In the 2020/21 season, the Berliner Philharmoniker will perform three of Gustav Mahler’s symphonies and one of his orchestral song cycles. This concert starts off this series with the Fourth Symphony, conducted by Semyon Bychkov. It will be preceded by the German premiere of a new piano concerto by Thomas Larcher.
Larcher, who initially worked as a concert pianist and is now one of the most distinguished composers of our time, confidently defies all dogmas of avant-garde music. In his emotionally engaging works, he mixes tonal passages with unusual sound experiments; in this piano concerto, moments of great lyrical intensity stand alongside massive outbursts of sound. Like his first piano concerto, Larcher composed his second for the conductor Semyon Bychkov, who is particularly committed to the performance of his works. Soloist Kirill Gerstein gave the successful premiere of this composition in May 2021.
Larcher once said that he wanted to remain “thin-skinned” in his music, to “let the world come to him without a filter” and to “cover as broad a spectrum of emotions as possible”. This characteristic also sits well with the music of Gustav Mahler. His Fourth stands between two more monumental, more dramatic and significantly longer symphonies. In its planning phase, Mahler called it a “symphonic humoresque”. Its opening with the rhythmic jingling of bells may make one think of a jolly jester’s cap, but the ambiguity of this supposed cheerfulness is revealed in the course of the symphony. After a slow movement characterised by expansive phrasing and a scherzo with an “out-of-tune” solo violin, in a childlike voice, the soprano soloist in the finale intones the song “Das Himmlische Leben” from Des Knaben Wunderhorn. However, the paradise sung about is by no means as peaceful as the title suggests: “Johannes das Lämmlein auslasset, / Der Metzger Herodes d’rauf passet” (John lets the lambkin out, and Herod the Butcher lies in wait for it). As the soloist, the Israeli soprano Chen Reiss appears in a concert with the Berliner Philharmoniker for the first time.