The cello has often been said to be very close to the human voice; a comparison that is obvious even given the size of the instrument. Its low notes can be sung by a bass, the highest notes by a coloratura soprano. Consequently, an ensemble consisting only of cellos could be described as an instrumental counterpart to choral a cappella singing. In their concerts, the 12 Cellists of the Berliner Philharmoniker show at the same time how impressively the sound can be expanded: pizzicati imitate the guitar accompaniment of a serenade, and beating and tapping on the instrument body replicate the percussive effects of the drums.

With their unmistakable sound, the 12 Cellists of the Berliner Philharmoniker have established themselves since 1972 as one of the most popular “one instrument only” ensembles. International concert tours and an extensive discography have contributed to its growing fame over the decades. The fact that exactly 12 musicians perform here has nothing to do with the unit of a dozen, but with the highly Romantic Hymnus that the cellist and composer Julius Klengel wrote for this instrumentation. A radio recording of this work was so successful that the cellists of the Philharmoniker decided to play regularly in this particular line-up. A virtue was made of the necessity of a very modest number of existing original compositions: today the repertoire consists of many arrangements and numerous contemporary works commissioned from composers such as Jean Françaix, Iannis Xenakis, Wolfgang Rihm, Brett Dean or Kaija Saariaho and premiered by the 12 Cellists.

Enrique Sánchez Lansch’s film Die 12 from 2012 offers an insight into the way this legendary chamber music group works. The meeting of former and current members is of particularly interest. The encounter with the founder Rudolf Weinsheimer and the former principal cellist Götz Teutsch shows how the spirit of the ensemble has been preserved in the dialogue between the different generations. The documentary focuses on a concert tour to China and the world premiere of the work Labyrinth, which Sofia Gubaidulina wrote for the musicians. The viewer can follow the process from the first rehearsal and conversations with the composer to the public performance.

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