Berlin Philharmonic grabs slot on New York radio

Berlin Philharmonic grabs slot on New York radio


norman lebrecht

September 24, 2014

It has been a tough decade for the Berlin Philharmonic, losing one media stronghold after the next.

First Deutsche Grammophon stopped recording them when sales no longer covered the  BPO’s high fees. Then other labels pulled out.  The recent invention of an own-label struck the market as an act of desperation and the orch’s streaming ventures are not fulfilling early dreams.

So the orch has now gone abroad and formed a partnership with WQXR, the public radio station in New York, which is funded by donations and pays negligible contributor fees. It’s a bold, non-profit move by Berlin, an attempt to groom an audience in a city with only one symphony orchestra (Berlin has five or six) and rebuild a faltering brand.

But will it work? Press release below.

berlin phil logo



(New York, NY—September 23, 2014) – This fall, the Berlin Philharmonic will partner with a US media company for the first time when it joins with WQXR, New York City’s classical music station, to present a robust roster of recorded concerts never before broadcast in the US.


Beginning on Tuesday, October 7, WQXR presents “The Berlin Philharmonic in Concert”, a two hour radio show featuring music recorded live at the Philharmonie in Berlin.  This exclusive 12-part series, airing on consecutive Tuesdays at 9pm ET, allows listeners a rare chance to hear the Berlin Philharmonic on its home turf.  Hosted by WQXR’s Annie Bergen, each broadcast includes a complete concert, drawn principally from the current 2014-2015 season. The never-before-available broadcasts will be available for on-demand streaming for one week on


The schedule is as follows:


  • October 7:      Schumann Symphony No. 1 & Brahms Symphony No. 1
  • October 14:    Mozart Piano Concerto in B-flat major, K. 456; Messiaen Oiseaux exotiques; Haydn, Selections from his symphonies,The Creation and Seven Last Words (featuring soloist Mitsuko Uchida)
  • October 21:    Ives The Unanswered Question; Strauss Metamorphosen; Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1 (featuring soloist Daniel Barenboim)
  • October 28:     Schumann Symphony No. 2 & Brahms Symphony No. 2
  • November 4:   Bach St. Matthew Passion
  • November 11: Strauss Burleske & Also Sprach Zarathustra; Mozart Piano Concerto in E-flat major K. 449 (soloist Emanuel Ax; guest conductor Andris Nelsons)
  • November 18: Bach St. John Passion
  • November 25: Beethoven Symphony No. 9 in D-minor “Choral” & Szymanowski Stabat Mater
  • December 2:   Schumann Symphony No. 3 & Brahms Symphony No. 3
  • December 9:   Bach Cantata No. 58Mendelssohn Symphony No. 3; Nielsen Symphony No. 3 (guest conductor Alan Gilbert)
  • December 16:  Mendelssohn Ruy Blas Overture; Schumann Piano Concerto in A minor; Rachmaninov Symphony No. 3 (soloist Martha Argerich; guest conductor Riccardo Chailly)
  • December 23: Schumann Symphony No. 4 & Brahms Symphony No. 4


To celebrate this unprecedented partnership, WQXR will host a live performance by the orchestra’s The Varian Fry String Quartet on Tuesday, September 30 at 7pmin the station’s intimate event venue, The Jerome L. Greene Performance Space. WQXR’s Jeff Spurgeon hosts an evening that includes a sampling of the orchestra’s recent CD and DVD releases of music of Schumann and Bach, as well as the quartet performing music of Haydn and Schubert.  Tickets are available


In addition, WQXR will live broadcast the Berlin Philharmonic’s season opening concert at Carnegie Hall on Wednesday, October 1 to kick off this season’s Carnegie Hall Live series.


  • Herrera says:

    I think it’s a mistake. The appeal of Berlin Phil has always been its exclusivity, you can’t get tickets to their concerts. Now they’ll be overexposed in NY, so that the next time they come to Carnegie Hall, there’ll be less excitement.

    Truth is, anyone in the world can pick up WQXR over the internet, so, basically, Berlin is giving its concerts away for free, further cutting into their streaming revenue. I might’ve paid to hear the Bach Passions, but now that they’re free…

    Brilliant deal for WQXR though, more ears worldwide on their programming.

    • Nydo says:

      I don’t really follow your reasoning here. They tour to NYC about once every three years, and I really don’t think the addition of some radio broadcasts is going to dip into their ticket sales, especially when they already have all their concerts broadcast in AV format, though it requires a subscription fee to see more than one of them. Now, if they started touring here and actually playing concerts a couple of times a year, that might have a small impact on their ticket sales.

  • Tristan says:

    the truth is also that not so many are keen to buy their latest recordings with Simon Rattle

    • sdReader says:

      Right. No star power.

      And the Berlin Philharmonic ranks 3rd or 4th in quality in Germany now!

      • Andrew R. Barnard says:

        Huh? That’s quite a claim to boot. The virtuosity of the orchestra is as high as ever.

        “First Deutsche Grammophon stopped recording them..”

        Norman is either confused or not being clear. He made a big hoopla about Yundi’s new CD with them on DG earlier this year.

        • Anon says:

          There’s quite a difference between (a) orchestral recordings, and (b) accompaniment recordings.

          • Andrew R. Barnard says:

            Of course, though he should have made the distinction. All the same, it was just a year ago that Dudamel released a purely orchestral Strauss disc. So some stretching seems to be going on.

  • Luciano says:

    What a load of tosh. Leipzig, Dresden etc, good orchestras but second tier in comparison. Only Bavarian Radio comes close, but they are still No.2.

    • sdReader says:

      It’s illuminating, Luciano, that without a prompt you listed EXACTLY the three I had in mind ahead of Karajan’s former band!

