For the first time, I have the opportunity to address you here. It has been four years since the Berliner Philharmoniker elected me as their chief conductor; nine years before that, in 2006, I stood before this orchestra in a concert for the first time. Consequently, we have already known each other for quite a long time. In particular, however, we have shared an intensive phase of preparation – with four programmes which we have presented together since the election, in Berlin and during our first brief tour. My personal anticipation of what lies ahead of us has grown with every rehearsal, with every evening of making music together, and my regard for this – in every respect – extraordinary orchestra and its members has continued to grow accordingly.
The traditions of the orchestra
Even before my debut in 2006, I regarded the Berliner Philharmoniker as an ensemble of artists who are able to go to their limits – and beyond – during every performance; who make music with a dedication that never fails to fascinate listeners. Working with such an orchestra is a gift for every conductor. At the same time, it is also an incentive and an obligation. Thus, I now take up my position at the Berlin Philharmonie with humility towards the illustrious musical past of this institution. My wish is that the history and tradition of the orchestra will play an important role in our work together. Hans von Bülow’s standard-setting interpretations of the music of Ludwig van Beethoven and Johannes Brahms are still a model for us; this tradition was carried on during the tenures of Wilhelm Furtwängler and Herbert von Karajan. The Classical and Romantic repertoire of these legendary chief conductors will continue to form an essential core of our work. The focus on Beethoven – with works such as Fidelio, the Missa solemnis and the Ninth Symphony – is an initial component of it.
Beethoven, Mahler and Suk
I would also like to mention several other concentrations of our first season: Gustav Mahler, for example, will always be a staple of our repertoire. For me, his works are like a reflection of the individual in society. Mahler said that, for him, a symphony meant “building a world with all the resources of the available techniques”. Building this world on the concert stage is what we try to do during every concert. Because of their long Mahler tradition, the Berliner Philharmoniker have an intimate familiarity with his works which has been deepened in recent years, particularly by Claudio Abbado und Sir Simon Rattle, and I am delighted that we will perform two Mahler symphonies this season, the Fourth and the Sixth. A close contemporary of Mahler, but much less well known, is Josef Suk. His music was one of the greatest discoveries of the past few years for me. I regard him not only as one of the most important Czech composers but also as one of the truly great late Romantic composers. He is a master of orchestral treatment and instrumentation; his works have a very individual, distinctive sound, characterized by an extraordinary wealth of colour and expressive melodies. Suk’s music also draws on life, especially his symphony Asrael, in which he not only tries to come to terms with his grief at the death of his teacher, Antonín Dvořák, but also the early loss of his wife Otilka, Dvořák’s daughter. Therefore, as was ultimately the case with Mahler, Josef Suk’s time must finally come now. We want to help bring that about with our concerts, both symphonic and chamber music programmes.
Russian music and Puccini
Naturally, Russian music will not be neglected, since it has always been important to me. Arthur Nikisch was a passionate champion of Russian composers; we will also carry on that tradition – for example, with Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances during this season. As far as music education and appreciation are concerned, the Berliner Philharmoniker have achieved a great deal during the past few years. We want to continue this work with undiminished commitment. Already in my youth I often made music for children. We travelled around the countryside, visited villages and played concerts in barns, in order to show people who otherwise would not have come in contact with classical music the beauty and expressiveness of this art. Today the challenges are different, and they are diverse.
Above all, I would like to share my love for opera and demonstrate the incredible expressive possibilities this art form offers young people in particular. We will present Giacomo Puccini’s opera Suor Angelica with the combined forces of the Karajan Academy, the Vocal Heroes and many young singers and actors. The opera is about a young woman who fights for her own personal humanity in an inhuman environment – a moving, extremely relevant story with wonderful music. I am pleased to be able to make use of my experience in this area with this project. The Easter Festival in Baden-Baden has been and will continue to be an integral part of our season, where we can further distinguish ourselves as an orchestra in the opera and concert sectors – an invaluable experience that will be reflected in all of our activities. I hope that we can offer you, our public, rewarding experiences with our performances. I am incredibly happy to be associated with the Berliner Philharmoniker in a close partnership from now on, and I look forward to our many projects with great anticipation.