1882 - 2015

Berliner Philharmoniker

Berliner Philharmoniker

History and music of a world orchestra

A world-class orchestra
Passionate musicians, charismatic conductors, outstanding soloists - since 1882

It started with an act of rebellion: in March 1882 50 members of the ensemble run by the popular musical director Benjamin Bilse refused to sign their new contracts – they found the working conditions too unfavourable: they were to earn hardly more than day labourers. The musicians decided to set up on their own and from then on to work at their own risk. Read more

Hans von Bülow
Principal Conductor from 1887 to 1892. In his day Hans von Bülow embodied the modern type of conductor: eccentric in his gestures, uncompromising, analytical in his musical work, expressive in his musical results. He was an orchestral educator to the highest degree an established standards that formed the basis for the orchestra’s later international fame.
Arthur Nikisch
Principal Conductor from 1895 bis 1922. Arthur Nikisch, who conducted with quiet and sparing gestures, banked on romantic, sensual colouring and a rhapsodic breadth which felt improvised. He shifted the programmatic emphasis, not only launching German repertoire, but also conducting compositions by Tchaikovsky, Berlioz, Liszt, Strauss, Mahler – and particularly Bruckner. Under his direction the orchestra became increasingly prominent on the international scene; any and all soloists of distinction came to Berlin to perform with the Philharmoniker. But that was not all. Nikisch took many trips with the orchestra and in this way enhanced their international reputation.
Wilhelm Furtwängler
Principal Conductor from 1922 to 1934 and from 1952 to 1954. Wilhelm Furtwängler was a musical personality who built on the accomplishments of his predecessors Hans von Bülow and Nikisch and helped the orchestra continue to expand its renown. His unconventional conducting technique was fabled: it required great personal responsibility and sensitivity from the musicians. Furtwängler formed the Berliner Philharmoniker into his very own instrument, one that ingeniously realized his interpretation ideas.
Herbert von Karajan
Principal Conductor from 1956 to 1989. Under Herbert von Karajan the Berliner Philharmoniker developed their very own performance culture, characterised by a beauty of sound, enchanting legati, virtuosity and perfection. He preferred to concentrate on the classical-romantic repertoire: Beethoven, Brahms, Bruckner, Schumann, Tchaikovsky, Wagner and Strauss. In addition, he devoted himself to the Second Viennese School and leading composers of the early 20th century. With Karajan the Philharmonic moved in 1963 into the Philharmonie built by Scharoun. With him the orchestra became a media star. And it has this conductor to thank for two further institutions: the Salzburg Easter Festival, which Karajan created in 1967, and the Orchestra Academy.

Based on a live concert performance given before an invited audience in the Berlin Philharmonie, this 1972 film of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony shows the orchestra marrying a depth of tone Nikisch and Furtwängler would have recognised with a new-found brilliance of attack which Karajan’s Toscanini-inspired Beethoven readings had brought to the Berlin tradition.

Herbert von Karajan in the Digital Concert Hall

Herbert von Karajan conducts Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony. The Berliner Philharmoniker’s long and distinguished tradition of Tchaikovsky performance can be traced back to their founding years. Tchaikovsky himself knew and admired the orchestra’s two earliest principal conductors Hans von Bülow and Artur Nikisch. Their inspired advocacy of his music – the last three symphonies in particular – would be continued by their similarly dedicated and charismatic successors Wilhelm Furtwängler and Herbert von Karajan.

Herbert von Karajan in the Digital Concert Hall

Claudio Abbado
Principal Conductor from 1990 to 2002. Claudio Abbado strived for a more transparent orchestral sound than his predecessor. The principal conductor placed his very own emphasis with his concert programmes. Typical of the Abbado era were major concert cycles focussing on a specific theme, for instance Prometheus, Faust or Shakespeare, and the engagement with the work of Gustav Mahler.

There is nowhere else in the world that the Berliner Philharmoniker have been received with more warmth, enthusiasm, and for so many years, than in Japan. Recorded in the Suntory Hall in Tokyo in 1994, this concert with Claudio Abbado gives an impression of just the kind of reception they are given. The programme includes Igor Stravinsky’s “The Firebird” Suite.

