Philharmonia Orchestra Presents Weimar Berlin: Bittersweet Metropolis at Southbank Centre

Philharmonia Credit Camilla Greenwell
Philharmonia Credit Camilla Greenwell

In June and September 2019, the Philharmonia Orchestra and Esa-Pekka Salonen present Weimar Berlin: Bittersweet Metropolis at Southbank Centre, where it is Resident Orchestra. This new series is an ambitious journey through the music, science and culture of a period of intense political turbulence and explosive creativity in Germany and beyond.

Reflecting the striking resemblance to the rapid changes in political and artistic landscapes today, the programme will bring to life a key moment in European cultural history, including an introduction to the music of Weimar Germany; a specially-created cabaret show at Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall followed by a free extravaganza of contemporary queer cabaret from across London; a screening of Fritz Lang’s masterpiece Metropolis, with live orchestral accompaniment; a partnership with BFI Southbank; and talks and lectures with live music. The programme marks 100 years since the founding of the Weimar Republic.

As well as the series at Southbank Centre, in July the Orchestra and Salonen will perform Kurt Weill’s political-satirical opera The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny at Festival d’Aix-en-Provence. The opera, with libretto by Berthold Brecht, is a stinging attack on consumerism and is considered a central and catalytic work of the Weimar period. Directed byIvo van Hove, this new production features soloists including Karita Mattila, Alan Oke and Sir Willard White.

Principal Conductor & Artistic Advisor Esa-Pekka Salonen said: “Perhaps we are living through something that is very similar to the Weimar Republic without knowing it. We witnessed a number of years of relative prosperity, calm, rationality, optimism and growth. And very suddenly things started unravelling, with the financial crash and rise of populist movements in Europe. Everything seemed to happen within a very short timeframe, which makes you think about Europe in the 1930s.”

“I have been always interested in the Weimar period in terms of the artistic invention and the general aesthetic, but now I feel it has new and urgent relevance.”

In London, Salonen conducts four programmes, including a concert that introduces the music of Weimar Germany giants Berg, Hindemith and Weill (9 June); Berg’s Violin Concerto and Hindemith’s Symphony Mathis der Maler (26 September); and Weill’s Concerto for Violin and Wind Orchestra and Berg’s Lulu Suite, with soprano Rebecca Nelsen (29 September). Violin virtuoso Christian Tetzlaff is the soloist for both concertos, and also joins Series Advisor Gavin Plumley for a musically illustrated exploration of Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto in a free Insights event on 26 September (6pm).

Salonen conducts a vibrant, specially-created cabaret programme at Queen Elizabeth Hall (23 September) directed and curated by Gerard McBurney and starring German vocalist Dagmar Manzel. The show features songs by leading composers from Kurt Weill to Friedrich Hollaender, accompanied by moving imagery. The Philharmonia and Raze Collective then present a free extravaganza of contemporary queer cabaret from across London in a free event in the Queen Elizabeth Hall foyer space.

The Philharmonia presents a screening, with live orchestral accompaniment conducted by Frank Strobel, of 1927 epic masterpiece of Expressionist science fiction Metropolis (13 June 2019), directed by Fritz Lang and with music by Gottfried Huppertz. (The Orchestra also performs this live screening at Festival d’Aix-en-Provence on 14 July.)

A partnership with BFI Southbank (9 June) offers audiences a full day of activity on the South Bank: a talk and screening of The Threepenny Opera (1931) at BFI Southbank followed by an introduction to the series at Royal Festival Hall (6pm) with Gavin Plumley and opening concert, The Sounds of Change(7.30pm). The events at BFI Southbank are part of their two-month season Beyond Your Wildest Dreams: Weimar Cinema 1919-1933 (1 May – 30 June).

The series closes on 29 September with an in-depth Insights Day (12pm – 4pm) at the Level 5 Function Room at Royal Festival Hall. Discussions led by Gavin Plumley will be interspersed with live music from Philharmonia players and young artists. Plumley also presents a series of films about Weimar Germany, shot on location in Berlin, Weimar and Dessau, which will be released via the Philharmonia’s popular YouTube channel throughout the series.

Helen Sprott, Managing Director of the Philharmonia Orchestra, said: “Esa-Pekka’s unique series with the Philharmonia have been a hallmark of our programme together for the last 10 years, and Weimar Berlin: Bittersweet Metropolis will offer London audiences a multi-faceted and immersive experience. Together we will bring to life an extraordinary time and place, providing insight into the politics, history, film, visual art and architecture, and literature of the period, and – most importantly – perform extraordinary music that deserves to be heard and understood in its context.”

Under Esa-Pekka Salonen a series of flagship, visionary projects at Royal Festival Hall – distinctive for both their artistic scope and supporting live and digital content – have been critically acclaimed. Projects including City of Light: Paris 1900-1950(2015), City of Dreams: Vienna 1900 -1935 (2009), Bill Viola’s Tristan und Isolde (2010) and Infernal Dance: Inside the World of Béla Bartók (2011) were followed in 2016 by the major, five-concert series Stravinsky: Myths & Rituals. The series won a South Bank Sky Arts Award, and prompted Fiona Maddocks to write in the Observer: “[Esa-Pekka Salonen] is one of the UK’s greatest musical assets – words not said lightly.”

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