REVIEW: The Berlin Philharmonic

Even if the hallowed arches of Hill Auditorium have finally ceased reverberating from the thunderous applause of a packed and appreciative house, it is certain that the hearts of every individual who attended the Berlin Philharmonic’s concerts on Saturday and Sunday are still pulsating from the sheer brilliance of the two performances.

The world-class orchestra presented two bold programs to Ann Arbor, which was fortunate enough to be one of three cities in the US that the orchestra is visiting on their final US tour under the baton of Sir Simon Rattle. Saturday night’s program opened with an odd mix of the fine musicians filing onto the stage. They performed Pierre Boulez’s Éclat, a relatively new work by the late, great conductor that draws the listener’s attention to the reverberations that exist in between the gestural, colorful melodic fragments. The instrumentation included some unconventional instruments such as mandolin, guitar, and hammered dulcimer. I sat high up in the balcony, but was pleasantly surprised at how every single note resounded as clearly as if it were being played ten feet away from me. The rest of the orchestra joined them after this piece to perform Mahler’s monumental, rarely-performed Seventh Symphony. The orchestra was so massive that they hardly fit on stage. I was repeatedly overwhelmed by how all of these musicians came together to sound as one phenomenal player. Every section was perfectly together, and played with an astounding and refined tone. The orchestra acted as a chamber ensemble, breathing as one organism, journeying through the winding pathways of the work until the triumphant ending.

Sunday afternoon’s concert felt very much like a continuation of Saturday night’s, and not only because the composers featured on the first half were of the generation after Mahler’s. The electric energy created by Saturday night’s concert seemed to still hang in the air of the hall. The first half, with multi-movement orchestral works by Schoenberg, Webern, and Berg, was performed as one string of pieces without applause in between works, and ended, about as literally as it can get, with a bang (Berg actually calls for a giant hammer in his instrumentation, a la Mahler 6). In the second half, the Philharmonic’s performance of Brahms’ Symphony No. 2 was by far my favorite performance of any work by that composer. The orchestra exuded the joy and warmth that radiates from the rich harmonies of the symphony that is often referred to as “pastoral.”

There is this unmistakeable feeling that happens, for me, when I hear something astounding––the force of my pounding heart becomes so powerful that I am compelled to leap from my seat at the sounding of the final chord. But this time, I did not just experience this rush of adrenaline; it was more substantive, more satisfying, and more lasting––and I think this was the effect of witnessing such total musicianship and togetherness coming from such a large ensemble. Underneath every note, the orchestra communicated love: their love for the art form, their appreciation of the audience, and the joy they find working together to create such beautiful music. It was, all clichés aside, a truly transcendental experience, a living, breathing example of why classical music is more relevant and necessary in this chaotic world than it perhaps has ever been before.

On Sunday morning, members of the Philharmonic gave masterclasses to SMTD students, and from what I saw, I quickly came to the conclusion that the Berlin Philharmonic is not only made up of some of the finest musicians in the world, but also some of the world’s finest people. The instrumentalists were all constructive in their criticisms, yet kind, talented beyond belief, yet humble, and above all, dedicated to passing along their musical legacy to the students.

With the rather chaotic atmosphere that has significantly affected the country and our school over the past week, the Berlin Philharmonic’s remarkable performances this weekend served as a much-welcome reminder of the restorative power of music. My only regret about the concerts was that they ended.

The Berlin Philharmonic
The Berlin Philharmonic


Composer. Pianist. Free concert enthusiast.

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