In the coming weeks, there are three conductors at the podium of the Berliner Philharmoniker who are among the orchestra’s long-standing guests: Iván Fischer, Herbert Blomstedt and Mariss Jansons. “When I come here,” Jansons said in an interview for the Digital Concert Hall, “I try to conduct a different programme every time.” However, not only the Latvian but also the other two conductors will surprise audiences during their current appearances with compositions that they have never performed in Philharmoniker concerts before.
The Mahler specialist
Iván Fischer, chief conductor of the Konzerthausorchester Berlin and founder of the Budapest Festival Orchestra, has been a guest conductor of the Berliner Philharmoniker since 1989 and has made his mark with the orchestra mainly as an interpreter of Haydn and Mozart as well as Hungarian composers, especially Béla Bartók. Now, for the first time, he conducts Gustav Mahler’s Third Symphony, the work with which Fischer introduced himself to Berlin audiences as chief conductor designate of the Konzerthausorchester in 2012, and which drew wild applause from the audience. Fischer feels a deep connection to the works of Mahler, and not only because he regularly programmes his symphonies for his concerts and makes recordings of them. He founded the Budapest Mahler Festival and the Hungarian Mahler Society in his native Hungary in order to make the music of the composer better known there. At the beginning of his career, his musical aesthetics were influenced by two completely contrasting conducting personalities: the teacher Hans Swarowsky and Nikolaus Harnoncourt, whose assistant Fischer was and who showed him that music is a form of interpersonal communication. His international career started in 1976 following his triumphant victory at the Rupert Foundation conducting competition in London.
Dvořák and Berwald for the first time
1976 was also a memorable year for Herbert Blomstedt, because in that year the Swedish-American made his debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker – together with the then 20-year-old pianist Krystian Zimerman. Press attention was focused mainly on the newly crowned winner of the Chopin Competition, but the qualities of Blomstedt’s conducting were also mentioned, impressing the critics with his enthusiasm and conviction. Blomstedt, who in the course of his career has held such positions as chief conductor of the Staatskapelle Dresden, the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, was invited back by the Berliner Philharmoniker on many occasions. In recent years, the collaboration between conductor and orchestra has intensified, and he is now to be found at the conductor’s desk of the orchestra almost every year. Until now, he has been heard primarily as an interpreter of the works of Anton Bruckner, the composer who inspired Blomstedt when he was only 13 years old. However, in this concert, and for the first time with the Philharmoniker, he performs Antonín Dvořák’s Seventh Symphony and the Third Symphony of Franz Berwald, whose musical language is reminiscent of Mendelssohn.
Shostakovich: close to his heart
Just like Herbert Blomstedt, Mariss Jansons also made his debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker in 1976. However, he had already conducted the orchestra five years earlier – as one of the winners in the final concert of the Herbert von Karajan conducting competition. Although he “only” won a second prize, he made the “most mature impression” on the critics at the time. The orchestra also felt that they had an exceptional talent in front of them. The competition is – as Jansons once said in an interview – deeply etched in his memory and he has felt a close connection to the orchestra ever since. The Latvian conductor, current artistic director of the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, has been a frequent and regular guest of the Philharmoniker since 1988. His concerts are characterised by unusual programming which mostly includes at least one piece by a composer from Northern or Eastern Europe. The works of Dmitri Shostakovich in particular were, and are, very close to his heart. And with good reason. After all, he got to know and learned to appreciate his compositions at first hand from his father, the conductor Arvīds Jansons, a friend of Shostakovich, when he was just a child. This time, too, the programme includes one of the Russian composer’s symphonies, but one that he has never conducted before with the Philharmoniker: the Tenth Symphony, in which Dmitri Shostakovich deals with the horrors of the Stalin era. Other items on the programme are Hector Berlioz’s Roman Carnival Overture and the Cello Concerto by Henri Dutilleux with Truls Mørk as the soloist. What is it that Mariss Jansons values most about the Berliner Philharmoniker? “The quality of this orchestra is so fantastic. It makes me happy as a conductor, because I can achieve everything I want.”