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The Europakonzert of the Berliner Philharmoniker is perhaps the most unusual concert series in classical music: every year on 1 May the orchestra appears at a location of particular significance for European culture, from the Uffizi Gallery in Florence to the Palace of Versailles. With these concerts, the Philharmoniker not only commemorate their founding on 1 May 1882 but also highlight Europe’s common cultural heritage. This selection presents recordings ranging from the launching of the series in 1991 to the present.

The compositions selected for a Europakonzert often have a direct connection to the performance venue. For the first concert of the series in Prague, for example, Claudio Abbado conducted only works by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who enjoyed an extremely close relationship with the city, not least because of the successful premiere of his Don Giovanni. In St Petersburg, Romeo and Juliet by the Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev was heard, and in Madrid, Sir Simon Rattle and guitarist Juan Manuel Cañizares presented Joaquín Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez, one of the most beautiful and popular pieces of Spanish music.

In addition to the two chief conductors Claudio Abbado and Sir Simon Rattle, other conductors including Zubin Mehta, Pierre Boulez, Bernard Haitink and Mariss Jansons have also led Europakonzerte. Daniel Barenboim has appeared often in the series, both as conductor and as pianist, such as in the performance of Johannes Brahms’s First Piano Concerto conducted by Sir Simon Rattle.

The venues are frequently as atmospheric as the music. From the beginning, the Europakonzert was designed for a television format, which would not be complete without an attractive setting. For example, the Berliner Philharmoniker played outdoors in the ancient Odeon Theatre on the slopes of the Acropolis in Athens and at the harbour of Paphos in Cyprus. At the Vasa Museum in Sweden, a 17th-century warship which sank but was completely salvaged provided a striking and appropriate backdrop for the Overture to the Flying Dutchman. Other performance venues have included the magnificent opera houses in Palermo and St Petersburg as well as Smetana Hall in Prague, which is part of a monumental Jugendstil building. Other historically significant and atmospheric concert venues have included the Winter Riding Hall of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna and the Margravial Opera House in Bayreuth.

Of course, the list of culturally important European cities would not be complete without Berlin. In 2007, the orchestra performed at the Kabelwerk Oberspree (cable factory), an imposing 19th-century industrial monument, and the orchestra has made two “guest” appearances at its own Philharmonie, most recently in 2014 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Hans Scharoun’s concert hall – after all, no one would dispute the fact that the Philharmonie is also a major European cultural venue.

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