Sep 02 2013

Pittsburgh at the Berlin Philharmonie

Published by at 4:20 pm under PSO 2013 European Tour

Anne-Sophie Mutter live in HD

Anne-Sophie Mutter live in HD

The Pittsburgh arrived in Berlin blitzschnell and departed less than 24 hours later for Bucharest after opening the Berlin Festival with Anne-Sophie Mutter playing Lutoslawski’s “Chain 2″ preceded by Janacek’s “Suite for Strings”, and on the second half, “Ein Heldenleben” by Richard Strauss. I loved having a chance to interview Manfred Honeck for the Berlin Philharmonic Digital Concert Hall webcast. We recorded it in the green room with two producers and two cameramen with full regalia. The crew was extremely cheerful and warm. I poked around the backstage area of the Philharmonie while the audio crew set up microphones. The history of the Berlin Philharmonic is displayed on the wall. There are photos of the Old Philharmonie, destroyed during WWII, and Wilhelm Furtwängler conducting in the old building.

Joyce DeFrancesco and Jeremy Black

Joyce DeFrancesco and Jeremy Black

In the hour before concert time, I explored the area near the hotel with PSO violinist Jeremy Black and Media Relations Director Joyce DeFrancesco, my former colleague at Pittsburgh magazine as well as PR Director at Thiel College. We passed a small chunk of the Berlin Wall and proceeded past the British Embassy and the Bundestag to the Brandenburg Gate, where there was a large free-standing exhibit, on display for more than a year, “Diversity Destroyed”chronicles the rise of the Nazi party. There are photos of the book burnings in which smiling students throw works by famous German authors into the flames. Other images show Jews being deported, the camps, and much more. The exhibit is just across from the Adlon Hotel which figures in many movies and pre-WWII books.

Berlin protest

Berlin protest

Just beyond the Brandenburg gate was a protest against NSA spying. The banner read “Stop Watching Us.” A truck held a banner that said “Free Bradley Manning.” A loudspeaker proclaimed the message, while the Polizei watched over everyone. I had seen one of the signs of President Obama wearing headphones, captioned “Stasi 2.0″, last winter. I wonder how long this protest has been going on and if it turns up every weekend. The Germans are expressing their unhappiness with the US, but there is underlying concern that the German government is involved in the spying.

We moved on the Reichstag, where a long line waited to clear security to visit the dome. Then we hurried back through the tall trees of the Tiergarten.

The TV director briefs Jim and Maestro Honeck

The TV director briefs Jim and Maestro Honeck

Back a the Berlin Philharmonie, I interviewed Robert Zimmerman and Christoph Franke who together dreamed up the plan of putting all the concerts from the Philharmonie on the Internet – on demand and live. It costs millions of Euros with no government support, and has yet to become profitable. The look and sound are spectacular. They invited me to watch the concert with them in the control room, where a staff of seven smoothly and happily rolls through the concert. They were especially impressed with Concertmaster Noah Bendix-Balgley, giving me the thumbs up sign when he soloed. The director jumped up at the last note of the Waltz from “Der Rosenkavalier” and said he had to catch a train, leaving the others to finish the webcast. They cheered for each staff member as their credits rolled on the screen. The transmission included some drama, since there had been internet distribution problems which had to be resolved at the last moment .

The remote for the control room’s Sony TV can bring up the Digital Concert Hall, YouTube, NPR, and many other internet streams.

Audio control room

Audio control room

Christoph showed me the separate audio control room where all the Berlin Philharmonic CDs are produced. The same enormous B&W 801 speakers sit in the WQED-FM control room. I enjoyed seeing the spot high above the stage where the announcer sits for live broadcasts. In the lobby, the festival director praised the orchestra and Manfred Honeck came to the microphone to say how happy he was to be in Berlin with the Pittsburgh Symphony. Pretzels, canapés, beer, and wine were distributed to attendees.

One of the first reviews appeared in Berlin’s Tagesspiegel which was a very mixed bag, praising and finding fault at the same time. The European critics praise the power of the American brass but at the same time take issue with it.

Ken Nein at Potsdamer Platz

Ken Nein at Potsdamer Platz

My friend Ken Nein has been living in Berlin for nearly forty years. He came to visit me on Sunday morning for breakfast. We walked next door to the Alexanderplatz, the former “no man’s land” of the Berlin Wall, which has been completely redeveloped and is now a film museum, theater, and restaurant shopping complex known as the Sony Center.

There are still several classical radio stations in Berlin. Kulturradio RBB had a freestanding exhibit in the lobby with heavy elaborate printed program guides and the tag line “Kultur ist Uberall!”, or “Culture is Foremost!”  I also listened a bit to Klassikradio which is a bit more pop-hit driven. After I listened to Emanuel Ax play Chopin, Kulturradio featured a program of Sunday morning spiritual music by Schutz, Schein, and Max Reger .

It’s a national election in just a few days, so Angela Merkel is featured heavily on posters that suggest “Deutschland ist stark so muss es bleiben.” Germany is strong, it must stay that way.

From Berlin, with love

From Berlin, with love

The Berlin Air charter got underway after a determined customs agent methodically checked everyone in a long slow line. The flight attendants wore hot pink shirts and blue jeans. Everyone received a heart-shaped chocolate on arrival in Bucharest.

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