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New Year’s concert and encores

Posted January. 12, 2018 08:07,   

Updated January. 12, 2018 08:27


The New Year concert for 2018 took place on January 1 at 11:15 a.m. at the Teatro La Fenice opera house in Venice, Italy. Opened in 1792, the La Fenice theatre, which means “phoenix” in English, is the sanctuary of opera where as many as five works of Verdi were premiered. The New Year concert drew an international attention as Chung Myung-whun conducting the concert as the first Asian maestro to do so. The concert was broadcast live by the RAI, the state-run broadcaster of Italy.

After the opera highlights by Verdi and Puccini were finished in the latter part of the concert, the Hebrew Slaves Chorus from Nabucco by Verdi was played, which is likened to the Italian national anthem. “We are truly blessed folks to greet the New Year at the most beautiful theatre of the most beautiful city in the world,” Chung told the audience. “I would like to greet the world with the most beautiful music there is.” A thunderous round of applause erupted from the audience where the Italian president and the mayor of Venice also attended.

The encore music for the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra’s concert to celebrate the first day of the New Year is Radetzky March. The song is well reputed as a song to draw applause from the audience reminiscent of military drills and ceremonies. Local Korea Broadcasting Systems (KBS) aired Sunday a New Year’s concert of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Italian conductor Riccardo Muti, which was also concluded with Radetzky March as the encore. It makes you wonder why Chung chose Nabucco over Radetzky March for his new year’s concert at La Fenice.

The origin of the orchestra’s New Year concerts may provide a clue for the answer. On December 31, 1939, a concert was held to comfort soldiers in Vienna of Austria, which was under the rule of Nazi Germany. It was a joint celebratory concert hosted by the Philharmonic Orchestra of Vienna. The event took place after more than half the members of the orchestra had joined the Nazi Party, and six Jewish players had been sent to concentration camps. The Nazi soldiers found Vienna waltz more entertaining and palatable than the serious tone of symphonies by Mozart or Beethoven. The programs were filled with Johann Strauss II’s waltz. The political motivation of this event led to the iteration of the Vienna Philharmonic New Year’s concerts, a feast for the ears enjoyed every year by more than 400 million people around 90 countries in the world.

The northern parts of Italy including Venice were colonized by Austria before the unification in 1870. In 1848, the Austrian empire army led by Gen. Radetzky imposed a merciless clampdown on the independence movement in Italy. When he came back to Vienna with flying colors after the bloodbath in the plains of Lombardy, Johann Strauss I wrote the Radetzky March as a tribute to his triumph.

For this reason, Radetzky March has been considered as a taboo at the La Fenice opera house because it was music from the former enemy state. Riccardo Muti made complaints with the RAI for broadcasting the La Fenice concert instead of the concert conducted by him, an Italian, which is brewing heated controversy in Italy. What happened in South Korea? KBS, one of the major broadcasters in the country, did not even telecast this historic concert at La Fenice by Chung Myung-whun. A several years ago, a major local symphony orchestra held a New Year concert, and the encore was Radetzky March. This journalist cannot help but wonder if Hebrew Slaves Chorus might have been more an apt choice for the Korean orchestra, considering the country’s history of foreign invasion.