If you can get yourself to New Brunswick on New Year’s Eve, you can drink in the bubbly atmosphere of a Viennese New Year, live, without making the transatlantic trip. “Salute to Vienna,” featuring the Strauss Symphony of America, comes to New Brunswick’s State Theater on Monday, December 31, with 75 instrumentalists, singers, and dancers. “Salute to Vienna” is officially recognized by the city of Vienna as an authentic celebration. Its program is modeled on the Vienna Philharmonic’s New Year’s concert, which celebrates the music of Johann Strauss and other Viennese composers, and is broadcast every year to a worldwide audience of more than one billion.
The State Theater presents the event for the third time. The two previous performances sold out. Leading the festivities in New Brunswick this year is a cast of seasoned performers with Viennese credentials. Hungarian-born Andras Deak is on the podium. Soprano Luisa Albrechtova and tenor Zrinko Soco are the vocalists. Dancers come from the Vienna City Ballet. The instrumentalists come from the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Philadelphia Pops Orchestra. The same team appears at Washington DC’s Kennedy Center on Saturday, December 29; Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center on Sunday, December 30; and New York’s Avery Fischer Hall on Tuesday, January 1.
Equivalents of that performance take place in 15 cities in the United States and 10 in Canada. “Strauss Symphony is the overall name for all the orchestras that perform in `Salute to Vienna’ in North America,” says Attila Glatz in a telephone interview from his Toronto office. “It’s the name that Vienna allowed. Vienna officially endorses the performances, and the city helps with singers and dancers, sees to greetings from the mayor of Vienna, the president of Austria, and diplomats. It approves press releases and collects reports.” Glatz brought the first “Salute to Vienna” performance to a Toronto Theater in 1995.
“To present this music in its authenticity, we hire the best symphony orchestra in the area, people who play together all the time. The music is easy to listen to, but hard to play. We bring in Viennese conductors because they have this music in their blood, and know how to interpret it. That’s essential. We use a conductor well-versed in English, who can explain that a Viennese waltz is not one-two-three, but one-two and perhaps a three. And we bring in European singers, who can interpret the style properly.
“The selections vary from city to city. As the producer, I select the programs. I choose artists by going to Vienna two or three times year and hearing concerts. I’m always in discussion with the conductor and singers. We don’t want to repeat programs, conductors, or singers. We always aim at making things new. Next year there will be five new conductors.”
The North American “Salute” programs include six dancers from the Vienna City Ballet. Changing costumes, three couples perform two waltzes and one polka. “We are able to put dancers on stage in the U.S. and Canada because North American stages are bigger than European stages,” Glatz says. “Still, the dancing makes special demands on the choreographer. Because of the space that the orchestra occupies on stage, they have to design the dancing around length, rather than depth.”
The audience member in Vienna, however, is unable to experience the music and the dancing at the same time. About 10 dancers from the Vienna State Opera Ballet perform simultaneously with the Vienna Philharmonic, but in another venue — music from the Philharmonic’s concert is piped in. When the troupe performs in a theater, tickets are available; when it performs in a castle, no audience is allowed, and music and dance are assembled electronically for television transmission. “In reality,” says Glatz, “there is no choice about whether to attend the ballet or the concert. You can’t get tickets to the concert. They’re mostly passed down from one generation to another.”
Glatz was born in 1945 in Budapest, Hungary, where he grew up. A paternal aunt was a singer; otherwise he is the only musician in his family. “My parents were 40 when I was born. I’m 18 years younger than my sister; she’s my nearest sibling. She’s 80 and still lives in Budapest.”
After graduating from the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest as a pianist and composer, Glatz performed publicly. “I escaped Hungary in 1968,” Glatz says. “I was the only family member who defected. I got a job in a jazz quartet and forgot to go back.” Under the tight reins of the then Communist government the group was granted permission to perform in West Germany and Switzerland, and was required to send a share of their concert income to the government.
