Even in the Berliner Philharmoniker’s vast repertoire, there is always room for new discoveries. With this performance under the baton of former chief conductor Sir Simon Rattle, the name of Catalan composer Roberto Gerhard appears on a Philharmoniker programme for the first time. Gerhard, a staunch republican who fled Franco in the late 1930s and eventually settled in England, is one of the composers included in the Philharmoniker’s focus in the 2021/22 season entitled “Lost Generation”. Gerhard’s motto, “Traditions are not kept alive by conformists, but by innovators”, could also have come from Schoenberg, who the Catalan studied with in Vienna and Berlin in the 1920s. While the dances from Don Quixote, originally composed in 1940 as ballet, draw on folk music, the Third Symphony, premiered in 1961 and featuring tape recordings, shows Gerhard as a pioneer of the post-war avant-garde.
Antonín Dvořák wrote his American Suite in the immediate aftermath of the brilliant success he enjoyed with the premiere of his Ninth Symphony in his temporary adopted home of New York. The composer himself later reworked the original version for piano into an orchestral version. The themes inspired by African-American and indigenous music are kept emphatically simple and often use pentatonics, i.e. five-tone scales. The five-movement work gains cohesion through the reprise of the opening theme at the end of the finale.