A concert hall is not a concert hall without an organ, even if it is rarely used. In 1965, two years after the opening of the Philharmonie, the main auditorium received its “queen of instruments”. The organ in the Philharmonie is part of Hans Scharoun’s unusual spatial concept: Unlike conventional concert halls where it is usually located centrally on the concert platform, in the Philharmonie, it is positioned off to the right – a visible presence, but at the same time elegantly discreet. The form and design of the four-manual organ, which originally had more than 72 stops, correspond to major lines and elements of the space. The design of the façade was created from a sketch of an idea by Scharoun. The smaller choir organ to the right and left of the stairs to the choir stalls is hidden inconspicuously behind marble-clad sills.

Neo-Baroque sound ideal

Built by the renowned Berlin organ workshop Karl Schuke, both organs meet the neo-Baroque sound ideal which became fashionable as part of the organ movement of the 1930s. The inauguration of the organ on 16 November 1965 was also a memorial concert for Paul Hindemith who had died in 1963 and would have been 70 years old that day. The Austrian organist Anton Heiller played the organ concerto which Hindemith composed in 1962 for the inauguration of the organ at New York’s Philharmonic Hall at Lincoln Center. “The sound combines robustness with colour, but only reaches the various seats with very varying volume levels and fullness due to the acoustic quirks of the space”, it said in a review. “Time will tell how limited or unlimited the possibilities of the instrument are in detail.”

Awaking from its slumber

For many years, the Karl-Schuke organ remained a little-noticed jewel of the main auditorium of the Philharmonie. But since the introduction of the “organ” concert series in 2008, great organ virtuosos of our time, including Cameron Carpenter, Jean Guillou, Thomas Trotter, Peter Kofler, Nathan Laube and David Briggs, have regularly brought the “queen of instruments” to life. And over the years, time had indeed shown that the possibilities of the organ by no means fulfil all requirements. Instigated by the organist Jean Guillou, it was renovated with financial support of the Friends of the Berliner Philharmoniker in 2011 and 2012 and its tonal range expanded: the wind supply received a second blower, the swells have been improved and three “Romantic” stops have been added, including the “Tuba en chamade” with resonators which jut out horizontally from the façade in the tradition of Spanish trumpet stops. In addition, the choir organ was integrated into the main instrument, so players now have a total of 88 stops available to them. The most important change was to the console which now meets today’s digital technology standards and offers a comprehensive range of electronic playing aids.

Birthday concert

For the 50th anniversary, the Swedish organist Gunnar Idenstam, takes to the console of the organ in the Philharmonie. An organist who specialises in adaptations of symphonic works, his programme, in addition to Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in G Major, BWV 541, includes Maurice Ravel’s La Valse, and – together with the percussion duo Double Beats – the Boléro. Other guests of the next organ matinees are Wolfgang Rübsam, Sarah Kim and Jean Guillou, who will accompany Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau’s silent film classic Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror.