No contemporary composer had such long artistic and close ties with the Berliner Philharmoniker as Hans Werner Henze. He died on 27 October 2012 at the age of 86 years, on the very day the Berliner Philharmoniker celebrated the 25th anniversary of their Chamber Music Hall. The great artistic importance of the composer was recognised by the orchestra at an early stage. In 1954, they played a work by the then 28-year-old for the first time in the concert series Musik unserer Zeit: his Third Symphony, which – according to the Tagesspiegel – was “testimony to a great talent”. And the Neue Zeitung Berlin predicted: “If Henze learns to control the number of ideas that he is beset with and concentrate on fewer of them, his genius will be totally beyond dispute.”
In the next few years, the Berliner Philharmoniker grew to appreciate the qualities not only of Hans Werner Henze the composer but also the conductor: In 1961, he conducted the orchestra for the first time with his own Drei Dithyramben in addition to Karl Amadeus Hartmann’s First Symphony, Benjamin Britten’s Nocturne op. 60 and Igor Stravinsky’s Symphony in Three Movements. Two years later he conducted the premiere of his Fourth Symphony, a sequence of mystical and poetic dreams which he originally intended as the final scene of the second act of his opera König Hirsch. “Hans Werner Henze interpreted his work as a conductor with a fine ear and a flexible beat,” as the Tagesspiegel then wrote. The composer, who had lived in Italy since 1955, regularly visited the Berliner Philharmoniker until 1991, mainly conducting his own works, but also those of Mozart, Mahler and Monteverdi.
The œuvre of Hans Werner Henze has long been an integral part of the orchestra’s repertoire. The orchestra and its various ensembles have performed almost all his major works, ranging from Henze’s concertos for piano and violin to his ten symphonies, the Cantata della fiaba extrema and the Floß der Medusa to the Neue Volkslieder und Hirtengesänge. Of the world premieres that the orchestra played, those of the Fourth and the Ninth Symphony in 1984 and 1997 deserve particular mention. The conductors were Gianluigi Gelmetti and Ingo Metzmacher. In January 2011, the Berliner Philharmoniker Foundation honoured the composer on his 85th birthday with concerts by the Scharoun Ensemble Berlin and the Orchestra Academy. Hans Werner Henze, who rejected the compositional fashions of the day, was guided by one thought when composing: a “longing for complete and wild musical perfection.”