Berlin Philharmonic Digital Concert Hall

A concert hall for the Jetsons: Shaped like a pentagon, with the audience surrounding the stage, the Berlin Philharmonic’s unique home venue opened in 1963 and must have seemed pretty space-agey at the time; photo Monika Rittershaus

With the cancellation of Santa Fe Pro Musica’s 2020-2021 season and the Santa Fe Symphony’s 2020 performances at the Lensic Performing Arts Center, there’s now a big orchestral void in the lives of local music lovers. While nothing can completely replace live performances, the Berlin Philharmonic is offering an excellent online alternative, its Digital Concert Hall with a wealth of available programs.

The philharmonic is widely regarded as one of the three or four best in the world and has had just four principal conductors since 1954: the A-listers Herbert von Karajan, Claudio Abbado, Simon Rattle, and Kirill Petrenko. The orchestra started regularly televising concerts in 2010 and now broadcasts about 40 every year, so there’s a rich selection for the home listener to choose from. Some go back as far as 1966, about one-third of the way through von Karajan’s 35-year tenure.

Thanks to Germany’s successful national response to the novel coronavirus, the orchestra started full-scale concerts with live audiences on Aug. 28. Its next streamed concert is on Sept. 13, with Daniel Harding conducting two famous pieces of program music.

In Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6, popularly known as the “Pastoral,” the program was overt. The nature-loving composer provided an explanatory title for each of the work’s five movements, such as Scene by the Brook, Jolly Gathering of Country Folk, and Thunderstorm, with the music clearly evoking each title.

In the case of Alban Berg’s Lyric Suite, the program was concealed. Berg dedicated the work to fellow composer Alexander von Zemlinsky,, but it was a bit of a red herring. The real subject was his passion for Hanna Fuchs-Robettin, a married woman with whom he was having an affair. Berg found many ways to describe their relationship, including a prominent motif of the notes A-B-H-F, which are their initials (in German musical notation, H stands for B natural), and the inclusion of the “Tristan Chord” from Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde.

The Digital Concert Hall also features more than 50 films about the orchestra and its heritage, including the 2007 documentary Das Reichsorchester, a critical examination of the orchestra’s relationship with Nazi Party leadership, and a large library of interviews with conductors, instrumentalists, and soloists. (Sprechen sie kein Deutsch? Not to worry; The films and interviews are subtitled in English.)

The website’s interface is clean and easy to navigate, and the cost is reasonable. The weekly, monthly, and annual packages are priced in Euros; they’re approximately $11.70, $23.50, and $176.00, respectively, at current exchange rates.

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