It’s that time of the year again. Escaping the immanent threat of spending New Year’s Eve in an unspectacular way by working and asserting one another that it is a day like any other day.
2016 has been tough. Or at least a trillion people on facebook say so. I am not quite sure how I feel about blaming a sequence of days accumulating to a year to a somewhat arbitrary span of time for all the losses we have experienced, but it gives us an easy enough framework to box our disappointments as well as our hopes. I personally feel like, if we already lost David Bowie and got Donald Trump, can it get worse in 2017?
What I was thinking about today was the Viennese New Year’s Concert. You know the one. The one that is broadcasted all over the world and has an audience of approximately 50 million people. We tend to overlook the history of this concert, which has its roots in the fascist era. And with that comes both awkwardness and public ignorance of said fact. It’s easy to think of the New Year’s concert as a Century long tradition since the orchestra itself was founded in 1842 and the famous waltzes by Johann Strauss II were written in the second half of the 19th century as well. But no. The local music was not quite as appreciated in the founding days. So really, it took the Nazi regime to administer a concert on New Year’s Eve of 1939 – not without aryanizing the orchestra first - benefiting a national-socialist campaign and help define its Viennese musical program which then went on to become a yearly event. Kind of a spoiler, isn’t it? Growing up with a profound skepticism towards patriotism and a good old leftist foundation, it does not come easy to be a proud Austrian. There are spoilers everywhere if you just look hard enough. So there, take my New Year’s concert, bloody fascists. But that’s only my rational self speaking. My other 2% are glowing at the sight of the halls of the Wiener Musikvereinssaal and the sound of the Philharmonic orchestra. I may have shed a tear or two before when emerged in the bombastic sound of the Blue Danube Waltz despite the fact that we sure do hear this melody a lot around here.
Today, we were at the luncheon hosted by the Philharmonics and Gustavo Dudamel, 2017’s conductor, held a brief and touching speech that turned things around for me a little bit. Gustavo simply and beautifully summarized the quality of this concert remarking on the international bridge he embodies as a young Venezuelan conducting Austrian waltzes. In music, he said, we are united in love as we are in dance as without love, there is also no good dancing. He pointed at the magnitude of the concert and how the worldwide appreciation had precisely that in common: love for music, love for rhythm and synchronicity.
And maybe it really is that simple: that once so many people are embraced by the same sound at the same time, we share something really big and as we are about to embark on a journey of a new year with resolutions and plans and expectations, I find it so hopeful to think that there are many more things that unite us in love than separate us in hate. And maybe even a small spark of joy creeps in to me that I live in a place from where this solace of sound originates from (and the fact that we voted against a hateful right-wing presidency). So, let’s look up and make this a good year.