Allegro con brio: A Festival for Beethoven and the Music of our Times
From 29 August to 27 September of the Beethoven Year 2020, the concert season in Berlin will be launched by Musikfest Berlin, hosted by Berliner Festspiele in cooperation with the Foundation Berliner Philharmoniker. 34 events at the Philharmonic, its Chamber Music Hall and at the Zoo Palast Cinema will feature 65 works by around 30 composers, performed by 22 instrumental and vocal ensembles and 45 soloists from the international music scene.
Originally, Beethoven intended to dedicate his “Eroica” to Napoleon. But the fact that the latter arbitrarily crowned himself emperor aroused the composer’s republican wrath. Henceforward, the name was deleted and the symphony’s title was a rather general one: “Sinfonia Eroica… composta per festeggiare il sovvenire di un grand Uomo”. Around 150 years later, even this was too much in Arturo Toscanini’s opinion. His brusque dictum: “To some it is Napoleon, to some it is Alexander the Great, to some it is a philosophical struggle, to me it is Allegro con brio.”
During this Beethoven Year, Musikfest Berlin will not be celebrating heroes, titans, demons and other mythological figures. But the anniversary is a welcome opportunity to turn the Philharmonie into a place for encounters between Ludwig van Beethoven’s music and the works of composers from our own times: Hence, the opening concert, featuring the Concertgebouworkest with François- Xavier Roth and Pekka Kuusisto, will combine the “Eroica” with the music of Rebecca Saunders and Wolfgang Rihm.
This year, apart from Berlin-based ensembles and our guests from Amsterdam, we will welcome the Bamberg Symphony with Jakub Hrůša, the Orchestra e Coro dell’ Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia with Sir Antonio Pappano from Rome, the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig and Andris Nelsons and, last but not least, the orchestras that play on historical instruments: the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique and the Monteverdi Choir with John Eliot Gardiner from London and the orchestra Les Siècles with François-Xavier Roth.
Les Siècles will combine Beethoven’s “Pastorale” with works by French composers from the era around the French Revolution: Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, François-Joseph Gossec und Étienne-Nicolas Méhul. Two weeks later, RIAS Kammerchor Berlin and Kammerphilharmonie Bremen will perform Luigi Cherubini’s Requiem in C minor, a work that Beethoven held in high esteem and which was in fact played at his funeral, in combination with Wolfgang Rihm’s musical scene “Andere Schatten”, based on Jean Paul’s “Speech of the Dead Christ from the Universe that there Is no God”.
Beethoven’s “Missa Solemnis” – “my greatest work is a great mass”, as the composer wrote in a letter in 1822 – will be interpreted at the Philharmonie by John Eliot Gardiner and the two ensembles that he founded and with whom he first recorded the Missa in 1990. For Igor Levit, the work’s famous motto – “From the heart – may it return to the heart!” – is among the “most beautiful words written by human hand.” Levit is going to be scaling the eight-thousanders of piano literature. Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas in a series of eight concerts and, together with our guests from the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Ferruccio Busoni’s Concert for Piano and Orchestra with Male Choir. Beethoven’s Fourth, Fifth and Eighth Symphonies will be played on modern instruments and the Orchestra and Chorus of Deutsche Oper Berlin will present “Leonore”, the original version of the opera “Fidelio” on the stage of the Philharmonie.
Alongside Ludwig van Beethoven, Rebecca Saunders will also be represented by several of her works at Musikfest Berlin. The composer, who won the 2019 Ernst von Siemens Music Prize, grew up in London and studied with Wolfgang Rihm in Karlsruhe before moving to Berlin. James Joyce and especially Samuel Beckett are the literary figures who are close to her. Rebecca Saunders loves Berlin’s urbanity: “The energy and the sound of an urban environment make me feel alive. I enjoy focussing and reorienting my ears, playing around with my perception of sound events, with the surface of sounds in the cacophony of an urban soundscape, to the point where everything starts to feel like an almost deafening white noise.” And yet, the composer develops her music from the exceptional state of silence: “Silence is like the screen behind the sound. It frames the sound.” 14 of her works will be performed in seven concerts at Musikfest Berlin, including a special film evening with live music in the Zoo Palast cinema: the films “Ghost Trio” and “Not I” by Samuel Beckett, highly estimated by Saunders, and finally the joint film by Gerhard Richter and Corinna Belz “Moving Picture (946-3)” with the music of Rebecca Saunders. Orchestras and soloists involved in this portrait of Rebecca Saunders will include Concertgebouworkest, Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin, Klangforum Wien, Ensemble Musikfabrik from Cologne, the alumni orchestra of the Lucerne Festival Academy and the Karajan Academy of the Berliner Philharmoniker.
