Following concerts in Berlin, Halle, Warsaw, Budapest and Prague where the Berliner Philharmoniker performed Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony under the baton of Sir Simon Rattle to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, November and December again see a number of esteemed guest conductors at the rostrum of the Berliner Philharmoniker.

The man from New York

Since Alan Gilbert stepped in at short notice for an indisposed Bernard Haitink in February 2006, the native New Yorker has been one of the orchestra’s regular guests. As he revealed in an interview for the Digital Concert Hall, the biggest challenge for him as a conductor is to create a balance between the overall architecture and the details of a composition. Only then is it possible to really make the music flow. In the concert programmes which he has already conducted with the Philharmoniker, works by Czech composers have played an important role: Antonín Dvořák’s Cello Concerto and his symphonic poem The Noon Witch, Bohuslav Martinů’s Fourth Symphony and Leoš Janáček’s Violin Concerto Putování dušičky (The Wandering of a Little Soul). Also in his most recent concerts in late January and early February 2014, Dvořák’s Cello Concerto with Daniel Müller-Schott as the soloist was again performed, together with Magnus Lindberg’s monumental orchestral work Kraft. This time, he turns to other symphonic regions, conducting Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy’s Scottish and Carl Nielsen’s Third Symphony.

Karajan’s discovery

A work by Mendelssohn, the Ruy Blas Overture is included in the concert programme of Riccardo Chailly in addition to Sergei Rachmaninov’s Third Symphony and Robert Schumann’s Piano Concerto with Martha Argerich as the soloist. Although Italian by birth, Chailly is considered a specialist in the German Romantic repertoire. At his last appearance in January 2013, he performed Bruckner’s Sixth and Mendelssohn’s Italian. In an interview for the Digital Concert Hall, he says: “It is an experience playing music with the Philharmoniker! The lightness and transparency of Mendelssohn’s music which we worked on is very difficult to achieve.” Riccardo Chailly’s debut with the orchestra in January 1980 was thanks to Herbert von Karajan. He wanted to give the young, talented conductor a chance. This debut also brought the Italian his first post as chief conductor – of the Radio-Symphonie-Orchester Berlin (now the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin). He held this position from 1981 to 1989, and during this period he frequently appeared as a guest at Philharmoniker concerts, usually as an interpreter of the German and Russian repertoire. Then his guest appearances became more sparse, his duties as chief conductor of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and later as Gewandhaus Kapellmeister taking up too much of his time. In 2011, Riccardo Chailly returned to conduct the Philharmoniker at the Waldbühne concert after a ten-year break. His impression on his comeback? “The orchestra has become more flexible over the years, but the sound of Karajan is still there.”

Mount Everest conqueror

Like Alan Gilbert, Kirill Petrenko made his Philharmoniker debut in February 2006. However, the young Russian was well known to Berlin audiences at this time – as general music director of the Komische Oper. In the 2002/2003 season, he took up the position and since then it has been said about him: There at the desk stands a conductor who is more interested in the music than in showmanship. Modestly, but tenaciously and tirelessly, Petrenko has led his orchestra to the highest musical heights. The Komische Oper became his springboard to the world: Petrenko now conducts at the Vienna State Opera, the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, the Metropolitan Opera and the Bavarian State Opera, whose general music director he has been since the 2013/2014 season. A native of Omsk, the artist, who studied in both his home town and in Vienna, initially learned his craft in smaller houses: at the Vorarlberger Landestheater, the Vienna Volksoper and the Meininger Theater, where he produced a much-admired Ring des Nibelungen together with Christine Mielitz. In orchestral concerts, Petrenko, who still feels very much at home in Berlin, like to present himself as an interpreter of Russian masters. Not so in this season, when Philharmoniker audiences will hear him for the first time in a work by Gustav Mahler, the Sixth Symphony. Standing in front of the Berlin Philharmoniker is both a pleasure and a challenge for him: “It’s a big thing for me to work with this orchestra – almost like climbing Mount Everest without equipment.”

Conductor of the Russian school

Tugan Sokhiev’s most recent concert with the Berliner Philharmoniker was only a few months ago: In June 2014, he conducted Henri Vieuxtemps’ Violin Concerto with Hilary Hahn as the soloist and Peter Tchaikovsky’s Manfred Symphony. “Sokhiev once again showed himself to be a powerful organiser who flourishes the more complex the score is,” it said in the review of the Berliner Zeitung. The 37-year-old conductor is one of the shooting stars of his generation. At the moment he is chief conductor of three renowned orchestras: the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, the Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse and the Orchestra of the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. In the three concerts which he has given since his debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker in January 2010, a delightful mix of French and Russian music has always been on the programme. This time he has chosen an all-Russian evening with Anatoly Lyadov’s The Enchanted Lake, Sergei Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto (soloist: Vadim Gluzman) and Dmitri Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony. Born in north Ossetian, not only his repertoire but also his conducting style is rooted in the Russian tradition. Tugan Sokhiev was a student of the legendary Ilya Musin: “That was the greatest good fortune that has ever happened to me. Musin was already in his early 90s, but he was tremendous. Everything has changed since I was with him and I would not be here at all today if I had not studied with him.”