It was Sunday, 12 November 1989, and the whole of Berlin was celebrating: Following the 9th of November when Günter Schabowski, then spokesperson of the SED Central Committee, misread the new travel regulations for GDR citizens at a press conference and the border crossings subsequently opened that midnight, there was no holding back the people in both the East and West of the city. Three West Berlin cultural institutions spontaneously decided to give a special welcome to their neighbours from the East that Sunday: A rock concert was held in the Deutschlandhalle, Deutsche Oper quickly organised an additional performance of the Magic Flute, and the Berliner Philharmoniker, together with the pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim who had just recorded Mozart’s Così fan tutte with the orchestra, decided to give a free special concert for the visitors from the GDR.
A symbolic concert
News about this concert spread like wildfire. A long queue formed outside the Philharmonie. Many people had spent the night in their cars and waited for hours for the box office to open. Right up to the last standing places, the coveted tickets were all taken in a very short time. The programme included two works by Ludwig van Beethoven: the First Piano Concerto and the Seventh Symphony. “Beethoven’s music, in any case more enhancing and fitting for the historic occasion than any other, gained new significance. Its elemental power, which includes the political, was experienced anew by musicians and audience alike,” wrote the critic Hans-Jörg von Jena. Everyone was moved to tears by the concert. Even today, the musicians remember the overwhelming emotions that made their playing so special, touching and exciting. For many, it remains “the concert” of their careers. Big changes were coming, not only politically, but also artistically: after the death of Herbert von Karajan, an era had come to an end, and the new chief conductor, Claudio Abbado was already chosen, but had not yet taken up his post. So there were new beginnings on several levels.
Ludwig van Beethoven once more
With a memorial concert on 9 November 2014, the Berliner Philharmoniker and Sir Simon Rattle will remember those exciting days 25 years ago. Again, it is a work of Ludwig van Beethoven that will be played on this occasion: the Ninth Symphony, performed together by the orchestra and the Rundfunkchor Berlin. The programme also includes Karol Szymanowski’s Stabat mater. The vocal soloists are the soprano Sally Matthews, the contralto Bernarda Fink, tenor Christian Elsner and baritone Hanno Müller-Brachmann. The long sold-out concert will be broadcast live in the Digital Concert Hall.
The 1989 concert
The Philarmoniker then go on tour and will give guest performances in cities which played a critical role during that time of political change: Halle, which along with Dresden and Leipzig was a centre of the GDR citizens movement; Warsaw, where the Solidarity strike movement initiated political reform; and Budapest and Prague, where many GDR citzens who wanted to leave their country found refuge. Beethoven’s Ninth is again on the programme, which will also include a work by a composer of the country where the concert takes place: Helmut Lachenmann’s Tableau for orchestra (Halle), Karol Szymanowski’s Stabat mater (Warsaw), György Kurtág’s Grabstein für Stephan (Budapest) and Bohuslav Martinů’s Fourth Piano Concerto (Prague). On behalf of its home town, the orchestra will express its thanks to the countries which played a prominent role in the peaceful revolution 25 years ago.