Three years after German reunification, Daniel Barenboim took up one of the most prestigious musical positions in a capital that was no longer divided: as general music director and artistic director of the Staatsoper Unter den Linden he was particularly keen to improve the standing of East Berlin’s operatic showpiece and to ensure that it once again became one of the world’s leading opera houses. One means to that end was the annual festival that he launched in 1996, an occasion that brought together international orchestras each spring and featured outstanding opera productions. For the third festival in 1998 the musicians had to make only the shortest of journeys: after crossing Potsdamer Platz, they turned left up Friedrichstraße and then took the seventh turning on the right into Unter den Linden. On 16 April 1998 the Berliner Philharmoniker appeared for the first time since the country’s reunification in Friedrich Schinkel’s opera house, performing under the baton of the house’s artistic director.
The links between Barenboim and the Berliner Philharmoniker are long and distinguished, for it was in 1964 that the then twenty-one-year-old pianist made his debut with the orchestra. Five years later he returned to conduct them for the first time. Since then they have appeared together more than 260 times. One particular highlight was a tour of Israel in 1990, the year after Karajan’s death. The players were only too happy to respond to Barenboim’s invitation and to travel directly from the Salzburg Easter Festival to perform under his direction at the Staatsoper.
The concert opened with Beethoven’s spirited Eighth Symphony, after which Schumann’s Konzertstück for four horns provided a Romantic highlight of a particularly delightful kind. The performance brought together four soloists from three different orchestras: Dale Clevenger from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Ignacio García from the Berlin Staatskapelle and Stefan Dohr and Georg Schreckenberger from the Berliner Philharmoniker. According to the critic of the Berliner Zeitung, all four soloists “threw themselves into the task in hand and showed how tremendous a horn can sound”. The concert ended with two works that reveal late German Romanticism at its most ebullient – Liszt’s Les Préludes and, by way of an encore, Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries.