A very special partnership

The Berliner Philharmoniker – 10 years as UNICEF Goodwill Ambassadors

(Photo: Monika Rittershaus)

The blue cello case with the white lettering is the symbol of a very special partnership: ten years ago, at a ceremony in New York in November 2007, Sir Simon Rattle accepted it on behalf of the Berliner Philharmoniker, the first institution to be appointed UNICEF international goodwill ambassadors. At that time, the organisation wanted to appoint a German representative to the ranks of international goodwill ambassadors. Since the Philharmoniker had demonstrated an admirable commitment to children and young people with their pioneering education programme, they seemed predestined for the task. For Simon Rattle and the musicians of the orchestra, this appointment was both a great honour and a great responsibility. A responsibility that they have gladly lived up to ever since.

Every Tuesday Lunchtime

The commitment of the Philharmoniker to the United Nations Children’s Fund rests on three pillars: On the one hand there are the weekly lunchtime concerts, which take place almost every Tuesday and at which music lovers can enjoy listening to chamber music of the highest standard – free of charge. There is a UNICEF stand in the foyer of the Philharmonie at each concert where visitors can not only find out about the work of the children’s aid organisation, but also support it with donations.

The blue cello on tour …

The Berliner Philharmoniker also play the role of UNICEF ambassadors on their concert tours. For example: after the devastating tsunami and earthquake disaster in Japan in 2011, members of the orchestra travelled to Sendai in the middle of the crisis area to meet local children and make music with them. “Music is an international language,” as Sir Simon Rattle says in an interview for the Digital Concert Hall, “We are speakers, we speak through our music [...]. Music can bring people together and it can make people feel that they are not alone.” As UNICEF ambassadors, three musicians participated in an international conference for children with disabilities in Baku, Azerbaijan in 2013. The aim of the event was to provide better educational opportunities for children in Azerbaijan and other countries of the former Soviet Union, enabling them to better integrate into society.

... and in Berlin

However, the most important support for UNICEF is given by the Philharmoniker on their own terrain: the concert stage. With regular charity concerts, they collect donations for the children’s charity. Especially when a country is suddenly in need due to war or natural disaster, aid must come immediately. The earthquake in Haiti, the reactor disaster in Fukushima, the typhoon in the Philippines or the war in Syria come immediately to mind. “What we can do quickly is to give a concert,” says Simon Rattle. “Particularly because the idea of a charity concert keeps things in people’s minds, keeps them giving. Because we need people to carry on and carry on giving.” Over the past decade, many artists have participated in these charity concerts, such as Mitsuko Uchida, András Schiff, Lang Lang, Zubin Mehta and Pinchas Zukerman. Special highlights of the last few years include the auction of the Alfred Brendel piano in 2012, the donation of Deutsche Bank at the festival at the Kulturforum and – the most recent event in the series so far – the German Federal President’s charity concert in March 2017. It was also one of the last appearances by Joachim Gauck as Federal President. In his opening remarks, he reiterated the importance of the work of the Children's Fund: “UNICEF has saved children’s lives in many parts of the world and made those lives worth living.”


New York 2007: Sir Simon Rattle accepts the blue cello case 2011: Clarinetist Walter Seyfarth among the children of Sendai
(Photo: Monika Rittershaus)
Auction of the Alfred Brendel piano
(Photo: Monika Rittershaus)
2013: UNICEF Goodwill Ambassadors in Baku
(Photo: Giacomo Pirozzi)
Festival at the Kulturforum: Deutsche Bank donates to Syrian children in need Waldbühne 2015: Lang Lang and Sir Simon Rattle
(Photo: Monika Rittershaus)