It’s shaping up to be another depressing New Year’s Eve in 2021. Just when a glimmer of hope appeared on the horizon, a new mutation has reared its ugly head, and we seem to be back to where it all started a couple years ago. People are banned from visiting friends and family, are stuck in seemingly endless quarantines, or even worse, in hospitals. Bottom-drawer media frenzy is once again whipping up panic around the globe, and millions of reasonably sane people are protesting against vaccinations, the only powerful and proven tool at hand to fight all the strains of the virus. By now it should be pretty clear that Covid-19 is here to stay. This pandemic is and will remain a fact of life and the everyday. And if Covid-19 were to miraculously disappear, a new and nasty virus is just around the next corner. Since we can’t be locked up for the rest of our lives, we have to find ways to address this new normal. As we celebrate New Year’s Eve in 2021, I am sensing a mood of musical defiance around the world. Let’s find out how New Year’s Eve 2021 is celebrated in some major cities around the world.
Many events around Tokyo are focused on “leaving the old year behind and preparing for the new one.” One of my favorite traditions is the “Bonenkai” party, which basically translates as “forget the year.” Co-workers and friends come together to celebrate the hard work, times, and achievements of the past year to relax and have a fun time in a local and informal izakaya restaurant. In order to welcome the New Year, Japanese people will spend New Year’s Eve engaged in cleaning the entire house. This tradition is influenced by Japanese Shintoism, and originates from the belief that the god Toshigami-sama will bring wonderful fortune to your house, but only if he finds it spick and span. Once you’ve done your cleaning, it’s time to eat your traditional New Year’s Eve Soba. Soba is the thin Japanese noodle made from buckwheat that can be served either chilled with a dipping sauce, or hot in a noodle soup. There are a number of reasons why people eat Soba on New Year’s Eve, such as the wish to live a long life like a Soba noodle. Since Soba noodles are easy to cut, it symbolizes that you can just cut off the bad luck and hardship of the last year. But let’s not forget music, as the Tokyu Silvester Concert is held annually on New Year’s Eve. It starts at 10pm and runs for three hours. Traditionally it is divided into 2 parts, featuring orchestral music and ballet performances. This year, it includes one of the singly most defiant compositions of all time, the Bolero by Maurice Ravel. Let’s march on 2022 until this silly virus is defeated for good.
Once again, celebrations for New Year’s 2021/22 in Vienna will be a rather subdued affair. The very popular “New Year’s Eve trail” has already been canceled. Typically, this celebration covers a series of events and activities around the city center starting on 2pm on December 31 and running until 2 am the following morning. Temporary stages all over the city feature live performers, bands, small orchestra and DJs that entertain crowds numbering close to 1 million people. The Viennese ballroom dancing schools offer free waltz lesson in the pedestrian zone adjacent to St. Stephen’s Cathedral, and the State Opera features a giant outdoor screen showing opera highlights. If you are hungry and thirsty, dozens of food and drink stands will look after you. At midnight, people gather on St. Stephan’s square in front of the cathedral to hear the giant bell ring in the New Year. Alternately, people gather in front of City Hall for a communal waltz and firework display. It is a huge citywide party, but sadly, it has already been canceled for 2021. The one event that has not yet been canceled is the New Year’s Concert by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra at the Musikverein. The honour of conducting this year goes to Daniel Barenboim, who already conducted the event in 2009 and 2014. The “New Year’s Concert” is actually performed three times; first in a preview performance on 30 December, a “Silvesterkonzert” on 31 December, and the actual New Year’s Concert on 1 January. Traditionally, music by the Strauss family and their contemporaries sound in celebration of peace and harmony. Habitually, this included the overture to the operetta “The Bat,” with was based on a play called “The Prison.” Maybe music can finally free us from the Covid-19 prison in 2022?
Johann Strauss: Fledermaus Overture
For New Year’s celebrations in 2021/22, London has adopted a rather common sense attitude. A correspondent writes, “While it is safe to say that the pandemic is not over yet, we are happy to report that by and large, socialising has returned to some sense of normality. The virus is by no means gone, but here in the UK, we are slowly trying to get things back to normal and the public are once again allowed to visit pubs and restaurants, as long as they adhere to the venue’s chosen social distancing guidelines or Covid restrictions.” New Year’s 2021 will certainly look somewhat different, but that doesn’t mean that London will be no fun. We read that celebrations range from VIP parties to quirky bashes, from delectable afternoon tea to the best brunches in town, and include the hottest bars and nightclubs. Hot off the press, this year’s fireworks has sadly been canceled, sigh! So if you don’t feel like having yet another house party or dinner with family, London offers you some seriously quirky parties this year. The National History Museum in South Kensington is always good for a surprise. In previous years it has hosted silent discos, musical bingos and mass karaoke under the famous life-sized blue whale skeleton hanging from the ceiling. We still don’t know what surprise they’ll have in store for us this year, but it will surely be spectacular. As you can tell, London is big on immersive experiences, and nothing gets more immersive than spending New Year’s Eve behind bars. Guests will wear orange prison jumpsuits and have to sneak contraband cocktails past the watchful eye of the prison warden. You will be properly registered with your personal mugshot, and maybe they even take your faux fingerprints. If an immersive prison experience is too close to comfort during this pandemic, you might head to the Barbican Center, and the home of the London Concert Orchestra. Conductor John Rigby will take you through a musical program including Paul Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Don’t you just love this idea of musical defiance, as we are all waiting for the magic wand to banish this Covid-19 spook once and for all.
