Weekend with the Berlin Philharmonic

Late on Friday I bought a 48hr ticket to access an online archive concerts in the Berlin Philharmonic concert hall . It proved to be a life enhancing £10 spend - way over and above my expectations.  Over the last two days I have immersed myself in the sights and sounds of the Berlin Phil. in concerts conducted by personal favourites like Neeme Jarvi and Gustavo Dudamel and by Sir Simon Rattle.  The players have change a good deal from the 1980s and 90s and bring myself up to speed with the personnel was helped not just by watching them, but reading bios on the Berliner Philharmoniker website but also because all of the concert interviews are done by players.

Its a slick marketing operation but it works.  Its a glorious tribute to the far sightedness of this orchestra which may not be the longest lived, or the best loved orchestra - but as a fantastic institution which mixes art and commerce, it is the bee's knees.

Highlights amongst the concerts I watched:-

Skrowaczewski: Bruckner and Hartmann the 87 year old Polish conductor was a marvel in Hartmann's proxy Sym No 9 - I first saw in 1984 conducting the Halle in Sheffield.  And in Bruckner Sym No 3 he brought the house down.  Two aspects thrilled me about this.  The cameras were kept rolling as the audience gave this smart and spruce old man a curtain call after the orchestra had left the podium.  Nice touch. Nicer still, his interview was undertaken by BPO Concertmaster, Daniel Stabrawa a fellow Pole in Polish.

Jarvi: Brahms, Weber and Greig I saw Neeme Jarvi conduct the Peer Gynt suites with the Gothenburg symphony in Birmingham in the early 90s.  He is a fantastic conductor but its hard to know why - I'd describe his approach as genial but never too sweet.  Anyway he is in top form here standing in for an indisposed colleague and on one rehearsal giving beautiful performances of Brahms Overtures, Weber's Oberon overture and the Grieg.  What's more as always it appears - he adds an encore in this case the first time the BPO have played Andante Festivo by Sibelius. His interview which runs for 20 minutes is fascinating and he touches on the online venture with insight into the business.

I also caught the live concert this weekend, Ivan Fischer and Stabrawa in Dohnanyi, the Violin Concerto No 3 by Hubay and Dances and Symphony No 5 by Schubert.  This concert was shown live, with an interview of Stabrawa - and then on the archive website in under an hour! You can find it here - the miracle of streaming HD TV to my PC with first class sound bowled me over: it was in truth better than being there.  I look forward to finding a cinema showing a Rattle concert live in January!

Finally - and somewhat to my surprise given I don't ordinarily find much comfort in Sir Simon's conducting of the Romantic and post Romantic repertoire.  Two concerts featuring late 20th century music.  His Late Night Concert features not only Magdelena Kozena in Berio and de Falla, but also Dallapiccola and a fantastic performance of Berio's Sequenza V (for trombone) by another BPO Principal, Olaf Ott.  Rattle for my money excels in music of this period.  So it was with some confidence I set out to end my stay with another Berio piece, his monumental 1970s accreative composition Coro - I was completely engrossed in and awestruck by the piece and the performance of it.  The cameras revealed so many details which make a concert memorable: the singers using tuning forks against their heads to maintain the right pitch in a mass of sound, Rattle's quietly spoken "Bravos" to the performers at the end and the nervous looks on singers and players throughout.

And unlike all the other concerts I have attended: I can recommend these to you knowing they will stay in the archive and be available while-ever the BPO wishes it to remain.  That is a fantastic thought, a valuable educational resource and a lesson in how to make music accessible, affordable, and beautifully realised.

And all for a tenner!


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