Programme Guide

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. After visits to cities such as Madrid, St Petersburg, Stockholm, Kraków, Florence, Versailles and Lisbon, the choice fell on Athens in 2004, a year when the Olympic Games were also held in the city. Athens, moreover, is the cradle of western culture and democracy. As a result, Sir Simon Rattle found himself conducting his first European Concert in the Herodes Atticus Odeon at the foot of the Acropolis.

This theatre was built in AD 161 and in its day was regarded as the most beautiful theatre in Greece. It continues to provide seating for five thousand spectators, affording an exceptional setting whose impact on orchestra and conductor was not lost: “These great places give you a very, very special atmosphere,” says Rattle, “but you’re never sure, what they give. And often, the place brings its own magic.”

Not for the first time, this Europa Concert in Athens also involved Daniel Barenboim, who has been closely associated with the orchestra since 1964. This, however, was the first time he had appeared in the same concert as Sir Simon Rattle. On the programme were Brahms’s First Piano Concerto and First Piano Quartet, the latter in an orchestral arrangement by Arnold Schoenberg. By his own admission, Schoenberg’s aim in preparing this transcription was to ensure that everything in the score could be heard “at least once”, an aim that was never a problem for the orchestra and its chief conductor in the Odeon’s excellent acoustics.

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