Programme Guide

The “last Romantic composer” and the enfant terrible of classical Modernism: back in November 2012 Sir Simon Rattle and the Berliner Philharmoniker presented a highly acclaimed concert programme consisting of the music of two Russian composers whose lives were as different as can be imagined by performing Sergei Rachmaninov’s choral symphony The Bells and Igor Stravinsky’s ballet music Le Sacre du printemps, originally fraught with scandal. Rachmaninov fled the Russian October Revolution in 1917 via Scandinavia and Switzerland to the USA, where he embarked on a second career as a piano virtuoso. Towards the end of his life he had to acknowledge: “The whole world is open to me; only one place is closed off, and that is my own country, Russia.”

The life of Igor Stravinsky, who was nine years younger, turned out very differently. As a 26-year old, he was engaged by the Ballets russes in 1909 to orchestrate several piano pieces by Edvard Grieg and Frédéric Chopin. One year later, the premiere of L’Oiseau de feu transformed him into a celebrity. The world was open to Stravinsky, and from then on, as a cosmopolitan par excellence, nothing was more alien to him than homesickness. At the start of the 2014/15 season, Sir Simon Rattle and the Berliner Philharmoniker juxtaposed Rachmaninov’s secret Fourth Symphony – the Symphonic Dances op. 45, which bid a wistful farewell to the Romantic musical era – and Igor Stravinsky’s brilliant Firebird music, which dazzles in every conceivable orchestral colour.

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