Compared to the strings, woodwind and brass, the percussion section with six members – including two timpanists – is the smallest group in the Berliner Philharmoniker in terms of human resources. At the same time, the number of instruments played per capita is by far the largest, amounting to up to two hundred! – and these are made from a wide range of materials in an endless variety of forms and involve multiple playing techniques. So it was no surprise that in 2018, this orchestral section supported by guest percussionists featured in the Philharmoniker’s traditional family Christmas Concert for the second time. With the title “Winter Drummerland” the event was presented with charm and humour by the horn section’s Sarah Willis, one of the central protagonists of the orchestra’s Education Programme.
Some regard rhythm as the original element of all music even before melody, and childhood stands at the origin of all musical education. The mixed crowd of young and old was certainly enthusiastic about the action on stage. And since rhythm happens as soon as noises of any kind are put into some kind of order, the audience did not even require an instrument to join in: with what is known as “body percussion”, the body itself can become a rhythm machine, as a canon based on the names of the musicians demonstrated.
But of course, percussionists are also able to produce melodies on instruments such as their impressive collection of xylophones, marimbas and vibraphones. They came into play in Darius Milhaud’s Braziliera and George Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm” and accompanied the singing and dancing of the children's ensemble of “snowflakes” in the German Christmas carol “Leise rieselt der Schnee” in an arrangement by timpanist Wieland Welzel. Purely rhythmic pieces were also played, such as an interlude from Dmitri Shostakovich’s opera The Nose and a performance in which a wooden table and wooden spoon formed the instruments – a special surprise at this merry Christmas party.