Venezuelan star conductor Gustavo Dudamel is the latest to take part in a 75-year tradition observed every January 1 in Austria’s capital. Dudamel becomes the 16th conductor to take the podium at 11:15 AM Central European time on the first day of the year and lead the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra in a program dominated by the 19th-century Viennese composers Johann Strauss I and II.
Although the Vienna Philharmonic has regularly performed New Year’s Day concerts going back to its founding in 1842, the New Year’s Concert as we know it—an internationally televised spectacular featuring the music of the Strauss family—didn’t start to take shape until December 31, 1939. It was then, only a few months after the official beginning of World War II, a frightening time in the history of Europe, that the Philharmonic’s music director Clemens Krauss chose to greet the uncertain new year with an all-Strauss program. That performance focused solely on the work of Johann Strauss II, composer of the operetta Die Fledermaus and waltzes like “The Blue Danube.” In later years, the set list expanded to take in pieces by Strauss’ brothers Josef and Eduard and the father of all three composers, Johann Strauss I.
Krauss continued to helm the New Year’s Concert until his death in 1954. The Philharmonic’s concertmaster Willi Boskovsky took over the role until 1979, followed by Lorin Maazel, who was at the podium through 1986. Since then, the job has been held by an alternating lineup of prominent conductors. The video below, from 2016’s concert, features the Latvian Mariss Jansons leading the orchestra through Strauss I’s “Radetzky March.” For more information on the history of the Vienna Philharmonic and the New Year’s Concert, go here.