Wide-Ranging Berlin Musikfest 2013 Features Rare and Forgotten Music

GermanyGermany  Wide-ranging Berlin Musikfest 2013 Features Rare and Forgotten Music

The programme for the Berlin Musikfest 2013,one of the highlights of the international musical calendar has been announced. Founded nine years ago and organised by the Berliner Festspiele in co-operation with the Berliner Philharmoniker Foundation the Musikfest Berlin 2013 this year takes place for 20 days from the 30th August -18th September 2013. The festival commences Berlin’s new concert season in great style.

Packed with new discoveries what I especially enjoy about this music festival is the wide variety of music it programmes. Comprising works from the Baroque to the present day, nothing is too familiar in a programme that prides itself on featuring works that are lesser known or rarely heard today. Although written by famous composers, the works may be unusual, have become unfashionable or fallen out of the repertoire.

As usual the various festival themes that criss-cross each other are always fascinating and invariably varied. I have particularly fond memories of last year’s highly successful main theme which was American Music. This year the main theme is the music of 20th century composers with an Eastern European heritage. So there is a fine and diverse selection of music principally from Lutosławski (Poland) in his 100th anniversary year; Bartók (Hungary) and Janáček (Czech Republic) together with single works from a number of other Eastern European composers such as Mahler (Czech Republic), Ligeti (Romania), Martinů (Czech Republic), Stravinsky (Russia), Doráti (Hungary) and Prokofiev (Ukraine). Given the Eastern European theme I have to admit to some personal disappointment that the programme was not able to include works from Andrzej Panufnik, a Polish born composer whom I much admire, and also music from the worklist of Krzysztof Penderecki and Henryk Górecki, two more Polish born composers; but those are surely concerts to look forward to in future years.

To mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of composer Benjamin Britten, whose name only infrequently appears on programmes in Germany, five of his works have been programmed, the pick being the Four Sea Interludes and Passacaglia from the opera Peter Grimes, the song cycle Les Illuminations for tenor and orchestra, the Piano Concerto and Sinfonia da Requiem. Also included in the programme are four relatively late works by Soviet era composer Shostakovich featuring his magnificent last three symphonies.

Appearing this season are ten world class orchestras, three chamber orchestras and a number of choirs, chamber ensembles, plus 25 world class soloists all carefully chosen from the cream of the international stage. All the leading Berlin orchestras are represented with two separate programmes from the Berliner Philharmoniker: one from conductor Sir Simon Rattle and another from Alan Gilbert. There is one programme each from the Orchester der Deutschen Oper Berlin/Donald Runnicles, the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester/Marek Janowski, the Konzerthausorchester Berlin/Ilan Volkov, the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin/Tugan Sokhiev and the Staatskapelle Berlin/Daniel Barenboim.

I was delighted to see that the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks conducted by Mariss Jansons is the other heavyweight world class German representative, but note that there are no visits this year from the Staatskapelle Dresden. In the future it would be good to have appearances from the Münchner Philharmoniker and the Bayerisches Staatsorchester from Munich as both orchestras have been maintaining excellent form in recent years. Another splendid German orchestra that I would like to see invited in a future festival is the NDR Radiophilharmonie. I heard the Hamburg based orchestra under Thomas Hengelbrock playing Schumann and Brahms symphonies last year at the Dresden Music festival and they were outstanding – one of the finest radio orchestras I have heard.

The mainland European orchestras are represented by the renowned Royal Concertgebouw Amsterdam conducted by Daniele Gatti, an orchestra I am pleased to say tend to appear regularly at the festival. I rather hope that other excellent European orchestras such as the Orchestra del Teatro Regio di Torino under their chief conductor Gianandrea Noseda and the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra with their chief conductor Jiří Bělohlávek may be invited in coming years. I recall in Dresden last year the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra under Ingo Metzmacher playing magnificently in a programme of Janáček, Dvořák and Schoenberg. The festival has tended to avoid the interest in period instrument performance practise; maybe the excellent Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin might be invited one year.

As far as I can remember British orchestras at the Berlin festival have been represented solely by London based ensembles. Three years ago it was the London Symphony Orchestra and the London Philharmonic Orchestra, then the Philharmonia, and last year the London Symphony Orchestra was invited. This year the Philharmonia return, although I’m not sure if the London orchestras are currently the best in Britain. It would be gratifying if the festival committee could look outside London and invite the marvellous Hallé rejuvenated under the distinguished conductorship of Sir Mark Elder; also the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra splendidly maintaining their progress under Juanjo Mena and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra under the inspirational leadership of Vasily Petrenko. The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra is a fine outfit too and should not be forgotten.

