Season’s focus “Heroes”

During its 2023/24 season of concerts the Berliner Philharmoniker will focus on heroes and heroines from the most disparate times and culture groups. Often enough such figures fail because of the magnitude of the tasks that they face. And yet their drive can give us courage – not only in our struggle with the challenges that confront us today but also in our search for self-realization.

The crises currently facing the world could lead anyone to grow despondent. Among these crises are wars, climate change and the threat to democracy. All of these challenges appear too overwhelming to be overcome by ordinary men and women. But what about people who are out of the ordinary? Such men and women have always existed in history and art, people equipped with exceptional abilities, whether in the form of resolve or intellectual powers or their powers of persuasion. They are called heroes, and humankind has longed for such figures ever since we first set foot on this planet.

In the course of their concerts in 2023/24 the Berliner Philharmoniker will examine the varied concepts of heroism in music under the heading of “Heroes”. Perhaps the best-known example is Beethoven’s Third Symphony (“Eroica”), which illustrates the dramaturgical appeal of the story of a hero – not just in music but also in literature and in the cinema. The starting point is mostly a desperate situation that in the case of the “Eroica” is embodied in the funeral march. Misfortune is then overcome in a series of tenacious battles, culminating in jubilation and in a sense of relief. The “Eroica” is also a good example of the pitfalls of a heroic narrative: after all, Beethoven wanted to create a monument to the revolutionary figure of Napoleon Bonaparte as the incarnation of freedom, but when Napoleon had himself crowned emperor, Beethoven deleted the dedication, scratching it out so forcefully that he left a hole in the paper. We can see from this that heroes often fail to accomplish their mission in the way that we would have liked them to. They fail morally or are simply overwhelmed by the vastness of the challenge that is facing them.

Broken heroes

This season we shall have a chance to meet some of these broken heroes. Wagner’s works in particular abound in such characters. Siegmund and Sieglinde in Die Walküre are undoubtedly courageous but ultimately they are no more than chess pieces in a game that is being played by the gods. Once their death has been decreed, there is nothing that they can do to resist it. Or take Tristan, a brutal warrior who by way of a joke sends the head of the enemy he has slain to the man’s fiancée. But when he is forced to ask himself questions about love and fidelity, he collapses and dies. Perhaps the most ambivalent of these figures is Richard Strauss’s Elektra, who is actually the perfect heroine. She is utterly determined, and by choosing to expiate her father’s murder, she is morally in the right. But by the end of the opera her hatred has extinguished every human emotion in her. No list of famous heroines can fail to mention Joan of Arc, whom we shall encounter in Honegger’s oratorio. She too fails in her mission and is burnt at the stake as the victim of political circumstances.

Politics often play an important role in heroic legends in music. In Bedřich Smetana’s Má vlast (My Homeland) the legends about warrior maidens and knights are not just an instance of folklore but also a mission statement for we learn here that Czechoslovakia is a proud nation with its own culture and, as such, far more than merely an outlying province of the then ruling Habsburg Empire. Further manifestos will be found in the course of the season in the guise of Dmitri Shostakovich’s Fourth and Seventh Symphonies. The Seventh was written during the Second World War and hymns Leningrad’s resistance to the German Wehrmacht. The Fourth, conversely, was intended to be Shostakovich’s version of the “Eroica” and to celebrate the achievements of the Soviet Union in the most monumental terms but shortly before the first performance the cultural authorities forced Shostakovich to withdraw the score, claiming that they heard too much scepticism interwoven into its pages.

Who do we become through our actions?

And then there are those heroes whose actions play out not on the world stage but in private. This season we shall be meeting them above all in the tone poems of Richard Strauss: in Ein Heldenleben, Don Juan and Tod und Verklärung. In every case, their protagonists – more especially Don Juan – do not necessarily invite our sympathy. Also, there is something somehow immodest about Strauss treating himself as the main character in A Hero’s Life. And yet all three of these works describe an ambition that remains topical even today, that of self-realization. It is here, according to Strauss, that true heroism is to be found.

Last season our emphasis was on Identities, when we asked the question who we are and addressed the conflicting influences of nature and nurture. With Heroes we expand our view to include the question as to the person we become through our actions. Heroes and heroines can provide us with an answer to this question. Ideally they can inspire us whenever we face the challenges of the present day or struggle to realize our dreams. Their victories encourage us not to give up, while their defeats demonstrate that failure is a part of being human.

Concerts with the season’s theme »Heroes«

Fri 25.08.23 19:00
Kirill Petrenko conductor
Richard Strauss
Ein Heldenleben

Fri 22.09.23 20:00
Sat 23.09.23 19:00
Sun 24.09.23 20:00
Herbert Blomstedt conductor
Ludwig van Beethoven
Symphony No. 3 E flat major “Eroica”

Thu 28.09.23 20:00
Fri 29.09.23 20:00
Sat 30.09.23 19:00
Tugan Sokhiev conductor
Dmitri Schostakowitsch
Symphony No. 4 in C minor

Thu 14.12.23 20:00
Fri 15.12.23 20:00
Sat 16.12.23 19:00
Andris Nelsons conductor
Richard Strauss
Don Juan

Fri 29.12.23 20:00
Sat 30.12.23 19:00
Sun 31.12.23 17:30
Kirill Petrenko conductor
Vida Miknevičiūtė soprano
Jonas Kaufmann tenor
Georg Zeppenfeld basso
Richard Wagner
Tannhäuser und der Sängerkrieg auf Wartburg:
Ouvertüre und Der Venusberg
Die Walküre: Akt I

Thu 11.01.24 20:00
Fri 12.01.24 20:00
Sat 13.01.24 19:00
Kirill Petrenko conductor
Béla Bartók
Der holzgeschnitzte Prinz

Wed 31.01.24 20:00
Thu 01.02.24 20:00
Fri 02.02.24 20:00
Daniele Gatti conductor
Richard Strauss
Tod und Verklärung
Richard Wagner
Tristan und Isolde: Excerpts

 Fri 23.02.24 20:00
Academy of Ancient Music
Laurence Cummings conductor
Mary Bevan soprano
Handel’s Heroines
Arias by Georg Friedrich Händel

Thu 04.04.24 20:00
Sun 07.04.24 20:00
Kirill Petrenko conductor
Nina Stemme soprano
and other soloists
Richard Strauss
Elektra (concert)

Wed 08.05.24 20:00
Thu 09.05.24 20:00
Fri 10.05.24 20:00
Kirill Petrenko conductor
Bedřich Smetana
Mein Vaterland (My Homeland)

Thu 23.05.24 20:00
Fri 24.05.24 20:00
Sat 25.05.24 19:00
Yannick Nézet-Séguin conductor
Dmitri Schostakowitsch
Symphony No. 7 C major

Thu 06.06.24 20:00
Fri 07.06.24 20:00
Sat 08.06.24 19:00
Alan Gilbert conductor
Arthur Honegger
Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher