Having been through the gamut of Christmas events on offer in Leeds it was time to indulge in the New Year Festivities, albeit a couple of days early. I never turn down an invitation to see and hear the wonderful Orchestra of Opera North, if I am totally honest I rarely turn down any invitation, and so along I went to Leeds Town Hall to an event called Viennese Whirl, it is also a good pun so it had me from the outset. 

As the name would suggest it is Opera North’s take on the annual series of New Year Concerts at Musikverein in Vienna which have been held in more or less the same format since 1939. The first one was on 31st December, 1939 but from then on there have been three per year on 30th and 31st December and again on 1st January. It is this last one which is broadcast to over 50 million television viewers in 95 countries. The programme is the same for all three concerts and, although the items vary from year to year, there are some constants such as the inclusion of pieces from the Strauss family and, since 1945, an encore comprising three pieces, the first being a fast polka, the second The Blue Danube waltz and the third The Radetzky March. One other less savoury piece of the history of the Viennese event is that it was set up as a dedication to Kriegswinterhilfswerk, or Winter War Relief to improve morale on the front line. That would have been the Nazi Front Line rather than the Allied one.

Anyway, that is all water down the Danube so it was time for getting on with the festivities. The orchestra itself is pretty evenly split between male and female musicians which is great to see. The men were immaculate in their white dinner jackets as were the women in their black tops. I don’t know if it is just me, it probably is, but I had to try really hard not to switch on my mobile phone to see if they formed some sort of bar code. With my luck they would have done and the balance on my credit card would have been enhanced by a couple of grand. Back to reality and the music. 

Paul Daniel

The concert is not meant to be a formal, staid event, although having seen those who attend in Vienna I did scrub up and make the sartorial effort, no matter, I am used to being in a minority of one! The first piece was Dvorák’s Overture: Carnival, which got things off to a lively start and was followed by Straussiana by Korngold, a slower piece but which built up to a crescendo. I don’t propose to go through a list of all seventeen pieces in the concert but there are a few comments to be made about the event in general.

Sadly, the first observation is a negative one in that the sound system left a fair bit to be desired. Not only was the hand mic as used by the conductor, Paul Daniel, not very effective meaning that I could not hear his schtick between the items on the programme, but it did nothing near justice to the voice of Gavan Ring, the solo tenor. The balance was unfairly skewed towards the orchestra, meaning that Mr Ring had no chance of competing. It is a real shame as, when he hit the notes where there was no accompaniment, his tone was very rich indeed, possibly because he had transferred to being a tenor from a baritone. His banter with the conductor also suffered.

Gavan Ring Photograph by Frances Marshall

We were treated to several favourites before the interval, after which the mood was lightened by the players, the tympani especially, handing out party blowers to the audience seated in the choir seats behind them. There was also a football rattle, look that up millennials, and other props to lighten the mood. At this point I must admit to not understanding the audience as, when the piece by Alkan, arranged by Perrine called Le Chemin de fer – The Railway – was being played, they all broke into gales of laughter because those naughty tympani guys donned peaked caps and displayed a Thomas The Tank toy on a music stand. Amusing, yes but no side-splitter. The other thing I don’t get is what people with absolutely no sense of timing derive from music. During Strauss II’s Unter Donner und Blitz – Thunder and Lightning Polka – the audience members in the choir seats were asked to stand up and sit down quickly in time with the thunder claps, there was then a passage when everyone was encouraged to clap along with the music, all of which illustrated that some people couldn’t keep time in a Rolex factory. 

I admit that I am not in any position to criticise people who spend their hard earned dosh on an evening out in any way they see fit and they all seemed to be having a blast, I just don’t understand it, that’s all! 

We were only given two encores but they were the ones we had been waiting for, The Blue Danube followed by The Radetzky March. The latter entailed more clapping but even the most tone deaf couldn’t get that one wrong, well, not all of them.

All in all I enjoyed my afternoon of top class music and frippery but would have loved to have heard the dulcet tones of Gavan Ring rather more clearly and also the corny jokes of Paul Daniel – well, maybe one out of two.

If you would like to see the event for yourself then it is being repeated at Huddersfield Town Hall on Monday, 30th December and Hull City Hall on Tuesday, 31st December. Both commence at 3.00pm.

Details and tickets from

Orchestra of Opera North: Viennese Whirl

Feature photograph

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