It’s a truth universally acknowledged: The holidays can be tough.
Growing up in Vienna, Austria, Marion Glatz remembered, “We talked about, in our family at the time, how difficult it might be to start this New Year, and all the problems we had to overcome—and then the music came, and we all looked at each other, and we were dancing around the dining room table, opening our champagne, and we said, ‘There is nothing we cannot achieve this year!’”
That music, part of a traditional Neujahrskonzert broadcast from the Golden Hall in Vienna’s Musikverein, was enough to quell the fear of the unknown year and soothe the worries that arose when the relatives would gather.
Indeed, Glatz believes that the music of Johann Strauss Jr. and his contemporaries is “so uplifting and so happy. This is why the Vienna Philharmonic New Year’s concert is still televised, every year, to 1.5 billion people!”
But for Glatz, who immigrated to Canada in 1982 with her husband, Atilla, just watching the beautiful, uplifting pieces of the “Blue Daube” waltz on television was not enough. They started looking for live New Year’s music on a par with the legacy of the Vienna Philharmonic’s signature concert.
“When we came to this new country, we said, ‘There’s nothing here!’” exclaimed Glatz. “At the end of the year, there is not the cheerful Viennese uplifting music. We have to try something; and we looked at each other and said, ‘Let’s try it. And if we don’t succeed, then at least we can say we tried.”
Readers, it succeeded.
Every year for two decades, with a different program each year, the Salute to Vienna series has waltzed on. On Saturday, Dec. 30, at the Music Center at Strathmore, the concert launched by a homesick Viennese couple will have its 17th year in the Washington, D.C. area—part of several clusters of Salute to Vienna concerts that pop up this time of year across the United States and Canada to bring joy and cheer while celebrating the cultural traditions of Vienna.
“What is special about the concert is that there is singing as well,” said Austrian conductor Bernhard Schneider, who will wield the baton at Strathmore. “We do some famous operetta numbers, a duet with soprano Micaëla Oeste and tenor Tilmann Unger—and some dancing.”
The dancing–classical ballet from the Kiev-Aniko Ballet of Ukraine plus the International Champion Ballroom Dancers–takes place right onstage as the Strauss Symphony of America performs selections from “The Merry Widow” and “Die Fledermaus” as well as polkas and waltzes.
“The impression is not just an acoustic one; it’s also visualized,” explained Schneider, who has been the chorus master of the Graz Opera since 2008. “We try to make it a very colorful evening, and you get to see what the music is meant for, which is dancing.”
The audience also gets to hear what the music is all about, as the conductor shares bits of history and interesting anecdotes—something that rarely occurs in Vienna, but makes this concert series particularly appealing to New World audiences.
“The narration I do myself—I like to talk to people,” said the conductor. “I try to make a mix of information and entertainment. I think people deserve an evening that’s nice and light, with humor, but also on a high level. It’s not simply making jokes; we try to make it a classical musical experience with a touch of humor—a touch of entertainment.”
Finding that balance between the lyrical traditions of the genre and the lightness and levity the holiday season demands is important to Schneider. “What I think is so special about this music is the optimism—I think that’s the point,” he said, noting that the Viennese New Year’s concert tradition has taken root all over the world. “Not something too heavy or serious or sad, (instead) an optimistic performance.”
Which is exactly what the Glatzes had in mind. “Our show is over 20 years old,” said Marion Glatz. “Now people say, ‘I have to celebrate, I have to go there, because I need this positive, uplifting energy to get me into the New Year!’
“You can hear how enthusiastic I am,” she added. “When you listen to this music, it goes down like a glass of champagne…Salute to Vienna is a splash of color and a celebration of life!”
The Salute to Vienna New Year’s Concert takes place at 3 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 30, at the Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda. Tickets, which start at $49, are available at www.strathmore.org or by calling 301-581-5100.