From 28th August to 20th September 2021

Musikfest Berlin

This year's Musikfest Berlin will take place from 28th August to 20th September 2021, organised by the Berliner Festspiele, in co-operation with the Berliner Philharmoniker Foundation. 34 events in the Philharmonie’s Main Concert Hall and its Chamber Music Hall, in the Konzerthaus Berlin am Gendarmenmarkt and the rbb Broadcasting Hall, showcase music from five centuries, with more than 100 works by 52 composers, performed by 29 instrumental and vocal ensembles and 35 soloists from the international and Berlin music scene.

Go to website of Musikfest Berlin


In focus: Igor Stravinsky

He has been called the Picasso of composers. When Igor Stravinsky died 50 years ago at age 88, his life’s work was similar to that of the painter: filled with surprising changes, appropriations and transformations, masterfully giving time an unmistakable shape, not shying away from provocation and extravagance, admired and celebrated, buoyed by the unshakeable joy of musical creation (plaisir de la creation) as he commented in the Poetics of Music.

“Stravinsky remains” (Stravinsky demeure) the young Pierre Boulez prognosticated in 1951. At that time, Stravinsky was in the process of reinventing himself artistically once again. His sense of discovery led him to historically more removed music of the Renaissance, the Early Baroque and the Middle Ages. He was particularly fascinated by the madrigals of the Italian count Don Carlo Gesualdo da Venosa. This was one area of focus. Another, the music of Anton Webern, who had died at the end of the war and his young, up and coming contemporaries: Pierre Boulez and Karlheinz Stockhausen interested him greatly. From the spheres of this dialogue spanning the ages, Stravinsky developed his late music style and the late works, composed in California where he had made his home since 1939.

In his later years, the insular city of Venice was to become the centre of his creative and spiritual space of the imagination. He composed the cantata Canticum Sacrum for the city’s Basilica San Marco and his greatest sacred work for the ballroom of the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, decorated with Tintoretto’s ceiling frescoes. His Requiem Canticles were performed during his funeral on Venice’s island of the dead, San Michele. After World War II, Igor Stravinsky became the icon of a European life that extended from pre-revolutionary Russia through the two World Wars to the Cold War era. He was a regular and celebrated guest at the Berlin Festival in the 1960s.

From Gesualdo to Goebbels and Neuwirth

The 50th anniversary of Stravinsky’s death and the 70th anniversary of the Berliner Festspiele this year will thus become an occasion for Musikfest Berlin 2021 to present his rarely performed late work. The festival’s programme follows the great composer’s roving ear through history and the present: it goes back in time to the music of the 16th and 17th centuries, to Bach, Handel, Gesualdo, Gabrieli and Palestrina, in historically informed performances by experts of these remote times. And the festival programme, in continuing with Stravinsky's interest, embraces the music of contemporary composers: new works by George Benjamin, Rebecca Saunders and Wolfgang Rihm to Clara Iannotta, Ondřej Adámek and Ann Cleare, including the European premiere of Olga Neuwirth’s musical calligrams Keyframes for a Hippogriff by the Berliner Philharmoniker.

The composer Karl Amadeus Hartmann with his wife Elisabeth Hartmann and Igor Stravinsky, 1950
(Photo: akg images)

International orchestras in Berlin

In addition to the Berlin-based orchestras, vocal and instrumental ensembles, this year’s Musikfest Berlin will feature guest performances by the Concertgebouworkest Amsterdam with Daniel Harding, the English Baroque Soloists and the Monteverdi Choir with John Eliot Gardiner, the Orchestre des Champs-Élysées and Collegium Vocale Gent with Philippe Herreweghe, the London Symphony Orchestra with Sir Simon Rattle, the Orchestre Les Siècles with François-Xavier Roth, and many others. A series of events will break down the confines of the concert format: in the interactive project Night Shift – The Rehearsal, Cathy Milliken eliminates the divide between stage and audience in Shakespearean fashion. Johannes Kalitzke – on the occasion of the anniversary “200 years Konzerthaus Berlin” and reflecting the Beethoven Year 2020 – brings Max Neufeld’s famous silent film The Tales of Hoffmann from 1923 to new prominence with his Beethoven Variations for orchestra. And the Théâtre National du Luxembourg gives a guest performance in the rbb broadcasting Great Hall with Heiner Goebbels’ scenic concert Liberté d’action, which was created during the Covid-19 shutdown. The Musikfest Berlin will officially begin on 30th August in the Main Concert Hall of the Philharmonie with the world premiere of another new work by Heiner Goebbels: A House of Call. My imaginary Notebook.