22nd May 2013 will mark the 200th anniversary of Richard Wagner’s birth. By then, the Radio Symphony Orchestra Berlin will have completed its ten-part concertante cycle of Wagner, which has brought the orchestra considerable attention on the German and international music scenes for the last three years. The longest-standing German radio orchestra has been accepted into the ranks of Europe’s leading concert orchestras and is developing into another outstanding cultural ambassador for the German capital.
Almost every concert played by the symphony orchestra of 103 musicians – average age ca. 43 and including an above-average quota of women – documents an electrifying level of achievement. Together with the ensemble’s striking artistic profile, since 2002 this has been in the safe hands of Marek Janowski, the musical director and chief conductor. Janowski’s maxim that even a perfect orchestral sound still leaves room for improvement has made an impact that still reverberates in every single concert. The orchestra itself, but also its audiences and the media are responding with great attentiveness to the orchestra’s cyclic programme, which covers Schumann, Mozart, Hartmann, Shostakovich, Haydn, Henze, Bartók, Ravel, Bruckner, Strauss, Beethoven and Wagner. Expectations are higher than ever for the orchestra’s future and that of the conductor, to whom the musicians offered the life-long position of chief conductor in 2008.
Since the start of the Janowski era, capable young conductors from the international music scene have been coming to Berlin to work with the RSB. After Andris Nelsons, Kristjan Järvi, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Juraj Valčuha, Vasily Petrenko, Ludovic Morlot, Jakub Hrůša and Karel Mark Chichon in past years, those debuting with the Radio Symphony Orchestra Berlin in the 2013/14 season include Alain Altinoglu (having already worked with the RSB in the Studio), Brandon Keith Brown, Peter Oundjian and Mark Wigglesworth. Guests including old masters such as Kurt Masur, Stanisław Skrowaczewski and Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos will also contribute to the RSB’s repertoire and profile. Andrea Marcon will bring out the RSB’s skill in playing music from the Bach era, Frank Strobel will ensure that there are some exemplary concerts of film music, and Heiko Mathias Förster aims to enhance the RSB’s commitment to “Wagner for Children” with the “Ring of the Nibelungs”.
Repertoire and Travelling
As with every full-blooded symphony orchestra, the focus of work is on symphonic music of all epochs from pre-classical through to modernity. Since its foundation, the RSB has forged a particular affinity with contemporary music. Key 20th century composers have come to the conductor’s stand in person or given solo performances of their own works: Paul Hindemith, Arthur Honegger, Darius Milhaud, Sergei Prokofiev, Richard Strauss, Arnold Schönberg, Igor Stravinsky, Vladimir Vogel, Kurt Weill and Alexander Zemlinsky, and more recently Krzysztof Penderecki, Peter Maxwell Davies, Friedrich Goldmann, Berthold Goldschmidt, Siegfried Matthus, Matthias Pintscher, Peter Ruzicka, Heinz Holliger, Daniel Schnyder or Jörg Widmann. The RSB’s assignments, in addition to Berlin symphonic concerts, chamber music concerts, family concerts, radio recordings and CD productions, include guest appearances on important national and international podia. It is possible to hear the RSB there just as in Berlin – and has been for more than 50 years now. In addition to regular tours to Korea and Japan, the orchestra makes guest appearances at European festivals and other music centres in Germany. Beyond this there are long-existing partnerships with the Festival Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and Chorin Musiksommer / Summer of Music.
The Radio Symphony Orchestra Berlin dates back to the first hour of musical broadcasting by Deutscher Rundfunk in October 1923. Until 1994, its chief conductors (incl. Sergiu Celibidache, Eugen Jochum, Hermann Abendroth, Rolf Kleinert, Heinz Rögner and Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos) created a body of sound to communicate the changeable history of 20th century Germany in a remarkable way. Since then the Rundfunk-Orchester und -Chöre GmbH Berlin (roc berlin), founded that same year, has guaranteed the RSB’s institutional stability. roc berlin is a union of four radio music ensembles in the capital (two choirs, the RIAS Kammerchor and the Rundfunkchor Berlin, the RSB, and the DSO Berlin), which is upheld collaboratively by Deutschlandradio (40%), the Federal Republic of Germany (35%), the State of Berlin (20%) and Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg (5%).
Radio Broadcasting and CDs
Thanks to its close links with Deutschlandradio, the major partner in roc berlin, and with Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg, also a partner in roc berlin, nearly all of the RSB’s concerts are broadcast on radio. In addition, this cooperation with Deutschlandradio brings benefits with respect to CD production. After recordings of works by Brahms, Dvořák and Janáček, over the last three years much effort has been focused on media utilization of the concertante Wagner cycle in cooperation with the Dutch label PentaTone. Six of the live recordings have already been issued, immediately triggering a worldwide response. Four CD box sets with the “Ring of the Nibelungs” will follow by the end of 2013.
Progress has been made in the complete performance of all Hans Werner Henze’s symphonies in conjunction with WERGO, now having reached Symphony Number 10. The orchestra also continues to produce along with labels such as Capriccio and Sony/BMG.
Click on the images to enlarge.