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Musikfest Berlin

The festival 2015

Carl Nielsen, Gustav Mahler and Arnold Schönberg

More than 39,000 visitors attended the 32 concerts of Musikfest 2015, organised by the Berliner Festspiele in cooperation with the Foundation Berliner Philharmoniker for the 11th time this year. The programme focused on the compositional oeuvre of Carl Nielsen, Gustav Mahler and Arnold Schönberg, emphasizing the epochal character of these works, which stand for defining transitions, innovation and transformation of the language of music. More than 70 works by 25 composers were featured in the programme, including John Adams, Steve Reich, Georg Friedrich Haas, Alban Berg, Ludwig van Beethoven, Sir Harrison Birtwistle, Iannis Xenakis and Karlheinz Stockhausen.

Daniel Barenboim and Staatskapelle Berlin opened the festival with a programme that consisted exclusively of music by Schönberg. The success of this opening with a focus on Schönberg was continued in the guest concerts, initially in the concert by the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, led by Michael Tilson Thomas, which placed Schönberg’s Variations Op. 43b in a context of European tradition and American avant-garde. This was followed by the concert of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and its principal conductor Andris Nelsons, who played Mahler’s 6th Symphony. The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Zubin Mehta, played Schönberg’s First Chamber Symphony and Mahler’s Ninth. Zubin Mehta’s interpretations for both these works have set lasting. On the festival’s closing weekend, the Berliner Philharmoniker conducted by Sir Simon Rattle arranged a programme which followed the subcutaneous conduits between Schönberg’s expressive “Die glückliche Hand (The happy hand)” and the great tradition of American film music. They also gave the audience an opportunity to get acquainted with the music of the great Danish symphonist Carl Nielsen, in a concert featuring his 4th Symphony and the composition “Pan and Syrinx”.

One special highlight of the festival was the performance of Schönberg’s “Die Jakobsleiter (Jacob’s ladder”) by Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin and the Rundfunkchor Berlin, conducted by Ingo Metzmacher. This concert featured the soloists Thomas E. Bauer, Daniel Behle, Yeree Suh and Edda Moser, among others. The time of Musikfest Berlin coincided with Gijs Leenaar’s inaugural concert as the Rundfunkchor Berlin’s new principal conductor, which took place at the Passionskirche. The choir and its new leader enchanted their audience with a finely calibrated programme, including music by Schönberg, Schütz and Bach. In a string quartet-cycle which spanned the entire festival, all of Arnold Schönberg’s string quartets were performed. This series featured the young ensembles Schumann Quartett and Novus String Quartet as well as the Emerson String Quartet with Barbara Hannigan and the Arditti Quartet. The cycle of chamber music found a celebrated finale in a string trio concert by Ilya Gringolts, James Boyd and Nicolas Altstaedt, who played Schönberg’s String Trio and Wolfgang Rihm’s “Musik für drei Streicher”.

Danish composer Carl Nielsen’s oeuvre was another focus of this year’s festival. On the occasion of his 150th birthday, Musikfest Berlin introduced the audience to his work in six orchestral concerts as well as an exhibition in the foyer of the Berlin Philharmonic. A rousing interpretation of his 4th symphony “Die Unauslöschliche (The Inextinguishable)” by the Berliner Philharmoniker, led by Sir Simon Rattle, was accompanied by performances of his 3rd Symphony by the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester, his 6th Symphony by the Mahler Chamber Orchestra and his 5th Symphony by the Royal Danish Orchestra.

At the Haus der Berliner Festspiele, there were celebrated performances of “Michaels Reise um die Welt (Michael’s journey around the earth)”, the second act of Karlheinz Stockhausen’s opera “Donnerstag aus Licht (Thursday from light)”, featuring the Ensemble Musikfabrik and trumpeter Marco Blaauw as soloist. Just as the Haus der Berliner Festspiele was a Musikfest Berlin venue for the first time, the premiere of the performative installation “Orfeo based on Monteverdi. An exercise in dying” by Susanne Kennedy, Bianca van der Schoot, Suzan Boogaedt and Solistenensemble Kaleidoskop at the Martin-Gropius-Bau was a bridge between the festival and the Berliner Festspiele’s exhibition hall.

Winrich Hopp
Artistic Director Musikfest Berlin