Europe at home

The programme of the 2021 Europakonzert

(Author: Malte Krasting)

While the main auditorium of the Berlin Philharmonie with its groundbreaking vineyard layout is widely known and familiar as a splendid sight even to audiences who have never set foot in it, the appeal of the spacious foyer is far less well known outside Berlin. But now it’s time to change that, because this part of Hans Scharoun’s spectacular building is no less extraordinary and deserves to play a starring role itself for once. The asymmetrically laid out surfaces, staircases, supporting pillars and galleries repeatedly open up surprising perspectives. Those who make their way through the foyer to their seats in the concert hall cross a constantly changing landscape that inspires reflection. The programme of the Europakonzert reflects this special setting and plays with proximity and distance, with works not only for a large orchestra but also for differentiated and partly spatially separated subgroups.

The programme for the foyer

Boris Blacher
Fanfare for the Opening of the Philharmonie

Charles Ives
The Unanswered Question

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Notturno for 4 orchestras in D major, K. 286

Krzysztof Penderecki
Emanations for 2 string orchestras

Peter Tchaikovsky
Suite No. 3 in G major, op. 55

John Adams
Short Ride in a Fast Machine

The very first piece, Boris Blacher’s Fanfare for the Opening of the Philharmonie, is played from a high-lying gallery. It was played for the first time at the opening ceremony on 15 October 1963. Willy Brandt – former German Chancellor who at that time was the Governing Mayor of Berlin – was among those who made a speech. Blacher’s short, approximately one-minute piece for six horns, four trumpets and four trombones is a homage to the architecture of Hans Scharoun: long, sustained chords, regular progressions and small-scale, rhythmically varied interjections reflect the impression of the revolutionary building, which opened itself up to the general public in a way that was so different from the temples of the Muses that had been the norm up to then. Blacher’s musical gem fills the foyer with a joyful, expectant atmosphere, just as it did the main auditorium.

Charles Ives’ The Unanswered Question for string ensemble, four flutes and trumpet was already conceived by the composer as spatial music. Ives created a veritable instrumental scene with this work (composed in 1908, revised in the 1930s) for three groups posted in different locations: above the chorale-like and furthest away strings – they represent, according to the composer, the “Silence of the Druids – Who Know, See, and Hear Nothing” – the trumpet repeatedly poses the “Perennial Question of Existence” with a concise sequence of notes. In its “hunt for ʻThe Invisible Answerʼ”, the flute quartet reacts to this question in an increasingly impatient and irritated manner. At the end, the strings conclude the piece in “Undisturbed Solitude”. Here, too, Ives proves to be a visionary artist of sound who closely interweaves his music with the reality he experiences and hears.

Spiral staircase in the foyer (Photo: Heribert Schindler)

With his 1958 Emanations for two string orchestras, the 25-year-old Krzysztof Penderecki began to systematically expand the playing technique of these instruments, gradually detaching them entirely from conventional bowing and plucking. Here, he experiments with a different tuning for each of the ensembles (which both have the same instrumentation), namely a semitone apart. This results in unusual colour mixtures even with one and the same tone, which is further enriched by more subtle gradations. In this way, from one sound, others gradually and almost imperceptibly emerge, they grow apart, flow into each other again in continuous emanations – as Penderecki has already expressed it in the title with this term originating from Latin, which in philosophy means the “flowing out” or “emergence” of something from its origin. The bands of sound typical of Penderecki’s music of this time repeatedly coalesce into intense accents.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Notturno in D major K. 286 is unique in that it employs four small orchestras of strings and two horns each: one in the centre and three others placed further and further apart. The three remote orchestras each in turn repeat the last bars of the phrases played by the main orchestra. In this work (probably first performed in Salzburg at the turn of 1776/77), delightful echo effects are created, an echo of the antiphonal sound effects of Venetian polychoral music as it was created in St Mark’s Cathedral from opposite galleries.

Every point of view opens new perspectives (Foto: Heribert Schindler)

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s orchestral suites are a rarity in today’s concert programmes. Yet these suites are anything but occasional works. On the one hand, they are in a sense Tchaikovsky’s symphonic laboratory, in which he experimented with innovations for his orchestral music, combining, for example, his personal expressiveness with the dance movements of the Baroque suite. This allowed him to play with musical forms, free from the expectations of academic listeners, from the burlesque peasant dance and the refined waltz to full-blown variations. And in these forms he could translate his emotions into sound in a direct way. The third suite, written in 1884, is an equal counterpart to his three late symphonies. In fact, when Tchaikovsky began composing it, he initially intended it as a symphony. The relationship between man and society, the entanglements in the contradiction between public demands and personal feelings, which led him to ever greater despair throughout his life, finds moving expression here. And even though Tchaikovsky does not play with space and distances here, but uses the traditional orchestral set-up, he takes his listeners by the hand and guides them through an almost theatrical variety of emotional settings. The work was premiered on 24 January 1885 in St. Petersburg, conducted by Hans von Bülow. The concert was a brilliant success for the composer: “I have never experienced a similar triumph,” he reported to his friend Nadeschda von Meck. Hermann Laroche said after the concert that Tchaikovsky’s music was the true music of the future.

John Adams draws on the full arsenal of minimalism in his four-minute showpiece Short Ride in a Fast Machine: a ride from hell in a high-powered vehicle, inspired by the unbridled energy of a well-trained instrumental ensemble. Described by the composer himself as a “fanfare for orchestra”, it closes the arc of this Europakonzert programme, catapulting us into other dimensions and making us fit for the rest of the day, indeed for the whole of the year.

Relive the concert in the ARD Mediathek

After the live broadcast on May 1, a recording of the European concert is now available in the ARD Mediathek.

► Watch the concert now