Every year the Berliner Philharmoniker mark the anniversary of the day they were founded on 1 May 1882, the date on which fifty-four musicians formed a democratically run ensemble that was determined to survive without the support of the State or of a well-to- do patron. Their courage was rewarded and the story of their success has continued right down to the present day. In 2001 the orchestra travelled for the first time to Istanbul, the easternmost tip of Europe, where they gave their eleventh Europakonzert in the Hagia Irene, the Church of the Holy Peace.
On the podium was the Latvian conductor Mariss Jansons, who was then the principal conductor in Pittsburgh and who has always been a welcome guest in Berlin. He began the programme with Haydn’s Symphony No. 94 (“Surprise”), one of the composer’s ten “London” Symphonies. According to the press, Jansons “had obviously been studying period performance techniques”, resulting in “light, bright textures, relatively fast speeds and a phrasing which would have had old Karajan turning in his grave”. Next up was Mozart’s D major Flute Concerto, which was given a brilliant performance by Emmanuel Pahud, the orchestra’s principal flautist since 1992, who brought to the piece his hallmark digital dexterity and velvety mellow tone. At no point does the work betray the fact that Mozart, by his own admission, could not abide the flute.
Following the interval, Jansons conducted Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique, a key work of Romantic programme music. It tells of a love story that inevitably ends badly, its five movements accompanying the “narrator” on various adventures that extend from a magnificent ball to the narrator’s own execution when he thinks he has murdered his lover out of jealousy. The work culminates in a Witches’ Sabbath. The result is a gripping mixture of sex and crime that has undoubtedly contributed to the work’s lasting success, even if Berlioz himself hoped that “on its own the symphony will provide sufficient musical interest independently of any dramatic intention”.