Horns, Glorious Horns
From brass instruments to orchestral arrangements, this year’s Musikfest is a celebration of the Romantic era seen through the eyes of Robert Schumann. Lauren Oyler is ready for the concert to begin.
“It is a celebration of Berlin’s commitment to arts and culture.”
Despite being a master of the Romantic piano, composer and critic Robert Schumann once said that no instrument can represent the soul of the orchestra as perfectly as the horn. At the time of his writing, the instrument was undergoing a technical evolution: the natural horn had just been fitted with valves, gaining three and a half octaves of continuous playing, a development that triggered disputes between the pro-valve composers, such as Schumann himself, and the no-valve nostalgics, like Brahms. With the aim of both reopening the debate and expressing Schumann’s poetic desires, this year’s edition of Musikfest Berlin has filled its programming with the brass instrument in all its forms and variations.
Part of the annual Berliner Festspiele festival, Musikfest Berlin brings the best international orchestras and performers to the Philharmonie and the Kammermusiksaal for three weeks of classical perfection. Created in West Berlin in 1951, the Berliner Festspiele has always been an important celebration of the arts, but took on new significance after the Wall came down in 1989, when its presence became a symbol of the city’s reunified commitment to arts and culture.
This year, the powerful sound of 25 orchestras, ensembles, and soloists will be ringing out throughout the festival with music by Schumann and other Romantic- era composers, such as Berlin-born Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, Johannes Brahms, Richard Strauss, and Gustav Mahler, without forgetting to include one of the composers who most
inspired Schumann: Johann Sebastian Bach. For a poetic Schumann- Bach combination, head to the Kammermusiksaal on 21 September to listen to the 12 cellists of the Berliner Philharmoniker interpret the cello arrangements of Bach’s 6th Brandenburg Concerto, followed by Schumann’s introspective Waldszenen. And to experience the horn in all its no-valve glory, buy a ticket to the 15 September concert, featuring four alphorns (the ones used by mountain dwellers in Switzerland). The evening will star the SWR Sinfonieorchetser Baden- Baden und Freiburg interpreting Georg Friedrich Haas’s contemporary Concerto Grosso n. 1 together with Haas’s modern arrangement for alphorns from Bruckner’s 8th Symphony.