One hundred countries will transmit today's Vienna's New Year's Concert, but it will be without an audience for the first time. Riccardo Muti, who has always taken a more solemn approach to conducting the concert than some of his colleagues, will be on the podium this year. So, the Radetzky march without audience participation?
It will be heard as written, without the out-of-time clapping from some of the audience… though it's a ritual. However, after the liveliest polka to finish without applause can be embarrassing. But that void will be full of meaning: a warning. I will only be able to recount the experience after having been through it, but just now, I have a lot of mixed feelings.
Although Muti has a sometimes dry and ironic sense of humour, he is not fond of bringing this onto the concert stage. He is well-known for following the score as the composer wrote it, forbidding the soprano from adding a decorative flourish. Unlike his distinguished colleagues who have worn funny hats, blown whistles and so on, this was never a possibility for Muti's nature, which at this odd time may make him the ideal choice.
At such a tragic time, the New Year's concert can only be entrusted to music, without frills, without jokes and games, which I, even in my five previous editions, have never done. It is music that must be auspicious for the future.
The musician prevails in me. In music, there is joy and sadness, but its also linked to dance and celebration. In the empty hall of the Musikverein that I have worked in for fifty years, each piece will end in a silence that will evoke a certain melancholy. A silence forced by the pandemic, which has killed so many people.
There will be no speeches, just maybe a few words at the beginning of the concert to explain the situation… We had thought about bringing in applause from outside, but it would be an annoying frill at a time like this. We are concentrating on the performance itself.
Musical life after the pandemic?
We have changed, which has led to a transformation in many areas and opens up new circumstances and attitudes to making music. The change in our way of life and psyche will spill over into music. Streaming will become a parallel activity. The virus has shaken everything up, sowing death and destroying the economy and culture.
I am against the proposals of some virologists to use closed theatres to administer the vaccine. It would be a convenient choice, but theatres should be reopened to give young people the chance to thrive on culture. I have read outrageous statements about the art world, not motivated by malice but by ignorance, which is more serious.
Muti's hope for this New Year's concert?
That it will cheer people up. It will go down in history as being the one without an audience, but Vienna wanted to do it, and that's what counts.
Riccardo Muti was talking to the Corriere della Sera's Valerio Cappelli
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.