“Great music is the result of concentrated listening, every musician listening intently to the voice of the composer and to each other.” Daniel Barenboim’s vision to engage audiences was a driving focus behind the creation of the Pierre Boulez Saal, Berlin’s newest concert hall, which now opens its second full season. Designed by Frank Gehry, it is housed in the building which, in the postwar years, served as a depot for Staatsoper Berlin sets. Both Gehry and acoustician Yasuhisa Toyota donated their services for the hall’s new design, creating an elliptical chamber space with the audience seated “in the round”. This is part of Barenboim’s aim to promote the hall as a “thinking ear”, encouraging audiences to “actively listen” in a place where contemporary music thrives. 

The 2018-19 season opens with an inaugural Boulez Biennial, a festival in partnership with the Philharmonie de Paris and the Musikfest Berlin set to highlight different aspects of Boulez’s work. Two programmes pair Boulez classics with works by members of the Second Viennese School Boulez helped champion as a conductor. The Parisian Ensemble Intercontemporain performs Le marteau sans maître alongside Berg’s Four pieces for clarinet and piano, while Berlin’s new Boulez Ensemble, a new flexible group consisting of members of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, plays Sur incises and Webern’s String Quartet.

Barenboim is, naturally, at the centre of the hall’s creative thinking, appearing in his many guises as pianist, chamber musician, conductor and mentor. Over the next two seasons, he performs the Beethoven cycle of piano sonatas. The four recitals this season include favourites such as the “Moonlight” and “Waldstein” sonatas, along with that Everest of the repertoire, the mighty “Hammerklavier”. Barenboim’s relationship with these works goes back decades, yet his interpretations always seek new paths through the score. Barenboim also joins forces with his violinist son, Michael, and cellist Kian Soltani for two programmes of Mozart piano trios, another composer close to his heart.

Barenboim the conductor heads two world premières next season: a new, as yet untitled, work by Matthias Pintscher, plus Labyrinth IV by Widmann, featuring in a programme entitled “Europe: Myth and Vision”. Greece’s role as the birthplace of democracy is highlighted by a focus on Greek mythology and the music of Nikos Skalkottas.

Pianist Karim Said includes two Skalkottas works in his far-ranging October recital, while Yulianna Avdeeva plays his Suite no. 3. The two Petite Suites for violin and piano nestle alongside Strauss and Bartók in a recital by Jiyoon Lee and Giuseppe Guarrera. Oboist Cristina Gómez Goody plays Skalkottas’ Concertino in a programme including Benjamin Britten’s Six Metamorphoses after Ovid, miniatures depicting some great mythological characters such as Bacchus, Narcissus and Pan. Syrinx, pursued by Pan until she was transformed into a reed, is the subject of the Debussy flute solo that is the tiny centrepiece of “Hellas”, a Greek-inspired recital ranging from songs by Schubert and Wolf to Widmann’s Insel der Sirenen (Island of Sirens). Skalkottas also features on the programme of Greek violinist Leonidas Kavakos in his recital with Enrico Pace.

As befitting a hall which shares a building with the Barenboim-Said Akademie, music and artists from the Middle East and Northern Africa play an important role in the Pierre Boulez Saal’s programming. Arabic Music Days, a weekend curated by Iraqi oud player Naseer Shamma, includes concerts, films, talks and poetry readings.

Any chamber hall will feature Lieder and at the heart of any Lieder series is Franz Schubert. Schubert Week returns in January, curated by the great baritone Thomas Hampson, who sings a solo recital. Wolfram Rieger, Hampson’s pianist, offers two coaching sessions for young singers, while a third is led by pianist Hartmut Höll. Further recitals are performed by Mark Padmore, Werner Güra and Julien Van Mellaerts. You can catch Schubert elsewhere in the season, with a recitals by sopranos Mojca Erdmann and Golda Schultz and bass-baritone Luca Pisaroni.

Lovers of the string quartet should head for June’s Quartet Festival which features eleven recitals in a ten day marathon. The starry ensembles include Quatuor Ebène, Heath, Modigliani and Diotima Quartets. With repertoire ranging from Haydn to Saariaho, there’s plenty of choice on offer… along with octets by Mendelssohn and Enescu when the Michelangelo Quartet teams up with students.

Click here to view all events at the Pierre Boulez Saal.


This preview was sponsored by the Pierre Boulez Saal, Berlin