Is the Classical “New Year’s Concert” Dead?

886444223270.170x170-75.jpgIt’s become an institution: the classical New Year’s Concert from Vienna. Played by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, this concert is broadcast live on TV around the world, and released on CD and DVD shortly after. First performed in 1939, the concert now features a different conductor each year – since 1986 -, to try to sell an event that has become as exciting as an award ceremony.

It’s quite predictable. There are waltzes. Films of ballet dancers in some schloss somewhere. Shots of the well-heeled Viennese sitting in their seats. And shots of the almost-entirely male Vienna Philharmonic. (To be fair, there are a few women in the orchestra; in past years, nary a female was to be seen playing an instrument.)

Norman Lebrecht has pointed out that this year’s concert has only sold 611 copies in the US in the first 12 days of 2014. To be fair, the disc only went on sale on January 7, so that’s less than a week, but it’s still a dud.

The iTunes Store heavily promoted this album before its release, with banners for pre-orders, but if you look at the classical section of the iTunes Store, it’s nowhere to be seen. (You have to search for it to find it.) And among the best-selling albums in the iTunes Store’s classical genre, it is, as of this writing, number 121. I have no idea how many sales that represents, but it’s not much; look at some of the albums ahead of it. And there’s not a single review or rating.

But is this a surprise? How many different New Year’s concert recordings does anyone need? The music is essentially the same from year to year, the program simple and limited, and, unless you really, really like waltzes, it’s a 90-minute drag.

It could be that sales have dropped because of streaming; or because you can watch the concert on YouTube. Or that people simple don’t care any more.

Note: it is also possible that problems with the discs have limited physical sales. On Amazon.com, the disc is no longer sold. Amazon says:

While this item is available from other marketplace sellers on this page, it is not currently offered by Amazon.com because customers have told us there may be something wrong with our inventory of the item, the way we are shipping it, or the way it’s described here.

According to reviewers, the two discs in the package are the same.

However, this doesn’t explain the paltry digital sales.

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7 replies
  1. Steven de Mena says:

    “Films of ballet dancers in some schools somewhere” These are live performances, synchronized to the concurrent performance, not films, and they’re usually in some stately palace ballroom, not a school. This year in fact they even concluded their Blue Danube waltz ballet by entering the Musikverein hall itself.

    For me, I was turned off by initial copies being CD-Rs and not CDs. ArkivMusic makes this clear. Do these ArkivCDs even have UPC codes? (If not they can’t be counted by Nielsen Soundscan). I usually wait until later to buy a CD, or a Blu-Ray disc of the concert.

    Saw about 7 women on TV this year, including one of the Concertmasters.

    This year’s program was pretty obscure compared to past years, few of the favorite Strauss waltzes were performed. I think just Strauss II’s “Tales from the Vienna Woods” and the traditional “Blue Danube” waltz.

    Reply
    • Steven de Mena says:

      In the US, public broadcasting stations carry an edited version of the concert that has a few works cut out (but never the encore and 2 traditional ending works).
      In Los Angeles it is currently shown at 8PM New Year’s Day, but I believe stations in each market can decide the airtime. Actress Julie Andrews provides pre-taped “hosting” segments between works, usually featuring non-musical historical information about the era of the Strauss family. She’s been the host almost every year for a dozen years. (I think the year her husband died she missed it).
      Former CBS newscaster Walter Cronkite preceded her for many years.
      To see the complete concert we need to buy the DVD or Blu-Ray disk, which are available in February. Or d/l a torrent.
      Since it is not on commercial television here I do not know the ratings, but I imagine it is not terribly large, and probably skews towards an older age group… I’ve enjoyed them since I was a kid, having been introduced to classical music by my father.

      Reply

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