Take an iconic orchestra, a famous venue, and a world-class conductor, then put them all together and what do you get? Probably not tickets (actually, you can get tickets with a bit of luck). No, it’s Waltz time with a capital W at the legendary New Year’s Concert in Vienna.
- Hugely popular annual concert by the Wiener Philharmoniker at the Musikverein
- Possibly the most-watched classical music event on the planet
- Two public performances of the programme occur before the main event
- Tickets are allocated via an online lottery
- The three concerts take place on Dec 30, Dec 31, and (surprise!) Jan 1
- The 2020 conductor is Andris Nelsons
- See also: New Year in Vienna | Classical concerts
About the concert
The turn of the year sees the Musikverein concert hall decked out in huge floral arrangements and hosting a three-day residency by the “house band”, which just happens to be the Wiener Philharmoniker (Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra).
The “main event” is the New Year’s Concert on the morning of January 1st, but the orchestra performs the same programme on the two days before, giving more people the chance to enjoy this rather wonderful 2 1/2-hour celebration of music.
The programme typically covers works by the Strauss family and their contemporaries, but always ends with two Strauss favourites: the son’s Blue Danube Waltz (also played at midnight on New Year’s Eve) and the father’s Radetzky March (also played before the national team’s football matches):
History & 2020 highlights
This feast of music, with its concurrent message of peace and harmony, has rather ignominious roots. The first New Year’s Concert was held in Vienna in 1939, with the proceeds going to the Nazi’s annual charity drive. How times change.
Initially, it was the Philharmoniker’s own concert master who waved the conductor’s baton at the event but, since 1980, the honour of conducting the orchestra changes each year. Some of the most famous names in classical music have welcomed in the New Year in Vienna, including Herbert von Karajan, Claudio Abbado, Riccardo Muti, and Zubin Mehta.
In 2019, Christian Thielemann conducted the New Year’s Concert for the first time. He’d worked with the Wiener Philharmoniker before, appearing with them at the Musikverein on many occasions.
The 2020 conductor is Andris Nelsons, another first timer. The Latvian conductor is music director of the prestigious Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Gewandhauskapellmeister of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra.
Since 2020 is Beethoven year, rumour has it that the Bonn-born composer’s works will likely feature strongly in the pieces performed in the concert.
New Year’s Concert tickets & dates
Vienna has a tradition of egalitarian access to culture. So, for example, you can see opera at the State Opera House for as little as the price of a cup of coffee.
Tickets for the New Year concert performances start at around €20, though you can pay much more for the better seats, of course. The problem is how to get one.
The good news is you have as good a chance of getting a ticket as just about anyone. The bad news is that this chance is not very high.
A simple lottery decides who can buy tickets, which you can enter online at the Wiener Philharmoniker website. To do so, you must register at the site in February. Full details here.
If you miss out on tickets (I once heard that over 400,000 people apply), you can always switch on the television.
Austria’s state broadcaster (ORF) typically shows the event live on their ORF 2 channel or you can listen in on the radio (the ORF’s Ö1 station).
You don’t even have to be in Austria to enjoy the orchestra’s work. In 2019, for example, the New Year’s Concert was transmitted live to over 90 countries across the globe.
The 2020 dates are:
- December 30, 2019 – the Preview Performance (11am)
- December 31, 2019 – the New Year’s Eve Concert (7.30pm)
- January 1, 2020 – the New Year’s Concert (11.15am)
How to get to the Musikverein
For directions, should you be lucky enough to get tickets, see the main Musikverein article.
Address: Musikvereinsplatz 1, 1010 Vienna