said, with a laugh, evoking the difficulty of an oenophile picking a fine red wine.

"Do you prefer Bordeaux or Burgundy?"