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Michael White’s classical & jazz news: Vienna Philharmonic; Jazz Age; Die Fledermaus; Oxford Philharmonic

31 December, 2020 — By Michael White

Riccardo Muti

AT any other time, New Year means endless Johann Strauss, with orchestras imagining they’re in Vienna, churning out Blue Danube waltzes and the Tritsch Tratsch Polka. Thanks to Covid we’ll be largely spared all that. But if Strauss waltzes are your thing, you’ll be relieved to know that the famous New Year’s Day Concert given by the Vienna Philharmonic is still happening, conducted this time by Riccardo Muti. And though it will play to an empty hall, which sounds like even less fun than usual, you can watch it on BBC Two at 10.15am this Friday – with the whole thing then shunted onto the BBC iPlayer for viewing on demand. If nothing else, it will have the poignancy of being one of the great European celebrations which, as from now, we Brits can only stare at from afar: no longer party to the party.

• More cheerfully, a couple of orchestras have alternative New Year’s events online, and one is a celebration of the Jazz Age by the English Symphony Orchestra, which programmes 1920s jazz numbers alongside European concert works by composers like Krenek and Milhaud, who absorbed jazz influences. It goes out 7.30pm December 31 and is then freely available for four days at

• Back in Vienna, the State Opera there continues to stream online shows with free access; and its New Year’s offering is an impeccably traditional Die Fledermaus (yes, I know, Johann Strauss again) that goes out not once but twice, in two different performances with different casts. You can see a new, live account on December 31 and an old, archive one on January 1. Why they’re doing this I couldn’t say; but if you’re into Strauss, consider it a gift and watch them both. Details:

• Another institution being seasonably generous is the Oxford Philharmonic which is positively loading free performances online. Only the other week it filmed a concert in celebration of the Oxford scientists behind the Covid vaccine, with a starry cast including Bryn Terfel, and still available to watch on the Philharmonic’s YouTube site. But now it launches a winter season of performances that stream on Fridays throughout January – starting this Friday at 7.30pm when Sheku Kanneh-Mason plays Dvorak’s Cello Concerto. Sadly it appears to be coming from a bland-looking studio rather than Oxford’s baroque Sheldonian Theatre where the orchestra normally plays and where the vaccine concert was filmed. As somebody with long experience of sitting through Sheldonian events on its remorselessly hard wooden benches, I can vouch that the ideal way to enjoy its grand interior is on a screen.

• Finally, for anyone who hasn’t had enough Beethoven at the close of his big anniversary year, the Highgate International Chamber Music Festival (which needless to say didn’t happen in 2020) has put online assorted Beethoven performances from its 2019 season – filmed in St Anne’s Highgate and free to watch: just google YouTube Highgate Festival Beethoven. They’re classy.

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