The Berliner Philharmoniker's most recent guest appearance in Paris was not so long ago: On 18 February 2015, the orchestra and Sir Simon Rattle performed in the Philharmonie for the first time. The new concert hall, designed by the architect Jean Nouvel, in a former slaughterhouse premises in the city's 19th arrondissement, had only opened four weeks before, and the Berliners' concert with Helmut Lachenmann's Tableau for orchestra and Gustav Mahler's Resurrection Symphony made a great impression. The tone of the press reports was that concerts such as this are ideally suited to make the new Paris Philharmonie – located on the outskirts of the city – a place where you simply have to visit. The wonderful acoustics, which were sumptuously shown to their best advantage by the sound of the Philharmoniker, were also celebrated. This concert event formed the latest highpoint in the long and intense relationship that joins the orchestra and Parisian audiences.
An artistic triumph in unfavourable circumstances
The first guest appearance by the Philharmoniker under the direction of their then chief conductor Arthur Nikisch took place in May 1897 under very different circumstances: The Parisians had not yet overcome the trauma of the lost Franco-German War and the chief of police feared riots against the musicians from Germany. For this reason, he only wanted to approve the five concerts at the Cirque d'hiver if the word "Berlin" was removed from the posters. However, thanks to the diplomatic skills of the concert agent Hermann Wolff, the orchestra was allowed to play – even with Berlin still on the posters. Yet another thing clouded this first guest performance: The day before the first concert, a fire broke out during a charity bazaar in which many people died. The whole of Paris was in shock, and many theatres cancelled performances. Arthur Nikisch responded to the event by putting Beethoven's Third Symphony on the programme and having his musicians play the funeral march standing. Although there were catcalls at the beginning of the concert from one member of the audience, the rest were applauding enthusiastically by the end. The Berliner Philharmoniker had conquered a loyal following. The orchestra returned to Paris twice during the Nikisch era: in 1901 with their chief conductor, and in 1908 under the direction of Richard Strauss.
Parisian “branch office”
As a result of the the First World War and its consequences, there was a twenty-year pause after this promising start before the Philharmoniker were heard again in Paris in May 1928. This time they played in the Salle Pleyel conducted by Wilhelm Furtwängler with works by George Frideric Handel, Ludwig van Beethoven, Richard Strauss and Richard Wagner. Prior to the concert, expectations had been raised which - according to press reports - were exceeded by far. In the following years, the orchestra and its chief conductor went at least once a year to Paris, where they appeared in a variety of venues: in the Salle Pleyel, the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées and the Opéra Garnier. The orchestra played a typically German repertoire in their concerts, with an emphasis on works by Beethoven and Wagner. During the Second World War, the Philharmoniker gave concerts on a regular basis in the French capital under conductors such as Eugen Jochum and Hans Knappertsbusch.
Celebrated Beethoven and Brahms cycles
Paris also remained one of the Berliner Philharmoniker's main tour destinations in the era of Herbert von Karajan, and it was also he who, in 1960, offered Paris a complete Beethoven cycle with the Philharmoniker for the first time. They played all nine symphonies, plus the Egmont and Coriolan overtures. All Paris was impressed. Karajan's Beethoven interpretation was – according to the press – a happy synthesis of the power of Toscanini and the depth of Furtwängler. This was followed three years later by a Brahms cycle. While these two cycles were performed in the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, the Salle Pleyel became the venue of the Philharmoniker in the following years, and in 1967/1968 it was there that two of the three film recordings were made featuring Karajan as an interpreter of Johann Sebastian Bach. In 1992, Claudio Abbado revived Karajan's idea of a composer cycle, and together with the Philharmoniker presented not only all the symphonies of Johannes Brahms, but also his concertos, the Haydn Variations and the German Requiem. The Berliner Philharmoniker are now returning as a guest in Paris with a cycle : In the new Philharmonie, they are to perform all nine symphonies of Ludwig van Beethoven under the direction Sir Simon Rattle.