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Joy in music-making: Christoph Altstaedt on Viennese Whirl

German conductor Christoph Altstaedt returns to the Orchestra of Opera North for our traditional Viennese Whirl concerts to celebrate New Year, at Huddersfield Town Hall on 30 December and Hull City Hall on New Year’s Eve, 31 December, with soprano Jennifer France as guest soloist for both dates.

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Last with us for 2018’s Don Giovanni, Christoph says he is “very much looking forward to conducting the Orchestra again”.

“I have the happiest memories of working with Opera North, in particular our 2017 production of Hansel and Gretel, and also our last symphonic concert in Huddersfield. I really like this orchestra with its joy in music-making and energy”.


Christoph Altstaedt in rehearsals for Opera North's Hansel and Gretel, 2017 © Tom Arber

For this year’s Viennese Whirls, Christoph and Jennifer have put together a programme of waltzes, polkas, marches and song from Vienna and beyond, with Strauss family favourites such as Johann Sr’s ‘Radetzky March’ and Johann II’s ‘Blue Danube’ Waltz at its heart.

“When we think of New Year’s concerts, we usually have Johann Strauss in mind”, says Christoph. “But there were imaginative and creative composers all over 19th century Europe who wanted to offer their audience the best entertainment and dance music, and many of them are – unjustly – rarely played”.

Threaded through the Strauss standards, these “entertainments” give the Orchestra a chance to have some fun: Hans Christian Lumbye’s brilliantly evocative Copenhagen Steam Railway, for example, transforms the ensemble into a locomotive at full throttle, pistons pumping and whistle blasting. Another of the Danish composer’s ‘hits’, the effervescent Champagne Galop, famously opens with the popping of a cork.

“One of my personal highlights is Carl Michael Ziehrer’s Night Owls, where the Orchestra gets to sing and whistle”, says Christoph. “I am also very happy to be able to perform as a soloist with a typewriter in the charming piece of the same name by Leroy Anderson”. Audiences might recognise this exuberant mid-century earworm as the theme from Radio 4’s News Quiz.

Jennifer France‘s pre-Christmas run in English National Opera’s acclaimed new adaptation of It’s A Wonderful Life has given her plenty of opportunity to get into the festive spirit ahead of the concerts. Looking forward to taking the role of the flirtatious Zerbinetta in our Ariadne auf Naxos in the New Year, she’ll be singing arias and songs including Gounod’s soaring ‘Juliet’s Waltz’, and ‘Glitter and be Gay’ from Bernstein’s Candide – both virtuoso soprano showpieces.

Christoph sees added cause for celebration in the end-of-year bash: “Since the pandemic, I go to concerts much more consciously, and it makes me very happy to share a listening experience with other people and enjoy the music live. These beautiful halls naturally inspire us musicians and give a concert a very festive touch”.

A festive Huddersfield Town Hall © Opera North

“For most of us, 2022 was a year of worry and uncertainty. I think there’s no better way to end it than to say goodbye with a swing and a waltz”.

And what are his own plans for when the clock strikes midnight? “Honestly I don’t know yet”, he admits. “I’ll raise a glass and toast the new year. But where? I have no doubt that I will find a worthy place in Leeds to spend the New Year!”

Christoph Altstaedt and Jennifer France join the Orchestra of Opera North in Viennese Whirl, at Huddersfield Town Hall on Friday 30 Dec at 3.30pm and Hull City Hall on Saturday 31 December at 3.00pm.

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