Friday 17 November 2017

How Berlin's division made it the epicentre of music-making

Berlin has always been at the heart of music-making in central Europe. The tradition lives on, with five major orchestras, not to mention the ensembles who play in the pit at the city's three opera houses and give standalone concerts of their own. And that's before you count the choirs.

This wonderful musical legacy has its roots in Berlin's chequered history. Frederick the Great was King of Prussia for 46 years in the 18th Century, and he loved music.

The Berlin State Opera was his creation, opening in 1742 and still going strong under the leadership of Daniel Barenboim. Quite how strong is evidenced by the fact that its landmark home on the city's main boulevard, Unter den Linden, is undergoing extensive renovations, and while that's been going on, the Opera has brought new life to a suburban theatre that had lain idle for 17 years.

The artistic effect of the division of the city following World War Two is almost an embarrassment of orchestral riches now that it is one again.

Two new groups had been set up on either side of the Berlin Wall. In 1946, the occupying American authorities, under the auspices of the radio and TV station in the western sector under their control, created a house band that's still playing as the German Symphony Orchestra of Berlin.

Some years later, the administration in East Berlin moved to bolster the musical output there to compete with the internationally renowned Berlin Philharmonic on the other side of the Wall.

The Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, which dated from 1923, would be joined by the Berlin Symphony Orchestra, which first took to the stage in 1952.

Back in the west, two smaller ensembles would merge in the 1960s to become the Berliner Symphoniker.

While the Berlin Phil -- where James Galway was principal flute for six years before launching his solo career -- was always the headline act, with its home the Philharmonie not far to the west of the Brandenburg Gate, across the Wall, the Berlin Symphony was gaining in prestige.

Now at home in the classical magnificence of the German capital's finest square, the Gendarmenmarkt, behind the Doric facade of the majestic Konzerthaus, with the fall of the Wall, it emerged as a dynamic new force nurturing younger musicians, aiming for younger audiences. In 2006, it was renamed the Konzerthausorchester.

For the next two weeks, it's playing host to a kind of parallel Olympics, the 13th edition of Young Euro Classic, a summer festival featuring youth orchestras from around the world. As you might say, Berlin is alive with the sound of music.

RTÉ lyric fm features The Hamilton Scores from 9.30 each Saturday morning, and George Hamilton's Full Score on Sundays at 3.00pm.

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