Why Arsenal and Spurs are more thrilling than the Berlin Philharmonic

The Guardian has raised the Berlin noise another notch by asking, on its op-ed page, why London (among other great cities) can’t have an orchestra like Berlin. The question has been rumbling for almost 50 years – ever since Lord Goodman at the Arts Council tried to bang heads together and form a super-orchestra. Charlotte Higgins yearns for much the same.

The point is, there is no point. Berlin has a Mercedes of an orchestra that is driven smoothly and with little apparent friction by Simon Rattle. Good luck to them. London has five orchestras that are driven to distraction by the need to earn a living and are forever on the point of combustion.
That makes listening to most of the London bands a far more exhilarating experience than hearing Berlin being put through its immaculate paces. Berlin is a terrific machine; it seldom fails; sometimes it verges on smugness. London’s music is always on the edge of risk. Not a week goes by without a conductor or manager feeling that his/her job hangs by a thread.
That makes music in London far more exciting than Berlin, a superior spectator sport in much the same way as Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur will always be more fun to watch than Bayern Munich – as millions of Germans would agree.
London has an awkward yet entirely unique musical ecology. Attempts by official bodies to tamper with it are doomed to failure. We should celebrate what we’ve got, ever striving for improvement, rather than trying to emulate the sleek solutions of a different civilisation.

share this

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on google
  • I’m happy to say that all the London orchestras are capable of greatness but I think their regular weakness is that they often sound like they’re not taking any risks. If anything the busier schedules (more music performed on less rehearsal) means that people end up playing safe on stage not the opposite.

  • Sure the London orchestras mostly work their butts off but the fact remains that it depends HOW you work that affects quality and in the 20 years i have listened in both cities, the Berlin Philharmonic AND the other 6 major Berlin orchestras are working in the right way and the London orchestras are working in the wrong way. I have heard Berlin orchestras absolutely playing to the edge of their seats which has prompted standing ovations and wolf-whistling, whereas time and time again I have felt uncomfortable in london listening to orchestras that don’t seem to have half their usual players, wondering whether the horns will make it through a passage without cracking notes and then starting to notice how uncomfortable my seat is.(the revamp of the Festival Hall left me feeling like I was sitting in a bus).
    To be criticised for striving for perfection or at least performances that are not disabled by hashed together freelancers is plain envy. Gramophone magazine are doing the same thing… we have since 4 yrs stopped buying it due to it’s one-eyed anglican outlook, making it impossible to take seriously.
    sure, the UK is in dire straits financially but to then damn others who ARE supporting their arts is shooting oneself in the foot.

  • >