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Contemporary music is sometimes experienced as a challenge by performers and audience alike. However, familiarity with the music of one’s own time undoubtedly contributes to the vitality of an orchestra, and many instrumentalists and conductors stress the importance they attach to interaction with living composers. After all, while it is no longer possible to have discussions on questions of interpretation with Bach or Beethoven, such productive dialogues are possible with Wolfgang Rihm or Kaija Saariaho.   

When the Berliner Philharmoniker were founded in the 1880s, many important composers of the late Romantic period were still alive. Some of them – such as Brahms, Dvořák and Tchaikovsky – performed with the orchestra themselves. This established a tradition that was also continued in the modern era. Among many others, Mahler, Stravinsky, Bartók and Prokofiev appeared with the Philharmoniker as conductors or soloists. And even today, the Philharmoniker’s collaboration with Peter Eötvös, John Adams or George Benjamin guarantees authentic interpretations.

In the course of their history, the Philharmoniker have premiered many great works. Sir Simon Rattle regularly commissioned new works during his tenure, and for the 2020/21 season, chief conductor Kirill Petrenko has programmed world premieres by Anna Thorvaldsdóttir and Andrew Norman – both of whom are represented in this playlist. Long-standing connections have also developed with Unsuk Chin, Kaija Saariaho, Magnus Lindberg and Brett Dean, who was a violist with the orchestra from 1985 to 1999. The assembled recordings also feature such outstanding soloists as pianist Emanuel Ax, violinist Isabelle Faust and singer Barbara Hannigan. Toshio Hosokawa wrote his horn concerto for the Philharmoniker’s principal horn player Stefan Dohr, and György Kurtág’s Stele – as a guest in the selection – ends the playlist. The piece, which can be heard here under the direction of Bernard Haitink, was first performed by the Philharmoniker and Claudio Abbado in 1994 and has since established itself as a central orchestral work. 

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