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Matthew McDonald has been associated with the Berliner Philharmoniker since 2000, when he joined the orchestra’s own Karajan Academy. After his concert exams and positions with several other orchestras, he was appointed the Philharmoniker’s principal double bass player in 2009. In his playlist, the musician looks back on the past eleven years of his life in the orchestra.

Robert Schumann’s oratorio Das Paradies und die Peri was a rewarding discovery for McDonald. During the composer’s lifetime, the work was one of his greatest successes, but it was later almost completely forgotten. This can also be observed in the history of the Philharmoniker: until the 1930s, the work, inspired by the colouring of the Orient, was played regularly, but then only once between 1945 and 2009. It is a particular favourite of Sir Simon Rattle, who conducted a performance of the work in February 2009.

This selection also includes the Second Symphony by Robert Schumann, whose works Simon Rattle, as chief conductor, devoted himself to intensively. The Adagio is one of the most beautiful movements of the Romantic period and – as a result of the use of the main themes across the movements – also has an original formal conception. The present performance was given in 2014 as part of a cyclical project in which Sir Simon juxtaposed the four symphonies of Schumann and Brahms. Brahms’s path to the symphony was, as is well known, a long one, and the ideal set up by Beethoven’s contributions to the genre seemed intimidating and unattainable. The arduous approach finally culminated in the triumph of the First Symphony. McDonald took part as a relatively new orchestra member in the 2010 European Concert in a performance under the baton of Daniel Barenboim, which he has never forgotten due to its energy.

Operas and music drama works are only on the Berliner Philharmoniker’s programme on special occasions; accordingly, they have a profound impact on everyone involved. In addition to Wagner’s Walküre, McDonald has included George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess in his playlist, a work which is almost unique in the history of American music theatre. Simon Rattle had already made a famous recording with the London Philharmonic Orchestra when he performed the piece with the Philharmoniker in 2012. With Claudio Abbado and Nikolaus Harnoncourt, two conductors closely associated with the Philharmoniker who have since passed away, are also represented in the selection. On 18 May 2011, exactly 100 years after Gustav Mahler’s death, the former chief conductor Abbado presented a performance of the symphonic vocal cycle Das Lied von der Erde. The soloists were Anne Sofie von Otter and Jonas Kaufmann. In the same year, Harnoncourt performed with the Philharmoniker for the last time. His powerful and uncompromising interpretation of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony was almost a revelation for many of the performers and listeners.

The most recent recording in the playlist dates from the time when the effects of the corona pandemic excluded normal concerts. The fact that the Philharmoniker’s European Concert was able to take place in spite of everything in a chamber orchestra formation was felt by all participants and the audience of the broadcast as a piece of extraordinary good fortune. Matthew McDonald was one of only 15 musicians to perform an arrangement of Gustav Mahler’s Fourth Symphony under the direction of chief conductor Kirill Petrenko.

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