Programme Guide

Since 1991, the Berliner Philharmoniker have been celebrating the anniversary of their foundation on 1 May 1882 by giving a concert in a place of special historical and cultural significance. In 2010 they travelled to the venerable Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford, which was built between 1664 and 1669 to a design by Sir Christopher Wren and named after the University’s then chancellor, Gilbert Sheldon. In spite of its name, the magnificent structure was never intended for the performance of plays but as a suitable backdrop for the conferment of academic degrees. Daniel Barenboim, who conducted the Philharmoniker at this Europakonzert, also received his honorary doctorate at this very location in 2007.

The night before 1 May is traditionally celebrated in Oxford with lavish parties and balls, so some of the audience were probably still a little hungover that morning. In consequence the first item on the programme – the Prelude to Act 3 of Richard Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg – may have seemed like a musical commentary on their current state. In it Hans Sachs broods on human folly in the wake of the turbulent events of the previous night in the streets of his town.

Edward Elgar’s Cello Concerto followed, rekindling memories of Oxford-born cellist Jacqueline du Pré, one of the most famous exponents of the work and Barenboim’s wife until her tragically premature death. The young American cellist Alisa Weilerstein refused to be intimated by this legacy and, according to the critic of the Berliner Morgenpost, “exuded girlish charm and transformed profound resignation into life-affirming freshness”. The concert ended with a classic of the symphonic repertory, Brahms’s First Symphony. The critic of The Guardian noted that “the energy that pulsed through” the work was “irresistible” and that “its phrases” were “sculpted in great expressive arcs with every detail and woodwind solo thrillingly realised”.

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