It is most natural for the Berliner Philharmoniker to dedicate themselves with great enthusiasm to chamber music in addition to playing in the orchestra. Hardly a member of the orchestra is not involved in one or more specialised chamber ensembles, not fewer than 37 of which can be found on the orchestra’s own website. Many of these ensembles, in which the musicians have developed a unique playing culture due to working together as colleagues for many years, are internationally renowned and perform as guests around the world.
Internationally renowned ensembles
The tradition of Philharmonic chamber music performance has a long history. The combination of the 12 Cellists is of particular note, however, since it led a veritable founding boom: the twelve musicians increasingly inspired their colleagues to perform to some extent independently, a development that was bound to ensure ever more variety in the Philharmonic repertoire. Numerous internationally renowned string quartets have been and continue to be founded by musicians from the Berliner Philharmoniker – a tradition that is also cultivated by the orchestra’s younger generation, as demonstrated, for instance, by the Varian Fry Quartet and the Philharmonic String Quartet. The historical range that the Philharmonic chamber music ensembles address ranges from authentic period instrument sound to contemporary music. The Scharoun Ensemble devotes itself to the latter, besides the canon of classical and Romantic repertoire. This classical octet formation, founded in 1983 by members of the Berliner Philharmoniker, has initiated and premiered numerous new pieces, collaborating in so doing with composers such as Hans Werner Henze, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Aribert Reimann, György Ligeti, Jörg Widmann and Matthias Pintscher. But new works have also been composed for other Philharmonic chamber music groups, for instance for the Ensemble Wien-Berlin and the Berlin Philharmonic Octet.
The scope of chamber music has been expanding in this way for decades, and this rapid evolution gives no signs of coming to a halt. Arrangements for the most varied of line-ups enrich the chamber music repertoire in diverse ways. The picture of the Berlin Philharmonic’s chamber music activities is complemented by occasional forays into the worlds of tango, bossa nova and jazz, demonstrating how playing in small groups furthers stylistic versatility. But also the trios, quartets, quintets and octets for chamber music ensembles of all kinds draw on a historical breadth that ranges from Renaissance and early Baroque to various forms of entertainment music and 21st-century modernity.
The principal forum for this is the Philharmonic Chamber Music concert series, in which programmes are presented in various formats. Here, the Berliner Philharmoniker cultivate in small ensembles a repertoire that is not accessible to a large symphony orchestra, and that plays a rather marginal role in concert life. The great diversity of these concerts is reflected in the line-ups, ranging from the “classical” string quartet to rare combinations of instruments. Philharmonic Chamber Music, which the Berlin Philharmonic are of course for the most part staging with colleagues from their own ranks in 2019-20, is a platform simultaneously for the “hits” of chamber music literature, and for discovering and rediscovering unknown musical gems.