Heiner Goebbels will write a new full-length orchestra work for the Ensemble Modern Orchestra, which will be premiered on 3 September at the Philharmonie as part of the Beethoven Year 2020- programme and conducted by Vimbayi Kaziboni. “A House of Call. My Imaginary Notebook” is a kind of lied-cycle for voices which the composer and director has come across in other projects and encounters, on journeys and in archives: dialogues, adjurations, prayers, evocations, exhortations, speech acts and songs. Following the Berlin premiere, “A House of Call” will embark on a tour.
We are delighted that several of our partners and visiting ensembles see Musikfest Berlin as the right place to premiere contemporary music and introduce world premieres and new works. This is a beautiful gift and a special distinction for Berlin as a city of music, for its audience and for the festival’s programming endeavours. Gewandhausorchester Leipzig, conducted by Andris Nelsons, for instance, will premiere a new work by Sofia Gubaidulina, the Grande Dame of New Music, “dedicated to the great Beethoven”. Klangforum Berlin and Stuttgart’s Neue Vocalsolisten will present the premiere of Georges Aperghis’ “Le cours de la vie”, Konzerthausorchester Berlin, Christoph Eschenbach and Christian Tetzlaff will perform a new violin concerto by Christian Jost. The Bamberg Symphony will bring Arnulf Herrmann’s only recently completed “Tour de Trance”, the first part of which draws on Beethoven’s Fifth. Berliner Philharmoniker will contribute the European premiere of Olga Neuwirth’s “Keyframes for a Hippogriff” and their Karajan-Academy will present a new work by composer Milica Djordjević, for which she will receive the 2020 Claudio-Abbado-Composition Prize.
Apart from the music of Beethoven and the composers of our own time, a third thread running through the festival programme will feature compositions from the first half of the 20th century, from composers of the so-called Second Viennese School and their contemporaries: Gustav Mahler, Ferruccio Busoni, Arnold Schönberg, Alban Berg, Anton Webern, Richard Strauss and Josef Suk. Two principal conductors and their orchestras will celebrate their Musikfest Berlin-debut with works by Josef Suk: Jakub Hrůša and the Bamberg Symphony with the C minor symphony Asrael and Kirill Petrenko and the Berliner Philharmoniker with Suk’s symphonic poem “Ein Sommermärchen”.
Musikfest Berlin will conclude with Ludwig van Beethoven’s late piano sonatas and an evening at the Chamber Music Hall dedicated to composer Wolfgang Rihm, including a world premiere: The composer has written a duet for Tabea Zimmermann, recipient of the 2020 Ernst von Siemens Music Prize, and Christian Gerhaher, a “Stabat Mater” for baritone and viola. This special piece, a joint commission from Berliner Festspiele / Musikfest Berlin and Berliner Philharmoniker, will be performed twice, surrounded by the ensemble pieces “Sphäre nach Studie” and “Male über Male 2”. These will feature clarinettist Jörg Widmann, pianist Tamara Stefanovich and instrumentalists from Berliner Philharmoniker.
We would like to thank all participating artists and institutions, our host and cooperation partner Foundation Berliner Philharmoniker and its general manager Andrea Zietzschmann, the Berlinbased partner orchestras for their outstanding cooperation, the Hauptstadtkulturfonds and the Aventis Foundation for their support of the concerts dedicated to the music of Rebecca Saunders, the BTHVN2020 Jubiläums GmbH for including the Heiner Goebbels/ Ensemble Modern Orchestraproject, the concert by the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique and the Beethoven-cycle featuring Igor Levit in their anniversary programme as well as the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media, State Minister Monika Grütters, for the support of Berliner Festspiele.
We hope you will enjoy the musical highlights of the 2020 Musikfest Berlin!
Thomas Oberender, Director Berliner Festspiele
Winrich Hopp, Artistic Director Musikfest Berlin
Complete Programme Released
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Musikfest Berlin 2020
The Musikfest Berlin
Musikfest Berlin sees itself as a forum for the innovative creative work carried out by large-scale orchestras and ensembles in the genre of classical and modern music. It presents an ambitious festival programme with alternating focal points.