Programme Guide

In 2013, the Berliner Philharmoniker held their traditional European concert – which takes place every year on 1 May, celebrating the founding date of the orchestra – in Prague for the third time. It was here that the very first European concert took place under the direction of the newly appointed chief conductor Claudio Abbado in 1991, and again in 2006 under the baton of Daniel Barenboim. Prague is an ideal venue not only for its important role in music history, but also for its many beautiful concert halls. After the Smetana Hall in Prague’s art nouveau Municipal House in 1991, and the neoclassical Estates Theatre in 2006, 2013 saw the Berliner Philharmoniker perform in Prague Castle under the direction of their then chief conductor Sir Simon Rattle. Some of the castle goes back as far as the Middle Ages, but all later periods have also left impressive architectural traces. On this occasion, the musicians had the opportunity to perform in the magnificent, white and gold “Spanish Hall”. The main symphonic contribution was Ludwig van Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, a work which increasingly took centre stage during Sir Simon Rattle’s tenure as chief conductor of the Philharmoniker. A first cycle of the complete symphonies was presented in 2008, and a second in 2015. Like all of the composer’s contributions to the genre, the Pastoral has an entirely independent character, and like all of his symphonies, it has had a significant influence on the course of music history. As the Beethoven symphony which refers most strongly to non-musical content, it also draws on Baroque descriptions of nature, foreshadowing programme music of the 19th and 20th centuries. As usual, this European concert also paid musical tribute to the location itself. In this case, with Antonín Dvořák’s rarely performed Biblical Songs. The composer taught for many years at the conservatory in Prague and, together with his colleague Bedřich Smetana, played a significant role in providing the Czech national musical idiom with its international breakthrough. The soloist was mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kožená, also from the Czech Republic, who has performed a repertoire with the Berliner Philharmoniker ranging from the Bach Passions to Debussy’s Mélisande. With Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, the programme also included a work from the home of Kožená’s husband, Sir Simon. The composition, unusually scored for a string orchestra divided into three parts, is based on a musical theme from the Renaissance. All in all, the 2013 European Concert provided the audience in the hall – as well as the many viewers of the live broadcast all over the world – with a programme with rich geographical and music-historical cross-references in an impressive ambience.

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