Katie Brouch

In 1882, having announced to his orchestra an impending trip from Berlin to Warsaw via fourth-class train, Benjamin Bilse laid the final straw on the back of his poorly paid, overworked musicians. 54 of the 70 playing in Bilsechen’s Chapel broke ranks to create their own ensemble. By 1887, they had acquired the talents of Hans von Bülow, a well-known pianist-conductor, and adopted the name ‘Berliner Philharmonisches Orchester.’

Bülow greatly increased the quality of the orchestra during his stint as the first principal conductor of the BPO. The current manner of world-class performance is the result of Bülow’s uncompromising working methods in terms of quality. World renowned names came to guest conduct the BPO under Bülow’s directorship including Johannes Brahms, Hermann Levi, Edvard Grieg, Gustav Mahler, and Richard Strauss.

Pyotr Tchaikovsky was a notable enthusiast of the BPO: “The splendid Philharmonic Orchestra in Berlin possesses a special quality, for which I can find no more appropriate expression than elasticity. They have the capacity to adapt themselves to the dimensions of a Berlioz or a Liszt, and of reproducing with equal mastery the variegated arabesques of the former and the thunderous cannonades of the latter - yet they are able to exercise the restraint called for by the gentleness of a Haydn…. The members of the Philharmonic Orchestra do not work in the theaters and are therefore not worn out and exhausted. Moreover, they are a self-governing body, they play for their own benefit and not for an entrepreneur who takes the lion's share of the profits for himself. The coincidence of these favorable and exceptional conditions naturally contributes to the harmony of the artistic performance…

After Bülow, Arthur Nikisch took over the musical direction of the orchestra from 1892 to 1922. He led the Orchestra on its first international tour. Nikisch was followed by Wilhelm Furtwängler. Furtwängler was a distinguished young conductor of incredible ability at the time of his appointment. While the BPO was exceptional as a “free orchestral republic” (so called by Furtwängler), they did begin to receive municipal subsidy while under his direction. Furtwängler successfully steered the orchestra through the era of the National Socialist dictatorship while increasing the repertoire to include works by Paul Hindemith, Sergei Prokofiev, Igor Stravinsky, and Arnold Schoenberg. Furtwängler’s inclusion of Hindemith in his concert programming created controversy between himself and the state, which had banned performances of Hindemith as subversive. He resigned his BPO conductorship for a short time in 1934 as a result. However, Furtwängler will always be remembered primarily as an authoritative interpreter of Beethoven, Brahms, and Bruckner over a champion of the modernists.

When the Nazi Party came to power, Furtwängler managed to protect the Jewish musicians of the BPO for the first two years of Hitler’s rule. As anti-Semitism increased, the Jewish musicians emigrated out of Germany leaving the orchestra. In exchange for badly needed financial support and the loan of extremely fine instrument collections, the BPO became the ‘cultural flagship’ of the Nazi Regime. While maintaining their internal self-governance, the orchestra became obliged to perform at state functions including Hitler’s birthday celebrations. The musicians became salaried civil servants exempt from military obligations. As such, the orchestra continued to perform up until three weeks before the Red Army entered Berlin.

After the war and Furtwängler’s death in 1954, the BPO elected by majority Herbert von Karajan to take on the conductorship. Karajan served as principal conductor and artistic director until 1989 making deep impacts on the sound and prestige of the BPO all along the way. Recordings of Karajan and the BPO are among the most highly thought of in the world. Recently, Karajan has come under scrutiny for ideological, not musical, reasons. In the 1930’s, he joined the Nazi Party. Throughout his time in the limelight as the conductor of the BPO, the relationship between the orchestra and the Nazi government was effectively suppressed in the public eye. It was not after his resignation in 1989 that literature and films began to more frequently surface regarding the BPO’s 12 year association with the Nazi Party.

After Karajan’s resignation, Claudio Abbado arrived on the podium. Abbado brought the BPO fully into step with the musical literature of the 20th Century. When Abbado left in 2002, the British conductor, Sir Simon Rattle was elected principal conductor and artistic director – positions he still holds today.

Today’s BPO is an innovative, forward thinking organization. In 2008, they built the world’s first virtual concert hall paving “the way of the future” according to Sir Rattle. Using technology to become increasingly accessible geographically mirrors their efforts to be more accessible locally in Berlin to concertgoers of all backgrounds. {{:ger:101:20070601182234_philharmonie_1a.jpg|}}


Die Berliner Philharmoniker: The Berlin Philharmonic

Das Orchester: The Orchestra

Instrumentalisten: Musician

Dirigent: Conductor

Konzerte: Concerts


ger/101/2010/fall/katie_brouch.txt · Last modified: 2010/10/29 08:48 (external edit)
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