Music To The Ears
From classical symphonies to contemporary jazz to indie rock, Berlin has something for every kind of music fan. Hilda Hoy sums up the best venues and events of the month.
Uplifting beats and melodious sounds from Berlin's music scene.
M arch is always a musical month in Berlin. Spring is around the corner, and as the city begins to emerge from its long hibernation, there’s nothing better to uplift the soul and enliven the spirit than the melodious sounds of music. From world-renowned symphony halls to dark, cozy bars hosting experimental electronica and improv jazz, Berlin’s vast yet accessible music scene has something for every kind of music-lover – you just have to know where to look. For starters, there’s this month’s Maerzmusik festival (16–26 March, www. maerzmusik.de), a thought-provoking annual event dedicated to using music in all its forms to explore pressing contemporary themes, from global political affairs to community issues. In addition to sound installations, film screenings, and workshops, this year’s program includes the Everything is Important performance on 19 March at Haus der Berliner Festspiele, featuring several boundary-pushing string quartets, playing in part in complete darkness. The final two days of the festival will feature The Long Now, a continuous, 30-hour live music installation in the jaw-dropping setting of a former power plant. Attendees can linger and listen for as long as they like, even spending the night on provided cots.
Another musical highlight of the month is the grand opening of the Pierre Boulez Saal (Französische
Str. 33D, www.boulezsaal.de), a new world-class concert venue designed by the venerable Frank Gehry. The Saal is part of the Barenboim-Said Akademie, a music academy co-founded by renowned conductor Daniel Barenboim and influential writer Edward Said. Throughout the month, the brand-new venue will host numerous top-caliber concerts from the Boulez Ensemble, amongst others. Daniel Barenboim himself will appear on stage several times, dazzling on the piano with renditions of some of Schubert’s greatest compositions.
KEEPING IT CLASSICAL
For fans of classical music, Berlin has so much more in store. The city’s Philharmonie (www.berlinerphilharmoniker.de) for example, is already known far and wide. Highlights at the concert hall this month include pianist Martha Argerich playing on 2 March with the Kremerata Baltica chamber orchestra, and an East-meets-West concert on 4 March with the Berlin Philharmonic performing a composition by late sitar artist Ravi Shankar. The beautiful neo-classical Konzerthaus (www.konzerthaus.de) right on Mitte’s Gendarmenmarkt square also regularly hosts classical music greats. On 24 March, hear the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra and the RIAS Chamber Choir perform several works by Mozart.
For a one-of-a-kind musical experience, an evening at Piano Salon Christophori (Uferstr. 8, www.konzertfluegel.com) is an absolute must. In the charmingly post-industrial setting of a former subway train workshop, the salon hosts intimate, donation-based concerts featuring both small- and big-time pianists. An equally striking venue is the Spiegelsaal ballroom on the upper floor of Clärchens Ballhaus (Auguststr. 24, www.spiegelsaal-berlin. de), which has been welcoming music and dance lovers since 1913. The gorgeous, candlelit, mirror-lined ballroom hosts occasional concerts that are announced spontaneously – check www. sonntagskonzerte.de for program updates. And for a taste of what the next generation of classical music will have to offer, check out the concert program at the Hochschule
Hanns Eisler (Schlossplatz 7, www.hfmberlin.de). Students of the renowned music college regularly play free concerts to show off their growing talent.
ALL THAT JAZZ
If jazz, not classical, is what floats your boat, there are clubs and bars dotting the city where jazz fans of any stripe can get their fix. One of the most well known is b-flat just off Alexanderplatz (Dircksenstr. 40, www.b-flat-berlin.de), where the nightly concerts run the gamut from old-school big-band tunes to modern, Latin-tinged, or soulful vocal jazz. Kreuzberg has Yorckschlösschen (Yorckstr. 15, www.yorckschloesschen.de), a laid-back neighborhood pub that hosts jazz, blues, and swing concerts several nights a week. It’s a welcoming spot to have a bite and a drink while enjoying some tunes, with a chilled-out atmosphere borrowed from the jazz honky-tonks of New Orleans’ French Quarter. Charlottenburg’s Quasimodo (Kantstr. 12a, www.quasimodo.de) has the distinction of being one of the city’s oldest jazz clubs, with big names like Branford Marsalis and Prince having made an appearance over the years. It’s just one of a cluster of venues that make Charlottenburg the city’s jazz central: Nearby is also A-Trane (Bleibtreustr. 1, www.a-trane. de), another classic jazz club dating back more than 20 years. This snug corner bar just off
Savignyplatz is the perfect spot to take in some lively tunes, with shows held every evening. Night owls will love the free latenight jam session on 4 March, starting at midnight and going well into the wee hours. The third venue in the Charlottenburg jazz trifecta is The Hat (Lotte-Lenya-Bogen 550, www.thehatbar.de), a 1920s-style jazz bar with a cool film Noir vibe, located in the arches under the S-Bahn tracks. As trains rumble overhead, sip some whiskey or a classic cocktail and enjoy the hot jazz sounds emanating from the tiny stage. The music is free, the drinks strong, and the atmosphere chill – what more could anyone want?
FROM POP TO ROCK
While Charlottenburg may the center of Berlin’s jazz scene, Kreuzberg is where it’s at when it comes to pop, rock, indie, and other contemporary genres, with busy venues like Lido (Cuvrystr. 7, www.lido-berlin.de). Since 2006, this one-time cinema space has been a go-to venue for fun, rowdy shows from bands big and small, local and international. On weekends, they host parties like Soul Explosion, Balkanbeats, and Paranoid, a garage rock and ‘70s rock smashfest where you can headbang to your heart’s content. Just down the street is Festsaal Kreuzberg (Am Flutgraben 2, www.festsaalkreuzberg.de), a longtime musical institution that had to close in 2013 after a devastating fire. Just last month, it was finally able to reopen in the space once occupied by White Trash Fast Food, another legendary musical location. The concert program is slowly being built up again, so check the website regularly for updates. Fans of indie and experimental music will be right at home at Madame Claude (Lübbener Str. 19, www.madameclaude.de), a fun and funky music bar housed in a former brothel. Descending the stairs into the basement space, you might start feeling a little topsy-turvy – thanks to the living room’s worth of furniture attached upside-down to the ceiling. There’s something happening every night of the week, from kooky Experimontag Mondays, Campfire Session Tuesdays with chilled-out singersongwriters, and Freaky Fridays (no explanation needed). Feeling particularly inspired? Join one of the Sunday evening open mic sessions and share your musical side with an audience of fellow aficionados.
Above: Yoga inside the Konzerthaus. From far left: The façade of the Hochschule für Musik Hanns Eisler; the Philharmonie; the new location of Festsaal Kreuzberg.
Top photos: The Hat; this photo: the Pierre Boulez Saal of the Barenboim-Said Akademie.