The Berliner Singakademie is one of the most important Oratorio Choirs in Germany. Performing choral symphonic works and a-cappella concerts, it is one of the leading musical institutions of the German capital.
The Choir was founded in 1963. Conceptually and artistically it belongs within the tradition of the Sing-Akademie zu Berlin, which was founded in 1791 by Carl Friedrich Fasch and Carl Friedrich Zelter. As a result of the division of Berlin, the old Sing-Akademie had to limit its activity to the western part of the city. This was particularly true after the 1961 construction of the Berlin Wall, through which the division of the city was solidified. Under these circumstances, the harpsichordist and politician Hans Pischner took the initiative in re-establishing a Singakademie for the eastern part of Berlin. The intention was to preserve the musical heritage of the oratorios of the GDR from the 18th and 19th centuries and not leave it solely to church choirs and professional choirs.
Since „bourgeois“ clubs were not allowed in the GDR, the choir needed an institutional connection. Pischner, who had become artistic director of the Deutsche Staatsoper in 1963, made a connection possible with the Opera. For the Berliner Singakademie this was a stroke of luck because not only could they rehearse in the premises of the Staatsoper, but also it led to sponsorships of some of the prominent vocal soloists from within the choir. Furthermore, Pischner managed to win over the then most famous choral conductor of the GDR, Helmut Koch, first to be director, and then artistic director. Koch held this position until his death in 1975; his successor was Dietrich Knothe. In 1989, Achim Zimmermann was appointed director of the Berliner Singakademie.
Since 1984, the majority of the Berliner Singakademie’s concerts have taken place in the Konzerthaus Berlin, the former Schauspielhaus (Playhouse) in the Gendarmenmarkt square. Other venues include the Berliner Philharmonie and its chamber music hall, the Nikolaikirche in Berlin-Mitte and the Gethsemanekirche in Berlin’s Prenzlauer Berg.
From the beginning, in addition to numerous works by different composers, the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frideric Handel and, above all, Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy took up a large space in the repertoire of the choir. Achim Zimmermann is dedicated to continuing this tradition, as well as to cultivating 20th century choral music, a practice that was begun by his predecessor Dietrich Knothe, who made space for composers such as Honegger, Eisler, Martinů, Martin and Britten within rehearsal and concert output. Furthermore, attention is also devoted to contemporary music, as well as to early music, where the Berliner Singakademie is increasingly working with special ensembles such as the Ensemble WUNDERKAMMER. In addition to the performance of choral symphonic works, the choir attaches great importance to performing an a capella concert at least once a year.
In 2002, the oratorio Medea in Corinth by Georg Katzer (libretto by Christa and Gerhard Wolf) premiered; a re-performance took place in 2015. In 2014, Das Glück by Helmut Zapf, named after the eponymous poem by Friedrich Schiller, was premiered. Both are commissioned works of the Berliner Singakademie.
The Berliner Singakademie has already performed in many countries: guest appearances in the former Soviet Union, Poland and Czechoslovakia were followed after 1989 by concert tours to Spain, France, Israel, Scotland, Italy, Japan and Brazil. More recently, in 2015 the choir performed in South Africa (including, amongst others, Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis) and in 2017 performed in Latvia (including Mendelssohn’s Oratorio Paulus).
In Berlin, the choir works together with outstanding vocal soloists and almost all major orchestras in the city. Permanent partners are the Konzerthausorchester (Berlin Konzerthaus Orchestra), the Komische Oper Berlin (Berlin Comic Opera) and the Kammerakademie Potsdam (Potsdam Chamber Orchestra).
Collaborations have also occurred with the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Berliner Philharmoniker. The choir has also worked together with conductors such as Claudio Abbado, Killill Petrenko, Helmuth Rilling, Vladimir Jurowski, Paul McCreesh, Peter Schreier and Markus Poschner. The Berliner Singakademie also collaborates with other oratory choirs, especially with the Berlin Philharmonic Choir. Since 2005, both choirs have been coming together at intervals for the performances of those choral symphonic works that require a very large ensemble.