      • Andrew R. Barnard says:

        Ahead of Karajan’s Berlin Phil? Reality check, anyone?

        • sdReader says:

          No. Ahead of the Berlin Phil of 2014. Karajan’s was a thing of the 1960s. Long gone.

          • Andrew R. Barnard says:

            Ah, more sensible, but still, doesn’t the sheer virtuosity of today’s Berliners speak for itself, even if it’s far removed from the sheen of Karajan’s tone? I wonder if those who bash the orchestra’s sound today, which is spectacular, have heard the orchestra live. Individuality and freedom of expression beyond compare, I’m telling you.

          • sdReader says:

            The question is, has Andrew Barnard heard the Bavarians, Dresdners or Leipzigers lately?

  • Andrew R. Barnard says:

    I’m not denigrating the quality of any of those three orchestras, although I hear them regularly on disc. The Bavarian Radio Symphony in particular is spectacular. But still a bit behind the Berliners for virtuosity and individuality. If you regularly get to hear all four orchestra, you’re fortunate, but it would be nicer to elaborate on your experiences instead of using it as a playing card. As a middle class teenager in the US, it’s not like I’m turning down the chance to hear the orchestras. I’ll be in Carnegie Hall next week to hear the Berliners, burning about 200 bucks for the experience, including transportation costs.

    • sdReader says:

      Sorry. I guess you’re doing the right thing. Yes, I’m lucky enough to hear the German orchestras regularly. I do think it’s important to judge on the basis of live performance and without any presumption or preconception, to make them PROVE themselves, as if they had no reputation! Then all the “Karajan” and “Deutsche Grammophon” and “EMI” and CD and video attachments fall away, letting you get closer to the truth.

  • Shalom Rackovsky says:

    The tone of Norman’s post reminds me of the imortant maxim that things are not what they used to be, and never were. The Berlin Phil is the most spectacularly virtuosic, charismatic orchestra in the world, and without peer even in Germany, a land blessed with a significant number of outstanding ensembles. As for their declining brand and total failure in the internet space, I could provide a list of at least 50 orchestras worldwide who would kill to have 10% of what the BPO has. Lets all stay on our meds, people…..

    • Andrew R. Barnard says:

      Thanks Shalom, and as always, how is Norman’s persistently whining, negative attitude supposed to help anything? I only visit this site because it’s an easy way to find Classical news. Norman’s twist on almost everything is elitist, contorted, and what’s wrong with the Classical world today, as much as the things he whines about.

    • sdReader says:

      Shalom is wrong.

      It is living in a bubble to make a claim like that, although the idea might have been partly valid in 1965.

      • Shalom Rackovsky says:

        I am not. No it isn’t. [Of course, this entire discussion is taking place on a level of objectivity which a PhD scientist (which I am) would envy.]

  • Herrera says:

    I am convinced that so much of the Berlin sound under Karajan as most people in the world know it, is as much the product of the brilliant engineers at Deutsche Grammophone as it is the product of the musicians. That sheen, that voluptuousness, I’ve never heard live from the Berlin in any concert of theirs that I attended. Admittedly, I’ve never heard them at the best concert halls of the world, but one’d expect that the Berliners could reproduce that sound even at lesser halls. (The Vienna, I have heard at Carnegie Hall, and they are better than their recordings!)

    • Andrew R. Barnard says:

      The Berliners traded some of their voluptuousness for greater individuality and freedom of expression, so that overwhelming sheen of sound won’t be heard today, sadly. For many, that’s reason to condemn the orchestra today.

      As far as the Karajan sound being a product of DG, the problem with this reasoning is that you get a very similar sound on EMI’s recordings of the orchestra. So it can’t all be DG, and plus, Abbado used DG too, with none of the same sheen.

  • NYMike says:

    Two observations: 1. QXR presents the hometown band NY Phil every week, and 2. “world’s greatest orchestra – sheen, schmeen,” bah humbug! For intonation, blend and ensemble nonpareil – Amsterdam and Philadelphia. And yes as a retired professional musician, I hear them all @ Carnegie and Fisher every year.

  • Berlin is still a fine orchestra, but it can’t keep asking for exorbitant prices in the internet age. The Vienna is by far a better band and knows how to keep the public engaged. It seems to me that Berlin is trapped inside an elitist bubble and can’t understand that not everyone has the funds to pay for a luxury brand.

  • Nydo says:

    I also hear all of these orchestras on tour when they are in New York, and the Berlin Philharmonic does stand above the others in many ways. They have a way with dynamics, particularly the lower ones, that is unmatched by any of the other orchestras in this thread, coupled with a natural feel to their phrasing and balance that also rises to the top of the heap.

    VPO can be an amazing orchestra, but it also can be downright bad at times, and the level of virtuosity and blend in the winds is lower than Berlin overall. The RCO is wonderful, but just a notch below Berlin. The Bavarian Symphony is a good orchestra with some very rough edges that currently has a very good music director. Leipzig has some amazing ensemble playing in the strings, but still hasn’t impressed me with the level of virtuosity that I hear with Berlin. The only concerts that have matched the Berlin ones in the last few years for me have been individual performances of VPO, Boston, and Minnesota, the last when they were playing Sibelius.

    NYMike, forest and trees; intonation is quite good with most of these orchestras, and focusing on individual technical aspects instead of the musical result doesn’t show the whole picture. BTW, I am an active professional musician in NYC. And Boring Fileclerk, I’m not quite sure what you are referring to, as the prices for VPO concerts are at the same level as those for Berlin here in New York City.

    In addition, most of the major orchestras have their concerts available on internet radio, if you search around a bit. You pay a bit more for something like the Berlin Digital Concert Hall, to get higher audio and visual quality, in the same way you do for physical media.