Dukas: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
In Hong Kong, celebrations of the calendar New Year have always taken second place to celebrations of the Lunar, or Chinese New Year. No matter the celebration, however, I just love Hong Kong’s sense of optimism. I suppose, with one of the strictest quarantine requirements in the world, optimism is essential. As one blogger wrote, “Wave goodbye to the madness and roll on 2022.” As always, Hong Kong features an impressive variety of fabulous restaurants and glitzy clubs for your New Year’s entertainment. And since you want to be perfectly dressed for your end-of-year party, the city features an endless lineup of malls, jewelers, and shops. Hong Kong people have always enjoyed weekend trips to various locations in South-East Asia, but that pleasure will be generally unavailable this year. Since city dwellers will be unable to travel, a new trend has started this year. It’s called “Staycations,” and it is offered by a variety of hotels and resorts in town. It basically means that you exchange your home for a short stay in one of the city’s luxury hotels. The hotel will cater to your every need, including fabulous lobster dinners, free flowing champagne, six-course Festive Set Dinners, and blissful spa treatments. You might even be able to catch the New Year’s Eve fireworks display from your hotel room. And if you fancy some classical music, head to the Hong Kong Cultural Centre for a New Year Celebration with the Hong Kong Philharmonic under Maestro Yu Long. Make sure you arrive early as the New Year Celebration already takes place on 29 and 30 December. Ravel’s Bolero is once again on the programs alongside “Viennese waltzes and sparkling polkas, stirring marches and beautiful love-songs. There’s Spanish passion, French elegance, British pageantry and of course a generous selection of Hong Kong favourites too.” We also find Weber’s “Invitation to the Dance.” While this selection might be significant on a number of different levels, above all, the HK Phil defiantly tells us that the show must go on.
Weber: Invitation to the Dance
New York City:
One of the most enduring images of New Year’s Eve is the famous Ball descending atop One Times Square in New York City. Millions of people watching nationwide and throughout the world unite for a couple of seconds in bidding collective farewell to the departing year and expressing joy and hope for the year ahead. That famous Ball is a geodesic sphere, 12 feet in diameter and weighing almost 12 thousand pounds. It is covered by 2,688 Waterford Chrystal triangle of varying size that are bolted to 672 LED modules, which are attached to the aluminum frame of the Ball. The Ball is illuminated by 32,256 LEDs, and capable of displaying a palette of more than 16 million vibrant colors and billions of patterns that creates a spectacular kaleidoscope effect. The first New Year’s Eve Ball was made of iron and wood, and it descended on New Year’s Eve 1907. Ball dropping to signal the passage of time has a long history. The first dropping ball was installed atop England’s Royal Observatory at Greenwich in 1833 so that sea captains could set their chronometers. This proved popular and practical, and 150 such time-balls were installed around the world. In 1904, New York opened the city’s first subway line and it featured the first-ever celebration of New Year’s Eve in Times Square. The name of that location, as you might know, comes from Times Tower, the then new headquarters of “The New York Times” newspaper. One of the tallest buildings in the city, the newspaper owner arranged to have the first ball lowered from the tower flagpole precisely at midnight to signal the end of 1907 and the beginning of 1908. As the clock runs out on 2021, New York City will “once welcome all those hundreds of thousands of folks to watch the Ball drop, but everyone needs to be vaccinated.” The New York City major announced, “Join the crowd, join the joy, join a historic moment as New York City provides further evidence to the world that we are 100 percent back.” With the new mutation on the horizon, better not hold your breath. The same goes for the scheduled performance of George Balanchine’s Nutcracker. There were no mischievous mice and prancing sweets last season, but hopefully the magic of this enchanting holiday tradition will return this year. Covid-19 is definitely a tough nut to crack, let’s hope music and dance can be part of the solution.
We might look once again on the “City of Light” to provide us with a glimmer of hope in these pandemic times. Paris has one of the most vibrant and thriving music scenes in the world. In addition, it features spectacular music venues and concert spaces, and if you are looking for live music, Paris provides everything from hip-hop and soul, to funk, disco and classical. You need not look much further than the Orchestre national de France, founded in 1934 by decree of the French minister Jean Mistler. The original ensemble of 80 musicians was France’s first full-time professional symphony orchestras, and it was under exclusive engagements, prohibiting them to play with other orchestras, and their first concert took place at the Conservatoire de Paris on 13 March 1934. Things were pretty dire and unsettled during the war, but the orchestra returned to Paris on 1 March 1943. After the Liberation of France, the orchestra was reorganized and placed under the responsibility of the national radio. The name of the orchestra was progressively modified in accordance with changes in organization, and it started to serve as a cultural ambassador for France. Tours to Berlin and London in 1946 were followed by an official tour to North America in 1948. In January 1975, the creation of Radio France led to the renaming of the ensemble as the Orchestre National de France, the title the ensemble holds today. The ONF performs mainly in the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées from where all its concerts are broadcast. Some concerts are also held in the Salle Olivier Messiaen in the Maison de Radio France, and that’s the site of the 2021/22 New Year’s Eve Concert. Under the direction of Cristian Măcelaru, the ONF and esteemed soloists will, among other exciting compositions, perform the “Havanaise for violin and orchestra” by Camille Saint-Saëns. That work was written for the Cuban violinist Rafael Díaz Albertini, and the ONF thus reminds us that traveling, culture, arts and music is an essential part of what makes us human; no virus can change that. Let us join these great cities in a musical celebration of defiance as we welcome the New Year. Happy 2020!
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