When the jazz group was offered a chance to perform in Canada, they accepted. The Hungarian government continued to keep tabs on the ensemble, and demanded of Glatz in Canada that he return his passport. Instead, he presented himself to Canadian immigration authorities and was accepted as an immigrant in 1971. “It was not difficult,” he says.
“I was having a good time in Canada,” he explains. “Obviously, who likes Communism and its economic difficulties? You couldn’t buy a shoe, not to mention equipment. After my defection my family was in trouble. My sister couldn’t leave the country, and my mother was interrogated.”
For a time Glatz toured in Canada as the National Concert Organist for the Hammond Organ Company. “I have never been anyplace where I didn’t find a Hungarian,” he says.
Despite his gift for meeting Hungarians, Glatz chose a Viennese wife, Marion. He says that she is a lover of classical music, though she is not musically trained. The couple met in Klosters, Switzerland, when Attila was performing with his jazz quartet. At the time Marion was living in Munich and working in producing music.
“She brought me back to classical music,” Glatz says. “She got me going to opera and classical concerts. My childhood came back. At one point I had the idea of the New Year’s concert. She brought it about.” The couple works together as impresarios, and has just bought a condo in Vienna.
“I graduated as a pianist and composer,” Glatz says. “Now, I’m neither one. Presenting concerts gives me the same satisfaction. It makes me happy to see how people love the productions and react.” About “Salute to Vienna” he says, “I see the happy faces. At intermission, people are already on a high. It’s uplifting.”
Glatz must also be gratified at the consistent growth of the New Year’s concerts in North America. “We started in Toronto in 1995 with one concert in a concert hall that seated 1,000. The next year, we used a bigger concert hall in Toronto. That gave us the idea to expand. The following year we added New York and three other cities.” In 2000 the number of concerts in North America reached a peak of 33.
‘Why are these concerts being done? Why are they so popular all over world? Why do we associate them with the New Year?” Glatz asks rhetorically. “This is music that people listen to and get happy with. The music of Strauss is like a glass of champagne. You drink it, and feel that everything will be OK.”
Glatz traces the interplay between the 19th century Viennese musical establishment and the Strauss musical dynasty, and their eventual fusion in the New Year’s concerts. “Johann Strauss, Jr and his father were popular band leaders, and played at high society balls,” Glatz says. “For a while, the Vienna Philharmonic and other high class orchestras thought that this music was inferior to Brahms, Mahler, and Beethoven.”
In 1939 conductor Clemens Krauss instigated a New Year’s Eve concert to honor Johann Strauss in the Musikverein, a building that Glatz calls “the absolute holy Viennese concert hall.” It was so successful that they added a New Year’s Day concert the following year. Except for 1945, in the final turmoil of World War II, the concert has been given annually.
My German friend, an indefatigable follower of all things cultural, reports that the New Year’s atmosphere in Vienna is teeming. Streets burst with revelers, including noticeable numbers of Japanese and Russians. Organized tours from all over the world fly in. Five or six concerts take place, some simultaneously. The Musikverein is adorned with flowers sent from Italy. Finding a place in a restaurant is difficult. Getting a ticket for the New Year’s Day concert is even more difficult, and is likely to cost about 1,000 Euros ($1,400, these days) unless one inherits a ticket or wins the ticket lottery.
For the eternally hopeful, an official lottery distributes the small number of available tickets. Applications are accepted exclusively on the website of the Vienna Philharmonic between January 2 and January 23 for the following January 1. Participants are informed about the outcome of the drawing at the end of the registration period. Official prices range from 20 to 680 euros ($48 to $852).
The attentive Internet surfer may find other solutions. An October posting on Craigslist offered balcony seats to the concert for United Arab Emirate currency: two for 4,200 United Arab Emirate dirhams each, (slightly less than $1200), and two for 4,800 (slightly more than $1300). The seller offered to deliver them in Dubai.
Maybe attending the State Theater performance on New Year’s Eve is the simplest solution. That’s where Attila and Marion Glatz will be.
Salute to Vienna, Monday, December 31, 6 p.m., State Theater, 15 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick. Waltzes, polkas, and the music of Strauss. $65 to $110. 732-246-7469.