Just when you thought all was said and done, Carnegie Hall creates something new: its first major international festival, Berlin in Lights. From November 2 to 18, all New Yorkers can become Berliners, as these 17 days offer an exhilarating sense of what Germany's reinvented capital is all about — and not only from a purely musical point of view. Architecture, cinema, photography, literature, visual arts, politics, and cabaret will also be among the many facets of Berlin life explored at Carnegie Hall and in partner venues around New York City.
When Clive Gillinson first came on board as Carnegie Hall's Executive and Artistic Director in 2005, he wondered frankly how he could improve on perfection. "Carnegie Hall is the most fantastic music venue in the world," Gillinson said, "so is there anything I could add?" After some head scratching, his eureka moment arrived.
"I came up with this concept to develop major festivals that would really encourage audiences to take journeys of discovery," Gillinson reflects. "I was also keen not just to explore music, but to integrate all aspects of culture." And what better way than through Berlin, that once-divided city now whole, a hotbed of creativity with a dynamic cultural history — arguably Europe's most exciting metropolis today.
To begin, the Berliner Philharmoniker's usual three-concert run has been deliciously amplified into an eight-day residency. In addition to three orchestral performances under Sir Simon Rattle, each featuring a massive Mahler work (Symphonies Nos. 9 and 10 and Das Lied von der Erde) alongside contemporary pieces by Magnus Lindberg, György Kurtág, and Thomas Adès (the US premiere of Tevot), there are four concerts by ensembles drawn from the orchestra that reveal its affinity for chamber music: the 12 Cellists offer a diverse program from Verdi to Pärt on November 12; Adès performs his Piano Quintet with the Scharoun Ensemble on November 15; and the Philharmonia Quartett Berlin and the Berliner Barock Solisten perform on November 17 and 18.
But perhaps the most daring offering by the Berliner Philharmoniker is The Rite of Spring Project. For about eight weeks, more than 100 students from New York City's public schools in Upper Manhattan will receive training from choreographer Royston Maldoom's team of instructors, culminating in a dance performance of Stravinsky's groundbreaking work with the orchestra at The United Palace Theater on Broadway and 175th Street on November 17 and 18. Opening each performance will be Songs: Ritual Rhythms, a composition based on The Rite of Spring created by 80 area high school students with the guidance of educators and musicians from the Berliner Philharmoniker.
This remarkable outreach idea is also reflected in the participation of the Simón Bolìvar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela — a group you might not expect in a series devoted to Berlin, but which has long enjoyed a mentoring relationship with the Berliner Philharmoniker. The 26-year-old, wild-haired phenom Gustavo Dudamel, recently appointed to succeed Esa-Pekka Salonen in Los Angeles, will conduct the young Venezuelan musicians on November 11 in a program of Berlioz, Chopin, and Beethoven. He shares the podium a day later with Sir Simon Rattle in a program of Bartók and Shostakovich. Members of the orchestra will also be among the performers in the ten free Neighborhood Concerts Carnegie Hall will present in the city's five boroughs.
High-brow rubs elbows with low-brow, as any representation of Berlin, decadent and otherwise, would be incomplete without cabaret. In fact, the festival is ushered in by the hauntingly authentic Max Raabe and his Palast Orchester on November 2 in Stern Auditorium / Perelman Stage, the bandleader dressed to kill as he offers melodies from the golden age of songwriting in Germany and the US; and HK Gruber conducts and sings music by Weimar Berlin's two greatest theatrical composers, Kurt Weill and Hanns Eisler, in Zankel Hall on November 8.
For cabaret with an even more intimate feel, the 60-seat Café Sabarsky at the Neue Galerie hosts nine concerts kicking off on November 2 with Ute Lemper, that uncanny Dietrich reincarnation. Hudson Shad, the heirs to the Comedian Harmonists, makes an appearance on November 15.
Over the past few decades, Berlin has become home to a large and diverse population of peoples from around the world, with Turkish immigrants and German citizens of Turkish descent making up the country's largest ethnic minority. The Nevzat Akpinar Ensemble, comprising members of Berlin's Turkish and Kurdish communities, makes its US debut in Zankel Hall on November 9, performing a wide range of traditional music from the various regions of Turkey, along with original compositions.
Further representing the multicultural melting pot of Berlin today is Nomad SoundSystem, whose mix of ethnic, electric, and eclectic sounds reflects the group's own diverse make-up — with members hailing from Tunisia, Algeria, Japan, and Berlin — and offers an unbeatable blend of styles appealing to club and world-music audiences alike.
For an extra helping of contemporary music, KNM Berlin presents a snapshot of the avant-garde music scene on November 10 in a mini-marathon event in Zankel Hall that includes video projections, sound installations, and live electronic sampling as well as virtuosic music making. And as part of the Guggenheim's popular First Fridays series, Berlin's Jazzanova performs a DJ set with a visual set by Berlin design group JUTOJO.
"The reason we're looking so broadly is that we want to raise an awareness of the impact culture has on the regeneration of a city," says Gillinson. "And Berlin is unique in that culture is at the root of its regeneration."
So the kaleidoscope also includes frozen music — that is, architecture, as Berlin has become so utterly defined by rebuilding the gaping wound left by the Wall. A panel discussion in Zankel Hall on November 4, hosted by Barry Bergdoll, The Museum of Modern Art's architecture curator, grapples with this building boom, and Daniel Libeskind, whose Jewish Museum has become a zigzaggy icon of new Berlin, will be on hand in a panel discussion entitled "Berlin-New York Dialogues: Urban Design and Memorials" at the German Consulate on November 5.
"It's only been 17 years since the fall of the Wall," observes Gillinson. "It's an utter transformation." Berlin's rich cinematic history will also be reflected with a panel discussion on November 3 in Weill Recital Hall with directors Volker Schlöndorff (The Tin Drum) and Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (The Lives of Others), and later that day will be a screening of Walther Ruttmann's classic silent film Berlin: Symphony of a City, accompanied by an arrangement of Edmund Meisel's original score.
For recent filmic fare, The Museum of Modern Art presents Kino! Berlin from November 3 through 14, featuring Goodbye, Lenin!; The Lives of Others; Run, Lola, Run; and the American premiere of Hanna Schygulla's short film Hanna Hannah.
"With Carnegie Hall, we always have to be defining the 'what next,'" remarks Gillinson. "It's not about forgetting the past: it's about making the past drive the future." And you can be sure that after Berlin in Lights, there will be more to come at a constantly evolving Carnegie Hall.
For more information on all of the Berlin in Lights events, visit carnegiehall.org/berlininlights.