This season marks the 75th anniversary of the Deutsche Symphonie-Orchester Berlin. It was founded in November 1945, just months after the end of World War 2 under the umbrella of the American radio broadcaster RIAS as a contributor of programme content to the postwar cultural reconstruction effort. Ferenc Fricsay was the orchestra's first music director who also insisted on giving public concerts. Culture – and classical music with its intrinsic, intercultural, bridge-building factor – was an integral part of the American political re-education programme during the postwar era. This tradition has been continued over the decades by subsequent music directors, including Lorin Maazel, Kent Nagano and Riccardo Chailly. Today, the orchestra holds a firm place in Berlin's classical music landscape.

Robin Ticciati conducts the DSO Berlin
© Kai Bienert

This season's opening concert certainly had something festive about it, held at the Philharmonie with its music director, Robin Ticciati, conducting. For this occasion, Klaus Lang's new commission started the evening. His Ionian Light, originally for chamber orchestra, has now been expanded for full orchestra. That orchestra – especially the strings – not only acts as a body of sound, but also creates an immaterial one, like light. It changes colour, moves further and closer, changes its spatial effect with its internal structure, at a pace that is virtually approximate to the natural processes of light changes in nature. Tonal changes flow fast and melt into a whole, like light.

The second work was Arvo Pärt's Pro et contra, a cello concerto from 1966. This brief early work does not belong to his so-called tintinnabuli style with which the Estonian composer has become a cult figure. It is full of humour; the cello gets tapped, plucked, and even beaten. Three mini-movements flow together imperceptibly with a grand Baroque ending that feels like a peal of musical laughter. What is pro, what is contra? Pärt's mischievousness tells us to take your pick, there is no right or wrong, just enjoy.

Valentin Radutiu, Robin Ticciati and the DSO Berlin
© Kai Bienert

In keeping with the Musikfest's overall theme this year paying tribute to the late works of Igor Stravinsky, the DSO performed his Requiem Canticles. Commissioned in 1965 by an American philanthropist for his recently deceased wife, it ironically turned out to be the composer's final major work, a condensed and concentrated piece, underlining thoughts of impermanence and spirituality. Stravinsky only set parts of the traditional Requiem Mass to music, with the beginning, middle and final movements for orchestra only. The excellent Rundfunkchor Berlin (chorus master Gijs Leenaars) contributed the emotional vocal parts of the Dies irae and Libera me. Catriona Morison rendered the Lacrimosa with emotional colour. Bass-baritone Matthias Winckhler's warm bass-baritone gave meaning to the Tuba mirum's grave admonitions.

The fragmented character of the Canticles, with the Stravinskian symbols of fragility and finality of the human life cycle, was thematically a perfect transition to the last piece of the concert, the Adagio from Mahler's unfinished Tenth Symphony. This Adagio was first performed in Germany in 1964 by this very orchestra.

The DSO Berlin and Rundfunkchor Berlin in the Philharmonie
© Kai Bienert

Ticciati allowed his orchestra, especially the strings, to luxuriate in the expansive, all-encompassing waves of sound that expressed all the pain in the world. The final call out by the trumpet had a clear, mortal finality to it only attenuated by the softness of the violins, picked up by the solo cello and echoed by the ethereal harp, giving a glimmer of hope at the end.

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