Every year since 1991 the Berliner Philharmoniker have commemorated their foundation on 1 May 1882 with a European Concert, which, as lovers of these events are aware, is always held in a different – but invariably special – location. In 2003 the choice fell on the 16th-century Mosteiro dos Jerónimos just outside Lisbon. The monastery, which attests to Portugal’s golden age as a naval power, has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1987.
On this occasion the conductor was Pierre Boulez, who has been a regular visitor to Berlin since his first appearance with the orchestra in 1961 and who is famed for the translucency of his interpretations, a quality especially beneficial to the opening piece on the programme, Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin, allowing listeners to hear even the tiniest details in the instrumentation. Above all, the oboist Albrecht Mayer deserved an extra round of applause. The next work on the programme was Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20, in which the soloist was Maria João Pires, who brought a Portuguese note to the concert. Although she has rarely shared a platform with Boulez, the two seemed to understand one another quite effortlessly. In the words of one critic, the result was “a living and entirely convincing interpretation of one of the most important works in the mainstream repertory”.
After the interval, the orchestra played Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra and was able to demonstrate yet again what each of its members is capable of, in which respect they were admirably accompanied and supported by a benevolent Pierre Boulez: “Sometimes I hear when a musician wants to give something more, and so I let him do so. They are all great individuals and have their own ideas about the piece. I accept that. Otherwise I would be violating their individuality. And that isn’t good!” Conductor and orchestra thanked the audience for their enthusiastic applause with an encore, Debussy’s Fêtes, bringing this musical celebration to a wonderful conclusion.