The concerts of the German Federal President

A success story since 1988

1992: Marianne and Richard von Weizsäcker in conversation with Sergiu Celibidache
(Photo: Presse- und Informationsamt der Bundesregierung / Bernd Kühler)

For the last time in his tenure, Joachim Gauck invites you to the German Federal President’s Benefit Concert: On 12 March, the Berliner Philharmoniker under the baton of Zubin Mehta perform Elgar’s Violin Concerto (soloist Pinchas Zukerman) and Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony. The concert is being held in aid of UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund, whose ambassador the orchestra has been for the last ten years.

An idea of Richard von Weizsäcker

However, the history of the Federal President’s concert goes back a lot longer. When Federal President Richard von Weizsäcker launched it in 1988, hardly anyone foresaw what a special musical format he had established: This benefit event, which originally was planned to take place in the Berlin Philharmonie every year, not only raises funds for artistic and social projects. These concerts have also provided audiences with many spectacular musical moments, such as the second benefit concert in March 1989 which also saw Carlos Kleiber make his debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker. The orchestra had been trying for years without success to persuade the reclusive but brilliant conductor to work with them. But Kleiber couldn’t say no to a request from Richard von Weizsäcker.

Musical highlights in Berlin ...

Sergiu Celibidache’s triumphant comeback in March 1992 was an equally exceptional and moving event. A rift had developed between the intransigent Romanian and the Berliner Philharmoniker some 38 years previously when the musicians had elected Karajan as chief conductor and not him. Celibidache turned his back on Berlin. Richard von Weizsäcker’s mediation and the promise that the proceeds of the concert would be donated to children’s homes in Romania brought about a change of heart in the conductor, and he came to Berlin to conduct Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony. But conductors who also work regularly with the Philharmoniker have accepted the Federal President’s invitation to the charity concert: Daniel Barenboim, Claudio Abbado, Lorin Maazel, Günter Wand, Bernard Haitink, Sir Simon Rattle, and Zubin Mehta who in 1997 conducted the first concert of the Roman Herzog era. On that occasion, the proceeds went to the Berliner Philharmoniker’s Orchestra Academy. Presidents Roman Herzog and Johannes Rau happily continued Richard von Weizsäcker’s tradition of charity concerts at which not only the Philharmoniker, but other leading orchestras have also played, such as the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig and the Staatskapelle Dresden.

... and all over Germany

With President Horst Köhler, the profile of the concert series changed: Since 2006, the Federal President’s charity concerts no longer have taken place only in Berlin, but in each federal state in turn – to demonstrate just how varied and superb the German music scene is, such as the Freiburg-based Balthasar-Neumann-Ensemble, the Bayerisches Staatsorchester in Munich, the Chamber Opera Rheinsberg Castle, the WDR Sinfonieorchester in Cologne, the Staatskapelle Halle, and the Philharmonic State Orchestra Hamburg, to name just a few. Proceeds from the concerts have gone to a variety of different projects, institutions and people, such as Straßenkinder in Berlin, development projects in Mali, the Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy Conservatory Competition, the campaign “Nachbar in Not” (Bosnia), and the International Young People’s Centre of the Buchenwald and Mittelbau-Dora Memorials Foundation. Most recently, in 2016, the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra played under Jonathan Nott in aid of the Deutsche Hospiz- und PalliativStiftung and the Hospizverein Bamberg e.V. With such a history, it is to be hoped that this success story continues in the future.

1994: Rehearsal with Carlos Kleiber for Benefit Concert of the Federal President
(Photo: Archiv Berliner Philharmoniker/ Vivianne Purdom)
2005: Federal President Horst Köhler inaugurates the charity concert
(Photo: Presse- und Informationsamt der Bundesregierung / Ralf Maro)
Federal President Joachim Gauck and Daniela Schadt, Patroness of UNICEF Germany (left)
(Photo: Sebastian Bolesch)


Sergiu Celibidache: The triumphant return

Watch the film of Sergiu Celibidache’s return to the Berliner Philharmoniker in the Digital Concert Hall.

Zur Digital Concert Hall

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