Saturday, 24 August 2019

Petrenko, Berliner Philharmoniker, Beethoven 9 live from Brandenburg Gate

Live from the Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate), Kirill Petrenko conducted the Berliner Philharmoniker in Beethoven's Symphony no 9 to an audience of thousands. It's been just over four years since Peternko was appointed Chief Conductor but this is his first official appearance. Massive publicity, which is fair enough - the Berliner Philharmoniker was among the first to pioneer orchestra-led online performance. Now, it's fairly standard practice. Anyone, anywhere in the world, can listen in. The Berlin Phil is effectively everyone's "local" orchestra, bringing world class playing to anyone who wants to listen in.  This raises the bar for everyone - audiences, musicians  - but I think people respond better to upmarket than to dumbing down.  Live broadcasts are also increasingly important because they reset the balance in favour of musicians and music, in an era when the delivery of music, such as streaming, increasingly divorces product from performance. Music is a human art, made by human beings for other human beings.

Thus the value of mega-scale open air extravaganzas like this concert by the world-famous Brandenburger Tor, literally in the backyard of the Philharmonie.  Until 1989, that massive square was No Man's Land, covered in weeds and barbed wire.  The Brandenburg Gate is significant, too. With its grand columns and Quadriga above, it was built to commemorate the apogee of Prussian culture, which celebrated learning, enlightenment, the arts, science and business enterprise.  When the Nazis came to power bthat heritage was bastardized. The great grandson of the architect, a relative of Henning von Treskow, who was executed by the Nazis for taking part in the plot to assasinate Hitler, observed wryly that the horses in the statue were placed so their metaphorical droppings would land on the heads of rulers who lost touch with reality. And so the Quadriga has witnessed the comings and goings of despots of all kinds.  That symbolusm, in the context of Beethoven's Ninth, cannot be stressed enough. ""Alle Menschen werden Bruder,Wo den sanfter Flugel weilt".

And so the new season of the Berliner Philharmoniker should be celebrated on a grand scale : it represents the triumph of music and musicianship against the odds. A good season ahead - lots to look forward to. I'm less sure about the PR.  Deutsche Welle calls it "Petrenko Fever" thoughn that might be popular journalism.  Yet it shouldn't be forgotten that he wasn't the first choice  when the oircheestra originally sought a new Chief. They were so evenly divided between choosing Thielemann and Nelsons that they called off voting for several months. Suddenly, Petrenko's appointment was announced out of the blue. Orchestra members said that they'd been eager to work with him since he'd conducted them twice several years before. But since he's based in Munich and Berlin, it wouldn't have been hard to fit him in somehow. No-one turns down a gig with these Berliners.  Petrenko is good, but his reputation is largely based on opera.  Every new Chief brings something new to an orchestra. Karajan created it as a recording orchestra,  Abbado, a completely different personality, focused on musicians and musicianship. Rattle broadened the repertoire and did good outreach (the Digital Concert Hall happened in his era). So what will Petrenko bring that will be unique ?

Anyway, back to the open air livestream at the Brandenburger Tor . It's not a "first" as some media are saying. Barenboim conducted Beethoven's Symphony no 9 in 2017 outside the Staatsoper unter den Linden, to a crowd estimated at around 10,000.  The Brandenburg Tower is just at the end of Unter den Linden, so the idea wasn't original at all.  Open air concerts get done in many major cities - London included, when Trafalgar Square is packed out and London traffic comes to a standstill.   The Berliners have been doing open art at theWaldbühne for ages. No point in comparing performances, since the Berliner Philharmoniker is the classiest band in town and does orchestral all year round.   Very brisk tempi. Barenboim's concert started earlier in the day and was family-friendly, celebrating the city as much as the band itself,  Petrenko's aimed at a more formal concert-going audience which is fair enough. That's what the Berliner Phil does !

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