Claudio Abbado in the Digital Concert Hall

With the 2002 European Concert, Abbado’s final tour at the head of the orchestra began. It took him all through his Italian homeland, culminating in Vienna in Austria where Abbado – with his successor Sir Simon Rattle in the audience – gave his last performance as chief conductor with the Berliner Philharmoniker on 13 May 2002. He conducts Antonín Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9 ”From the New World”.

Claudio Abbado in the Digital Concert Hall

Sir Simon Rattle
Principal conductor since 2002. He favours an even more transparent orchestra sound, confronts the musicians with conductors who are considered specialists in historical performance practice, and focuses more strongly on the works of Viennese classicism as well as contemporary composers. And that’s not all. Quite in line with the intention to get classical music out of its elitist enclave and to identify new pathways to music for the audience, Rattle established the Berlin Philharmonic’s Education Programme. With this the orchestra wants to reach people who thus far have had little or no access to classical music, particularly children and young people.

Since 1991 the Berliner Philharmoniker have given an annual May Day concert in a European venue of particular historical – and often cultural – significance in order to commemorate its foundation on 1 May 1882 and at the same time highlight the common legacy of the Old World. In 2004, the year when the Olympic Games were also held in the city, the choice fell on Athens, the cradle of western culture and democracy. This, however, was the first time Daniel Barenboim had appeared in the same concert as Sir Simon Rattle. On the programme were Brahms’ First Piano Concerto.

Waldbühne 2005: the very last encore – Paul Linke’s "Berlin Air”, in which the orchestra’s principal conductor as usual played the bass drum.

The critics’ reviews of St Matthew Passion in the Philharmonie were full of superlatives. The radio station RBB Kultur considered it to be “a moment of glory for Rattle! And one of the best evenings with the Philharmoniker for years.« Media praise didn’t stop at the Berliner Philharmoniker and their principal conductor but extended to what is called the “ritualization” by American star director Peter Sellars.

What a programme Sir Simon Rattle, soprano Barbara Hannigan and members of the Berliner Philharmoniker have assembled for this Late Night: naughty, sophisticated, sexy and subversive – in the spirit of Stravinsky and Weill, but also very British: William Walton’s 1923 “entertainment” Façade,

For Simon Rattle, Robert Schumann is "the echt Romantic". And in fact, the exuberance of the period, its passion and its melancholy can be heard with unique intensity in Schumann's music to this day. For the Berliner Philharmoniker, Schumann's symphonies have always been part of their core repertoire. And so it only stands to reason that the Berliner Philharmoniker should launch their Berliner Philharmoniker Recordings label with a cycle of the four Schumann symphonies. Here an excerpt of the First Symphony.

On occasion of the 25th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall on 9 November 2014 the orchestra played Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, which with its utopian content of unity, joy and fraternity optimally corresponded to subsequent generations’ artistic religious ideas.

“Manon Lescaut” at the 2014 Easter Festival: From naive innocence to femme fatale and outlaw – the fall from grace of the heroine of Abbé Prévost novel “L’Histoire du chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut” is extreme. With the dramma lirico “Manon Lescaut“, the 35-year-old Giacomo Puccini made his artistic breakthrough in 1893.

A highlight of the 2015/2016 season: the Beethoven cycle with the Berliner Philharmoniker under the baton of Sir Simon Rattle. Here is an excerpt from the "Eroica". The complete cycle can be found in the Digital Concert Hall.

To the Digital Concert Hall

Berliner Philharmoniker and guests
Watch and listen to classical music's finest conductors and soloists performing with the Berliner Philharmoniker – live as it happens or on-demand as it suits you.

The natural philosophers of the 19th century would have adored this work. As overwhelming as Gustav Mahler’s Third Symphony is in its dimensions, as astounding it is in expressing the primordial experience of nature, which this piece focuses on. Zubin Mehta stands on the Philharmoniker’s rostrum, a conductor with one of the longest affiliations with the orchestra.

