Programme Guide

In his book Die Zwölf: Vom Siegeszug der 12 Cellisten der Berliner Philharmoniker, Wolfgang Stresemann recalls the moment when Rudolf Weinsheimer submitted a leave of absence request for himself and all 11 colleagues of the cello section. For the long-time general manager of the Berliner Philharmoniker, the thought that “the 12” might like to make music among themselves gave him mixed feelings: after all, an orchestra can neither rehearse nor perform without cellos. However, Stresemann was not to regret his agreement, for the ensemble’s worldwide success would also contribute considerably to the orchestra’s reputation.

It all began with the wonderfully sumptuous Hymnus op. 57 by Julius Klengel, which an editor at the Austrian broadcaster ORF had tracked down: the piece required exactly the number of Philharmoniker cellists. Soon, their first commissioned work, Boris Blacher’s Rumba philharmonica, could also be premiered. To date, numerous works have followed by major composers such as Iannis Xenakis, Jean Françaix, Wolfgang Rihm, Arvo Pärt, Kaija Saariaho and Sofia Gubaidulina.

In 1990, shortly before the group’s 20th anniversary, Stresemann wrote: “All signs indicate that good fortune [...] will accompany the twelve ‘cello Paganinis’ into the new millennium” – a prediction that came true. For its 50th anniversary, the ensemble plays the pieces by Klengel and Blacher, and with tango and film music as well as the works of American, French and Italian composers, shows irrepressible playfulness and stylistic versatility. Even if the evening ends on a nostalgic note with the Beatles song “Yesterday”, the future of the 12 Cellists certainly seems assured.

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