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Interview with Ulrich Knorzer - the Chairman of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra

Wednesday, 13 November 2013 , ora 10.36
The building of the Philharmonic was inaugurated in 1963 and it has a special architecture, which was considered futuristic at that time. For the celebration of five decades from the inauguration, the members of the Philharmonic invite Berlin’s music enthusiasts to a series of performances and remarkable concerts, featuring extraordinary protagonists. The chairman of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Mr Ulrich Knorzer, was kind enough to give us an exclusive interview.

Mr Ulrich Knorzer, we appreciate you having accepted our invitation. This year is the 50
th anniversary of the inauguration of the Berlin Philharmonic building. What does this event represent for you and for the members of the Philharmonic?

We are very, very glad to celebrate the 50th anniversary of one of the most important concert halls in the world. Designed by Hans Scharoun, the building is extraordinary from many points of view and it has helped us create the sound that is specific to this ensemble. We are happy to be here for the celebration of this event.

The Berlin Philharmonic is considered the heart of the whole Germany.

Maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration. We are proud and happy indeed. Taking into consideration the past, when the building of the Philharmonic had been designed, I must mention that the architects and the politicians were brave enough to build it in a place which, at that time, wasn’t located in the centre of Berlin, but at its outskirts. Berlin went then through that difficult process of separation between the East and the West. There were many people against placing the Concert Hall of the Berlin Philharmonic closer to the West Berlin, but Willy Brandt and Hans Scharoun, along with many others, persuaded everybody else that they should look towards the future, towards a united Berlin and that there was the best place for the Hall, close to the old centre of Berlin.

How did this project start, after the old building of the Philharmonic had been destroyed in 1944?

For a very long time, Berlin Philharmonic had many friends and a society came into being: ‘Friends of the Berliner Philharmonic Society’. These friends have been very active from the beginning, after the war, when the Philharmonic was destroyed and they did their best to collect capital. The amount of capital gathered was surprising. The politicians agreed something needed to be done. After the old Philharmonic had been destroyed, the musicians sang in a theatre and after that, at the hall of the Music Academy on Heidelberg Street. All of this was temporary, of course. We definitely needed a new concert hall. Everything else was luck: meeting this visionary architect, Hans Scharoun, deciding on the place, etc. The rest is history. In the end, the hall has been inaugurated, after one or two years from the building of the Berlin Wall.

In 1963, a new era started for the Berlin Philharmonic.
Tell us the story of this ensemble, which seems to get together all the people from Berlin today, by being one of its leading cultural events.

Yes, of course, you could call it that. The Philharmonic is not a meeting point, a place of cultural communion for the people of Berlin only, but also for the ones outside the city. Our concert hall is considered the most appreciated in Berlin. All the other orchestras – and we are proud to have five or six - wish to perform at the great hall of our Philharmonic and as a consequence, we have a very busy schedule. We are delighted to host orchestras from all over the world. In September, the city’s musical festival took place and all the important orchestras, such as the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Concertgebouw and the ones in Chicago and New York, performed in this Hall. The hall of our Philharmonic is indeed a musical centre, not only for Berlin, but for everyone else.

I imagine that all the members of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra are happy and proud to perform in this hall, which is in fact a cultural complex.

I don’t know if you ever had the chance to visit the Hall, but you must know it is a special place. Being in the middle of an auditorium is a unique event. Maybe not unique today, but for the ‘60s, when this hall was a revolutionary project, something truly unique. As a stage performer, the acoustics help you feel very close to the audience; much closer than in the old concert halls, rectangular, built with a high stage, at quite some distance from the audience. Not a psychological distance, but merely a physical one, just as it is at Concertgebouw or Chicago or New York. Our Philharmonic is not a musical centre for Berlin only. In this concert hall, you find yourself in the middle of your audience and that creates a special bond between the performers and the auditorium. Combine this with generous acoustics and you get the performers to make themselves at home here. These last few months, the Berlin Philharmonic organised some events in honour of the five decades anniversary from the inauguration of its hall. We tried to schedule more concerts for the celebration. We had concerts with Reinhard, with Goebel – one of the personalities of mark in the history of the Philharmonic – who proposed experimental sonorities, almost as if he wanted to test the acoustics. After that, Sir Simon Rattle organised appearances for the anniversary and planned them carefully, in order to highlight the characteristics of this hall. There have been performances of Matthaus Passion, directed by Peter Sellars, who laid stress on the architecture and the acoustics. The choir, for example, kept moving from one part of the stage to another. The musicians were spread in all directions, as were the soloists. Then, for the most important concerts of the 20th century, we ordered a play by Wolfgang Rhym, which enclosed the whole acoustical potential of the hall. There have been many concerts and events celebrating the anniversary of this concert hall, a room with remarkable acoustics.

At the end of our interview, would you like, Mr Ulrich Knorzer, to say a few words for the Romanian audience?

I’d like to be able to come to Romania, and the members of the Philharmonic are eager to get to know the Romanian musical experience. I must add that there are rumours about the prospect of performing in Romania in 2015 and we are anxious to see it followed out.

Irina Hasnaș
Translated by Zbarcea Bianca-Lidia and Elena Daniela Radu
MTTLC, The University of Bucharest