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© Berliner Philharmoniker, Archiv
June 1938, concert with Hans von Benda, Photographer Rudolf Kessler. © Berliner Philharmoniker, Archiv

August 16, 2018

Benefit concert in the schlüterhof courtyard. Kirill Petrenko conducts the Berlin Philharmonics

by Benedikt von Bernstorff

When the Berlin Philharmonic gives a benefit concert in the Schlüter Courtyard of the Berlin Palace on 25 August it will be reviving an old tradition for the first time. For this is the very place where its Schlossmusiken concert series was to be heard in the first half of the twentieth century.

The music world is looking forward to Kirill Petrenko taking up the baton as the new chief conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic in the 2019/2020 concert season. And Petrenko will already be conducting the opening concert of the coming season and then staging a repeat performance of the programme on 25 August in a benefit concert in the Schlüter Courtyard to raise money for the restoration of the Berlin Palace. The orchestra will play Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony and Richard Strauss´s tone poems Don Juan and Tod und Verklärung.

Petrenko is surely one of the most renowned interpreters of Strauss in our time. Take his unforgettable Rosenkavalier at the Komische Oper, for example, or the guest concert of the Bayerisches Staatsorchester at the 2016 Berlin Music Festival, where he made a brilliant case for Strauss’s rather rarely played Sinfonia Domestica.

Beethoven’s Seventh with its artful instrumentation, extolled by Hector Berlioz, its sophisticated rhythms and the furious unleashing of energy in the final movement will likewise be in the very best hands with the Berlin Philharmonic and its designated new conductor.

May / June 1934, Paul Kretschmer during a concert under Erich Kleiber in the Schlüterhof of the Berlin Palace, photographer V. Schimmel. © Berliner Philharmoniker, archive
Night concert in the Schlüterhof on the occasion of the "Berliner Kunstwochen 1936". © Landesarchiv Berlin

The other reason the performance is being awaited with baited breath is that the concert will take place in the Schlüter Courtyard and hence revive an almost forgotten Philharmonic tradition. Every summer between 1933 and 1940, the orchestra gave a series of concerts known as the “Schlossmusiken” at precisely this venue.

In the first two years these concerts were conducted by Erich Kleiber. But in 1935 he was forced to emigrate to South America because of the political situation in Nazi Germany. Most of the fifty-six concerts in the series were conducted by Hans von Benda, who was appointed artistic manager of the Berlin Philharmonic in 1935. To mark the City of Berlin’s 700th birthday the orchestra played works by Mozart. In addition, the series included compositions by Frederick the Great of Prussia. Indeed, seventeenth- and eighteenth-century music, of which Benda – himself from a distinguished family of composers going back to the Baroque era – was especially fond, featured unusually often in the concert programmes.

Leo Borchard, who joined the resistance in the 1940s and after the war briefly became the orchestra’s interim conductor, also conducted a number of the concerts. Although the programmes of these openair concerts did not appear to be ideologically coloured, they should nonetheless be considered in the context of the Nazi dictatorship. Not least as a consequence of those dark times, the Humboldt Forum in the newly restored Hohenzollern Palace is intended to be a “place of dialogue between cultures as equals, a place that gives rise to tolerance and open-mindedness”. Andrea Zietzschmann, general manager of the Berlin Philharmonic, reminded her audience of this at a press conference devoted to the new concert season at which the Schlüter Courtyard project was presented to the public.

Benedikt von Bernstorff studied literature and musicology and works as a dramaturge and freelance writer in Berlin. His articles on classical music and artist portraits and interviews regularly appear in Berlin’s Der Tagesspiegel and other newspapers and magazines. He works for various institutions, including the Berlin Philharmonic Foundation, the Konzerthaus Berlin, Weimar Art Festival and the Beethovenfest Bonn.

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