Traditionally, classical music lovers start the New Year by watching the broadcast of the Vienna Philharmonic’s New Year’s Concert, this year conducted by the young Venezuelan conductor, Gustavo Dudamel. Edinburgh Festival goers will remember him a few years ago, in a sensational concert with the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela: a vividly diverse orchestra of young people, many of whom are drawn from the slums of Caracas by the El Sistema music education programme (which inspired the Big Noise programme in Scotland). However, in comparison, this year’s broadcast revealed the Vienna Philharmonic to be (still) largely composed of old, white men!
The contrast with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra at the Usher Hall today is immediate, as half of this orchestra are women. Also, under the enthusiastic conducting of Nicholas McGegan, the orchestra really seem to be enjoying the Viennese programme, whereas the Vienna Philharmonic players, although very skilled, were largely serious.
The SCO’s orchestral offerings are delightful, beginning with the brassy Big Bang of Suppé’s Light Cavalry Overture, and featuring many favourite works by Johann and Eduard Strauss, including Posthaste! and the Blue Danube.
The star of the evening is the young British soprano, Elizabeth Watts, who is to be seen regularly at Covent Garden. She is a knockout with her singing, her acting and even her dancing, casting off her shoes in Lehár’s Meine Lippen, sie küssen so heiß to imitate the Spanish dancer she is singing! She ends the evening by giving an encore—that great operatic lollipop I want to be a Prima Donna (Victor Herbert)—where she and Nicholas McGegan stage a delightful operatic charade.
A packed Usher Hall gives an enthusiastic ovation, and we all go home happy, convinced that we have had a better concert in Edinburgh than was on offer in Vienna. There is a collection for the Marie Curie Hospice in Edinburgh: these New Year concerts have raised over £40,000 for them in recent years.