15 May 2020

Berliner Philharmoniker: Berio and Bartók

Back in March, due to the coronavirus pandemic, concert halls have closed to the public. This included the Philharmonie, and therefore concerts by the Berliner Philharmoniker have been cancelled until further notice. When this happened, the Berliner Philharmoniker decided to perform a concert without a live audience, instead broadcasting it to the world via the Internet. So this was the second time I have heard a performance of the Berliner Philharmoniker, this time playing Luciano Berio's Sinfonia for 8 Voices and Orchestra, as well as Béla Bartók's Concerto for Orchestra Sz 116.

Sir Simon Rattle was the one conducting, and before the concert, he made a statement that the ensemble wanted to send a signal of hope to the world. The program turned out to be very musically appropriate, given the historical context of both pieces.

It was the first time I have heard of Berio's Sinfonia, which I must say, was a very captivating piece. It was composed in 1969, commissioned by the New York Philharmonic. It involved 8 vocalists who were not really singing, but they were vocalising, speaking, whispering, giggling, and doing many other things with their voices in ways that one didn't expect. It was definitely something I enjoyed, and it's a pity I didn't see this live.

The second piece was Bartók's Concerto for Orchestra, another piece which I was unfamiliar with. Unfortunately, I must say it was not the most captivating piece for me. I seem to prefer Bartók's chamber music more than his symphonic music, as this piece sounded just quotidian and ordinary for me. His other works were more radical and avant-garde, keeping me at the edge of my seat. It is perhaps remarkable that this piece is described as one of Bartók's more accessible works, but for me, it seemed to have the opposite effect.

In any case, I enjoyed this concert. It was atypical, and it's perhaps the best we can do given the situation, but given the times, sometimes we need to find alternative ways of cultivating the arts.

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