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Tuesday, March 21, 2023

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The early bird: How the Konzerthaus am Gendarmenmarkt is trying out new things

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If you wanted to open the big barrel, you could say: classical music faces the same challenge as the Catholic Church. The world is rapidly becoming faster, short of breath, addicted to stimuli, clicks, likes. Should one join in, change, adapt, “move with the times”? Or, on the contrary, not at all, insisting on what is your own, which – as advertisers would say – the “brand essence” does not reveal, radiate attractiveness by walking upright?

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The Konzerthaus am Gendarmenmarkt has been trying a balancing act since Iván Fischer’s years: Classical symphony concerts continue to characterize the program, but they are accompanied by new formats that break up rituals and are intended to attract a somewhat different audience, such as the “Mittendrin” concerts or “ 2x listening”.

Perfect for stressed workers

This series also includes the short concerts, of which a new series has now started. It starts at 6.30 p.m., perfect for stressed working people who want to slow down with culture after work and in front of the restaurant. The tiresome problem that it’s too early for dinner before the 8 p.m. concert and too late afterwards is actually solved elegantly in this way – at the price that it’s all over after an hour.

A quick check on Thursday evening: the concept doesn’t seem to work out that well. In spite of the early hour, the hall is quite full, and there aren’t any office workers, but rather the traditional, educated, middle-class audience, which just shows up an hour and a half earlier. Two members of the Konzerthausorchester present the concept, one in German, one in English, without saying the same thing, which is nice. Otherwise, the announced looseness remains more of an assertion that the light should be dimmed, but remains just as bright as ever.

In one of his last concerts, before Joana Mallwitz succeeds him in the autumn, chief conductor Christoph Eschenbach conducts Sergei Prokofiev’s 5th symphony as the only piece on the program. First performed in January 1944 in the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory, it appears to be a war symphony given the circumstances of the time, albeit not as programmatically obvious as Shostakovich’s Leningrad Symphony. One hears them today as a document of a time in which Moscow waged a “just” defensive war, if you will. Long ago.

For Prokofiev – who incidentally was born in a village near Bakhmut – provocation was no longer the focus of his work in the 1940s, but rather catchiness and comprehensibility, without slipping into the banal, which was also in the interests of the Soviet leadership should be. The 5th symphony expresses this. It begins bucolic, almost Brahms-like, but here light and dark are close together, moods change abruptly, menacing tones, especially in the wind instruments, interweave the fabric.

The second movement is completely different, a wispy scherzo marcato is to be played with pressure and power on the individual note. While the third movement picks up the subdued mood of the first, the final movement relates to the second with a tumultuous dance of shifting rhythms. Eschenbach finds the right temperament for every moment, conducts sharp-edged if necessary, then switches to melancholy mode without hesitation.

The evening is still young: at least in theory, visitors can then have a drink in the Beethoven Hall and talk to the musicians of the Konzerthausorchester, who also join them. Classic to touch. The reviewer did not attend this get-together, but the crowds heading towards the dressing rooms and exits for the applause suggest that the idea appears to have yet to be embraced.

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Source: Tagesspiegel

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