Even serious music lovers know it: the anticipation of the finale of a symphonic work where the composer once again mobilises all available musical forces to achieve a climax that brings audiences to their feet. On New Year’s Eve 1999, the Berliner Philharmoniker audience was granted the rare opportunity of enjoying an entire evening of just those spectacular closing movements: an appropriate farewell to the 20th century.
Led by chief conductor Claudio Abbado, the concert broadly followed historical chronology: Firstly, the brisk, storming finale from Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, followed by Dvořák’s Eighth, which demonstrates just how Bohemian melancholy can turn suddenly into wild rebellion. On the other hand, the sunny and powerful conclusion to Mahler’s Fifth Symphony is unusually optimistic for the composer. With the jagged rhythms of Stravinsky’s fairy-tale ballet The Firebird, we reach the classical modern age. Sergei Prokofiev then sets a monument to the Russian national hero Alexander Nevsky in his cantata of the same name, before the official part of the concert comes to a close with Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder, narrated by the world-famous Austrian actor Klaus Maria Brandauer.
But the concert is not over yet. Introduced by a humorous speech by the orchestra’s horn player Klaus Wallendorf, the musicians then served up a selection of cheerful encores from the repertoire of Berlin operetta from the 1920s, culminating in a piece with which the Berliner Philharmoniker always conclude their open-air concerts at the Waldbühne: the unofficial Berlin anthem by Paul Lincke, Berliner Luft.