Anton Bruckner called his First Symphony a "saucy maid" and it is probably true to say that there is more exuberant joie de vivre to be found in this than in any other of the composer's works. It is hard to believe that, previous to this performance with Seiji Ozawa, the Berliner Philharmoniker had not included this highly original symphony in a concert for a quarter of a century.

Gustavo Dudamel holds a prominent position among musicians of our time – as a conductor who stands out not by an otherworldly authority over others but by an absolute devotion to the music and a unique ability to inspire orchestras and audiences with his energy. In this concert he demonstrates his qualities in, among other works, Richard Strauss’s “Also sprach Zarathustra”.

What a surprise: On 21 June 2015, the Berliner Philharmoniker voted for Kirill Petrenko as the new chief conductor designate of the Berliner Philharmoniker and artistic director of the Berliner Philharmoniker Foundation by a large majority. The native Russian made his debut with the Philharmoniker in 2006. Here he conducts Alexander Scriabin’s “ Le Poème de l’extase”. This mystical and gloriously excessive orchestral piece is an orgiastic rush of sound, which is typical for many late Romantic compositions.

Andris Nelsons, which was in 2008 the 30-year-old (indirect) successor to Sir Simon Rattle at the helm of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, first conducted the Berliner Philharmoniker in October 2010. Here he conducts the "Tannhäuser” prelude by Richard Wagner.

Herbert Blomstedt has regularly given guest performances with the Berliner Philharmoniker, often as a major advocate of Bruckner symphonies. For his February concerts 2014 at the Philharmonie, the maestro has included Hector Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique in the programme

The Easter Festival has always been an occasion for the Berliner Philharmoniker to work with young, aspiring soloists for the first time. This is also the case 2014 in Baden-Baden, where the Argentinian cellist Sol Gabetta makes her Philharmoniker debut with Edward Elgar’s Cello Concerto.

Martha Argerich and Riccardo Chailly have been linked with the Berliner Philharmoniker by long artistic friendships. For them to perform at the orchestra’s concerts jointly, however, is something of a rarity. Only twice, namely in 1983 and 1989, did the Berlin audience have the opportunity to experience the two of them on stage. This time they have decided to take on Robert Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A minor.

The list of conductors who have conducted Brahms’s “Deutsches Requiem” with the Berliner Philharmoniker since Herbert von Karajan’s death is remarkable: Carlo Maria Giulini, Claudio Abbado, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Bernard Haitink, Simon Rattle and lastly Donald Runnicles. In this recording Christian Thielemann conducts the masterpiece.

Bernard Haitink, a highly-esteemed guest conductor with the Berliner Philharmoniker for more than 50 years, conducted in Mai 2015 a work which he has never performed before with the orchestra: Franz Schubert’s Fifth Symphony in B flat major.

A unwillingness to compromise means that the legendary pianist Krystian Zimerman agrees to the release of recordings only in exceptional cases. All the more fortunate that his interpretation of Johannes Brahms’s First Piano Concerto with the Berliner Philharmoniker and Sir Simon Rattle is available in the Digital Concert Hall.

Digital Concert Hall
The virtual concert hall of the Berliner Philharmoniker

The internet platform presents over 40 live-streams every year in HD video, hundreds of exclusive concert recordings on-demand, historic concerts with Herbert von Karajan and Claudio Abbado, free exclusive interviews with the conductors and soloists, feature-length documentaries, incl. "Rhythm is it!" and "Trip to Asia" and free children's concerts for the whole family.
To the Digital Concert Hall

Seven cameras are installed in the hall for the online broadcasts of the Berliner Philharmoniker in the Digital Concert Hall. The cameras are mounted on pan-tilt heads and controlled remotely from the video studio of the Philharmonie. Thanks to particularly sensitive lenses, they need no additional lighting to provide a high quality HD image.

In 2008, the video technology was installed in this studio of the Philharmonie, originally designed for sound recordings. From here, directors and cameramen control seven HD cameras mounted in the hall for the online broadcast of the Berliner Philharmoniker in the Digital Concert Hall. In this way, around 40 concerts are streamed live each season and are also later available for viewing in the video archive of the Digital Concert Hall.

Berliner Philharmoniker
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