Friday 24 November 2017

Classical: Berlin's orchestra must be in harmony for key changes

Retired: Andreas Blau performs with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Retired: Andreas Blau performs with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra

George Hamilton

Back in June, the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra bade farewell to a veteran. Andreas Blau - a principal flute for over 46 years had joined at the same time as one of our own. James Galway had decided after a relatively short stay that a career as a soloist was what he wanted. Andreas Blau was happy to remain, and his story is a remarkable tale of musical continuity.

His dad was a violinist who'd joined the orchestra in 1948. Andreas, born the following year, more or less grew up in the Berlin Phil. He'd be brought along to rehearsals, and he became part of the warp and weft of the life of a professional musician.

It would have been natural for him to follow his father, but he didn't fancy the fiddle - he was spellbound by the sound of the flute, loving its more rounded, mellow tone.

No problem to the family, happy enough that he was of a musical bent. He was sent off to lessons, with a lady called Gertrud Zoeller, whose husband Karl-Heinz was one of the principals in the ensemble.

Time passed. Andreas got good. He moved on to study under Karl-Heinz, and furthered his education in America.

Meanwhile, the orchestra was spreading the word. In the summer of 1967, they went off on a tour of South America. Karl-Heinz Zoeller ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time.

In Buenos Aires, his taxi was involved in a serious traffic collision. The driver was killed. Karl-Heinz suffered serious chest injuries.

He wouldn't be able to play for years, which meant there was a spare seat in the woodwind section back in Berlin.

Now the Berlin Philharmonic is a co-operative - that's the way it was set up - and nothing happens unless they're all agreed. So there was a competition to fill Zoeller's place.

Andreas Blau played like a god. The orchestra was unanimous in voting him on board.

So Andreas and James Galway sat side by side until the wee man from the Shore Road in Belfast went off with his magic flute, and the Berliner played on.

The private life of Andreas Blau has been intricately interwoven with the orchestra itself. His wife's father - Fritz Wesenigk - was a trumpeter in the Berlin Phil. Their daughter is married to Albrecht Mayer, who sat next to his father-in-law, playing the oboe.

Andreas Blau's retirement was delayed while the orchestra sought his replacement. It wasn't simply a question of hiring someone. As was the case when he began all those years before, the current squad had to be happy with the new player.

They eventually settled on Mathieu Dufour, whose most recent engagement had been as principal flute with the Chicago Symphony.

There was another election that had to be dealt with.

Simon Rattle's time in charge is coming to an end.

He'll be taking over as Music Director of the London Symphony Orchestra.

The Berlin Philharmonic may be funded by the city, among other benefactors, but it's the 124 members of the orchestra who have the sole right to choose who will be their leader.

It turned out to be a fraught process. Finally, they came up with a name they all agreed upon. Born in Siberia, brought up in Austria, Kirill Petrenko was the choice to take charge of the Berlin Philharmonic.

But he's not actually on the transfer list, so it'll be a while before he starts. He's already engaged for the foreseeable future with the Bavarian State Opera.

He won't make it to Berlin till 2019.

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