With regard to the American orchestras last year it was the St. Louis Symphony who attended. This year the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra are returning whom I fondly recall in 2011 under Manfred Honeck giving a stunning performance of Mahler’s Symphony No.5 on the tenth anniversary of the Twin Towers terrorist attack in the USA.

A handful of chamber recitals are to be given by string quartets in the Berlin Kammermusiksaal with the standout event being the visit of the eminent Emerson Quartet playing a Bartók and Mendelssohn programme. All eyes will be on new Emerson member cellist Paul Watkins who has recently replaced founder member David Finckel. This heralds the first change in Emerson personnel in 34 years. In March this year I attended the Emerson recital at Munich, the final international recital of the original line-up, with David Finckel. The Emerson actually filled the large Hercules concert hall – which is virtually unknown for a string quartet – and the Emerson playing was stunning.

Also appearing at the festival is the somewhat less known Quatuor Diotima from France playing Bartók and Janáček and the Philharmonia Quartett Berlin, all members of the Berliner Philharmoniker, playing Beethoven and Bartók. I always feel that the best chamber music is generally played by full-time string quartets and with the exception of the Emerson it seems strange not to invite ensembles such as the Munich based Henschel Quartet currently on such magnificent form and standing at the head of the elite group of string quartets on the world stage today. I would also include the Takács, Talich, Hagen, Leipziger and Pacifica Quartets as part of this leading group with the Quatuor Ébène improving all the time. Of course there is the excellent Berlin based Artemis Quartett who have experienced yet another change of personnel which can often greatly unsettle such a close group of players.

Anne-Sophie Mutter stands at the vanguard of this year’s fine crop of twenty-five international class soloists. As she did at the 2011 Festival, Mutter rejoins the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra under Manfred Honeck. On this occasion she will be playing Lutosławski’s Chain II. I am certainly looking forward to world renowned Argentine pianist Martha Argerich playing the Chopin Piano Concerto No. 1 with the Staatskapelle Berlin. French pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard is to play the Mozart Piano Concerto No. 17,KV453 with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe and the Russian/American soloist Yefim Bronfman playing the Bartók Piano Concerto No. 3 with the Concertgebouw. Both are excellent players who rarely disappoint and deserve to better known. German born violinist Isabelle Faust never fails to stimulate with her splendid playing and she is performing the Hartmann Concerto funebre with the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchesters Berlin.

A few days apart two world class German baritones are performing in separate concerts. Matthias Goerne is performing Lutosławski’s Les Espaces du Sommeil (The spaces of sleep) with the Philharmonia. Christian Gerhaher whom I saw in Munich this March is currently in wonderful voice and is singing Mahler’s magnificent Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (Songs of a Wayfarer) and also will be a soloist in Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass. I am especially looking forward to the appearance of young British pianist Benjamin Grosvenor who was a schoolboy when I last saw him play shortly after winning the piano section of the BBC Young Musician of the Year 2004. Grosvenor is to play the rarely heard but exceptionally worthy Britten Piano Concerto with the Konzerthausorchester Berlin at the Konzerthaus.

Each year I like to select the three concerts that I would especially wish to attend. The stand out concert just has to be the Berliner Philharmoniker and the Tschechischer Philharmonischer Chor Brno under Sir Simon Rattle conducting Lutosławski’s impressive Symphony No. 2, Mahler’s glorious song cycle Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (Songs of a Wayfarer) in Schoenberg’s arrangement sung by world renowned baritone Christian Gerhaher and Janáček’s massive Glagolitic Mass ,a work guaranteed to make a significant impact. The programme is being performed twiceat the Philharmonie – first on Saturday 7th and then on Sunday 8th September.

I also like the look of the Staatskapelle Berlin and the Rundfunkchor Berlin under Daniel Barenboim performing Lutosławski’s dazzling Mi-Parti for large orchestra, Chopin’s sensuously elegant Piano Concerto No. 1 played by world famous pianist Martha Agerich and Verdi’s Quattro Pezzi Sacri a superb work greatly overshadowed by his ‘ManzoniRequiem. This programme is also being performed twice; first at the Philharmonie on the 15th September and then at the Konzerthaus on the 16th September.

Another concert to get the juices flowing is Donald Runnicles conducting the Orchester der Deutschen Oper Berlin in Britten’s splendidly evocative Four Sea Interludes and Passacaglia from Peter Grimes, the enchanting Les Illuminations for voice and strings sung by tenor Klaus Florian Vogt, and Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 15 – such a captivating and often quirky score. All be performed at the Philharmonie on Tuesday 3rd September.

For full details look at the Festival website:


Michael Cookson