Neijoersconcert 2022: Soprano shines in show
Every year Luxembourgers flock to the Philharmonie for the first concert and major social event of the nation's cultural calendar: the Neijoersconcert. This year there was much to love about the classical music performance, little to dislike, and a few moments of brilliance that made the night an overall success.
The Luxembourg Philharmonic Orchestra gave a faultless performance, with conductor Fabien Gabel, leading his musicians with gravitas and aplomb, while soloists Michael Schade and Nikola Hillebrand brought moments of magic into the Grand Auditorium on Wednesday night.
The evening’s music was devoted to the compositions of Johan Strauss II, Robert Stolz, and Franz Lehár. There were some hits and misses in the selection, and at moments there was a feeling in the auditorium that the public wanted to be uplifted, more than they wanted to be moved. The pomp and circumstance of Strauss II’s ‘Kaizer-Walzer’ gave a grandiose beginning—and the very young first chair cellist’s solo was brilliant—but the tone of the piece was not quite right for the atmosphere. The same was true of Lehár’s ‘Gold und Silber’, Strauss’ ‘Accelerationen’, and ‘Künstlerleben’. The latter felt long, and, in a subtle way, wrong for the mood of the moment.
Nevertheless, the orchestra was flawless from start to finish, and the rapport between conductor and musicians was mesmerising to watch. Although it felt like some of the waltzes lacked the extra spark that transforms a good classical concert into a great one.
A moment that ignited the evening was a solo from prodigal soprano Hillebrand. The young German’s rendition of ‘Spiel ich die Unschuld vom Lande’, from the third act of Strauss II’s comic opera Die Fledermaus was light, airy, full of humour. It was exactly what everyone had been waiting for.
The entire hall seemed to hang on Hillebrand’s every word and the applause that came after the final note of the piece was deafening. Laughter and cheering cascaded through the rows, and even after the applause there was a period of excited murmuring. Hillebrand not only stole the show, she brought the Neijoersconcert to life.
Other highlights of the evening were the encores. Strauss I’s ‘Radetzky-Marsch’ had the entire audience clapping along. It seemed from the spectator’s reaction that what people really want from 2022 is to be cheered up and roused.
As the time for an intermission approached the audience began to get jittery, but the closure of bars at the Philharmonie – Covid-19’s latest victim – meant the performance continued without a break. The burden of keep everyone’s attention until the end of the performance was heavier than ever.
The orchestra, conductor and soloists came together at the encore to finish the concert on a memorable high. ‘Dieser Anstand, so manierlich’, also from Strass II’s Die Fledermaus, proved to be a joyous final note from which to launch Luxembourg’s cultural calendar of 2022.
The playfulness of the orchestral and operatic performance in this number seemed to seep into the entire crowd, with people audibly laughing. It was a special moment for everyone in the Grand Auditorium, both on and off the stage. It was a cherished promise of liveliness, humour, and levity—exactly what we all need the most at this moment in time.