Welcome to the Philharmonie, the musical heart of Berlin.
He was the Berlin Philharmonic’s Orchester’s first great orchestral trainer: Hans von Bülow (1830–1894). At the instigation of the concert agent Hermann Wolff, he became the Philharmonic’s musical director in 1887, following the orchestra’s collaboration with several outstanding conductors in its early years. Bülow set high standards and rehearsed relentlessly. Under his baton, the Berliner Philharmoniker scored great triumphs.
The Hungarian-born Arthur Nikisch (1855–1922) directed the Berliner Philharmonisches Orchester from 1895 until his death in 1922. Having begun his career as an orchestral violinist, he had an unequalled knack for winning over the musicians with his charm, his charisma and his intuitively based interpretative artistry. Under Nikisch’s leadership the Berlin Philharmonic made its first recordings.
Wilhelm Furtwängler (1886–1954) succeeded Arthur Nikisch as conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic (Berliner Philharmonisches Orchester) in 1922. Unlike his predecessor he immediately became a champion of the contemporary repertoire, which, after Hitler seized power, aroused the Nazis’ displeasure. And yet the regime held Furtwängler in high esteem as a conductor, although he never joined the Party and regarded himself as apolitical. In 1945 he was banned from conducting by the Allies, but in a 1947 tribunal he was de-Nazified and thus able once again to conduct the Berliner Philharmoniker. It was not until 1952, however, that he was officially reinstated as the orchestra’s chief conductor, a position he held until his death two years later.
After Wilhelm Furtwängler’s death, Herbert von Karajan (1908–1989) became the orchestra’s principal conductor – for nearly 35 years. Under his direction it developed that specific sound and brilliant virtuosic perfection for which it is now world-famous. 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.
Herbert von Karajan in the Digital Concert Hall
Claudio Abbado (1933-2014) was chief conductor from 1990 to 2002. He 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.
The Philharmonie’s main auditorium is famous for its outstanding acoustics as well as for its architecture. In planning it, Scharoun worked closely with the acoustician Lothar Cremer from Berlin’s
Technical University. Many of the architectonic details – for example the steepness and height of the steps and railings – were acoustically determined. In spite of thorough preparatory work, some later adjustments were necessary: one of the most significant was raising the concert platform in 1975 in order to enhance the sound of the strings.
Visit the Digital Concert Hall, where you can the concerts of the Berliner Philharmoniker since 2009.
To the Digital Concert Hall
“The hall is conceived as a valley, situated on the bed of which is the orchestra, surrounded by ascending terraced vineyards.” Scharoun translated the image of gently sloping terraces into his design of the blocks of seats for 2218 attendees. The architect’s vision was that of creating a concert hall for a democratic society: no hermetical sealing off of individual tiers and a uniform acoustical quality for all seats.
Unlike traditional concert halls, in which the organ is placed directly above the orchestra platform, Scharoun moved the instrument to the right periphery of the room. The organ has 72 registers, four manuals and pedal, and it can be played from either a tracker (mechanical) or a mobile electric console. It comes from the Berlin organ workshop of Karl Schuke.
As a counterpart to the “vineyard landscape” of the audience levels, Scharoun created a ceiling which he described as a “skyscape”. The many small lights are intended to evoke associations of a “starry firmament”. Incidentally: the height of the ceiling was determined according to the acoustical requirement of 10 m3 air space per seat.
The Berliner Philharmoniker's Digital Concert Hall video streams classical music concerts to your tablet, smartphone, smartTV or PC. The sound quality is similar to that of a CD and the picture quality similar to HD television. In this way, the Digital Concert Hall documents almost in its entirety the artistic work of the Berliner Philharmoniker and its musical partners – from principal conductor Sir Simon Rattle to famous guest conductors and soloists.
Bells for the performance of Berlioz’s »Symphonie fantastique« and Mussorgsky’s »Boris Godunov«. The idea for bells that can be supported in the middle instead of being hung, and are thus better suited for use in the orchestra, came from the Philharmonic percussionist Fredi Müller. They were made by the bell foundry of Bachert in Heilbronn with financial support from the Society of Friends (Gesellschaft der Freunde) of the Berlin Philharmonie.
Like that of the Main Auditorium, the conception of the Chamber Music Hall is also derived from the musicians’ platform. Many different possibilities are built into the concert platform. For example, it can be lowered to form an orchestra pit for semi-staged performances. The platform’s flexibility was an important concern of the architect, who sought to create a suitable space for performances of contemporary music.
To contrast with the foyer’s light, bright central space, Wisniewski chose dark, dusky colours for the outer areas – corresponding to the dualism in music of major and minor. In the free, bridge-like elements of the Chamber Music Hall’s stairway design, Wisniewski was again re-using elements from the Main Auditorium.
Wisniewski took up many of the Philharmonie design features – for example the stained-glass window – and integrated them into the Chamber Music Hall. This stained-glass wall was inspired by cloud and sky tones. Introductory presentations for chamber concerts of the Stiftung Berliner Philharmoniker (Berlin Philharmonic Foundation) take place here. The foyer is additionally used for exhibitions.
Berliner Philharmoniker Foundation