Saturday, November 10, 2007

Berlin Philharmonie

I've lived in Berlin for over a year and aside from a short benefit concert last year performed by a portion of the orchestra, have not heard the famous Philharmonic. One must do Sir Simon Rattle at least once, am I right? But the question is how -- tourists snap up the tickets as soon as they're announced. So, after diligent on-line searching, I scored a 25-euro ticket at the highest level of tiered seating for last Thursday night (no one comes to Berlin in November). The space is so lovely, soaring, and there is not a bad seat in the house; it's said to be acoustically perfect.

I was reflecting on the program whose inner front page contains the usual exhortations to the Dear Concert-goers to save their noisy expulsions (sneezes, coughs, etc.) for the breaks. I am convinced this is completely counter-productive as the power of suggestion only increases said noise pollution. Attending a German concert means listening to the most vehement set of snorts and ahems that a group of humans is likely to produce. In this case, for some reason (geriatric, partially deaf, who can say), a group of people took it upon themselves to engage in this right as the clarinetist entered a particularly pianisimo part of his solo. It was like a chain reaction: one sneeze, and then several more, and all of a sudden it seemed the a tidal wave.

Poor Sir Simon Rattle, leaning enthusiastically toward the soloist to direct him; poor soloist, moving his body forward, clarinet gripped enthusiastically between his lips, as if he could will this audience into better behavior. Poor me, who felt one of those cultural crises of acute embarrassment for both of them. Poor audience, through which a wave of audible disapproval (an "nnnhhh" pronounced simultaneously low in several hundred throats) passed, but still the sneezes continued until the uncooperative inhibitory complexes of the brains in question could finally recover themselves.

The music, I'm sorry to say, was not the least bit interesting. A mercifully short modern piece by a young composer named Jost -- who seemed to be attempting to commemorate something resembling the invasion of Bagdad, by string orchestra. Then Mahler's 10th symphony had me nodding off. To top it off, when I went into the lobby after the performance, what should I notice but a 20-panel exhibit on "degenerate music", a spin-off on the better-known Nazi degenerate art obsession. I was treated to pictures of Hilter, swasticas, enthusiatic youth heil-ing away, and large expanses of difficult-to-read German explaining the various "musicologist" professors apparently involved in figurative music-burning.

Such things do seem to crop up rather unpredictably; I wouldn't say it's ubiquitous or even all that common, but German orthodoxy does engage in a certain steady self-flaggelation. I'm all for this, of course, but in this particular case it certainly did destroy any headway I was making in talking myself into this having been a pleasant evening. Twenty-five euros down the tube, I'm afraid, but here's evidence at least that I performed the obligatory Simon Rattle-viewing.

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