Vienna New Year concert reaches record 72 countries

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The Vienna Philharmonic's acclaimed New Year concert, led by 85-year-old conductor Georges Pretre, was broadcast Friday in a record 72 countries and on the Internet for the first time, organisers said.

Nearly 50 million television viewers tuned in worldwide, including from Australia, China, India, Russia and the United States, they said, billing it as the world's largest classical music event in terms of international coverage.

Coveted tickets for the concert were snapped up worldwide a year in advance, as has become routine.

Pretre, who also led the concert in 2008, offered some new items such as the overture from the "Merry Wives of Windsor" in homage to composer Otto Nicolai, founder of the Vienna Philharmonic and born 200 years ago.

The conductor gave a wink to his native France with the overture from Jacques Offenbach's "The Rhine Fairies" and, in keeping with tradition, closed with the "Radetzky March" by Johann Strauss Senior.

He received a three-minute standing ovation from the audience and musicians in the magnificent Musikverein hall, decorated with 30,000 flowers from San Remo in Italy.

Pretre is the only Frenchman to have conducted the traditional concert which was first held in 1939 and pays homage to the waltz canon of members of Austria's Strauss composer family.

The Vienna Philharmonic announced Friday that Austrian conductor Franz Welser-Moest, 49, would take the baton for the first time for next year's concert.

The New Year concert provides a major earner from CD and DVD rights, releases of which are scheduled for January 7 and 14 respectively.