By Rebecca Schmid
The author Karl Scheffler famously described Berlin as condemned to forever becoming but never being. When I arrived here nearly two years ago as a DAAD grantee in journalism, the city sprawled out like an unfinished collage. The Philharmonie on the gleaming, rebuilt Potsdamer Platz where I heard Daniel Barenboim perform and conduct Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto seemed a world away from the gritty Kreuzberg district across town, where musical experimentalism thrived as an end in itself: Baroque + Yoga??
The opera houses also eluded me. After sitting through a production of Offenbach’s “La Périchole” at the Komische Oper—in German and otherwise heavily edited by the director—and a “Don Giovanni” at the Deutsche Oper that had me fuming days later, I wondered how fate had ordained me to end up in a city that considered half-naked cabaret appropriate for Mozart (I experienced my first operas in the relatively ‘conservative’ cities of New York, Zürich and Paris).
With time, the city has gained coherence, and other aspects of musical life here—the generous programming of contemporary repertoire across institutions both mainstream and alternative, the seamless integration of classical music into the urban fabric, the sheer variety of events —have proved redeeming. By force of nature I’ve also developed a better appreciation for the risk-taking in matters of Musiktheater (and seen some Wagner productions that could beat New York or Paris any day).
Berlin is, as it apparently always has been, in search of identity. It is a very exciting time to be here as the city reclaims its roots as a bastion of multi-culturalism and all things avant-garde. My blog will cover live performance; new recordings and books; as well as classical music industry news in Germany and beyond. With institutions in flux across the globe, one wonders if Scheffler’s reflection extends well beyond Berlin—we are all eager to understand what classical music is becoming. Hopefully, my posts from the German capital will serve as a useful part of that dialogue.
Tags: Beethoven, Berlin, Berlin Times, DAAD, Daniel Barenboim, Don Giovanni, Karl Scheffler, New York, Offenbach, Potsdamer Platz, wagner, Zürich Mozart