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The Beethoven 2020 jubilee – the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birth – offers a welcome opportunity to present key performances of his symphonies by the Berliner Philharmoniker. Of particular importance are the performances under the baton of Kirill Petrenko, who has been the chief conductor of the Philharmoniker since 2019. Some of the events planned for the anniversary year had to be cancelled due to the corona pandemic, but Kirill Petrenko had fortunately already made a strong showing as a Beethoven interpreter in Berlin. The opening concert of the 2018/19 season concluded with a celebrated performance of the Seventh Symphony and for his inaugural concert in August 2019, Kirill Petrenko conducted the Ninth. Both performances can be seen as a prelude to an intensive exploration of Beethoven in the coming years.
The affinity of Philharmoniker chief conductors to composers such as Bruckner, Mahler, Haydn and even Mozart varied, but Beethoven, like Brahms, was at the centre of the artistic work for all of them. Kirill Petrenko’s predecessors Herbert von Karajan, Claudio Abbado and Sir Simon Rattle performed all nine symphonies again and again and also made complete recordings. Each of them developed a unique approach, but also benefited from the interpretations that guest conductors developed during their performances with the Philharmoniker.
This playlist shows very different stylistic directions: Nikolaus Harnoncourt and Giovanni Antonini are two conductors who looked at Beethoven’s works from the perspective of historical performance practice. Paavo Järvi, one of the most accomplished interpreters of the Classical and Romantic orchestral repertoire, has released an acclaimed complete recording of the cycle and is represented in this selection with a performance of the First Symphony. Gustavo Dudamel on the other hand was trained in the Venezuelan youth project “El sistema”. This internationally acclaimed initiative proved that Beethoven’s music speaks to young people from all over the world like no other. Finally, Christian Thielemann gave an unforgettable performance of the Eroica in his Beethoven debut with the Philharmoniker in 2015.
The Ninth Symphony marks the end of the selection, which, according to Kirill Petrenko, illuminates the positive as well as the negative, the hopes as well as the darker side of the human soul.