An English composer will be resident at the Berlin Philhamonic

An English composer will be resident at the Berlin Philhamonic


norman lebrecht

April 26, 2018

After Simon Rattle’s departure, the orchestra is still more Anglophile than Angela Merkel and her Juncker puppet.

From today’s press conference:

The Berliner Philharmoniker, in cooperation with the Musikfest Berlin, have invited the English composer George Benjamin to serve as Composer in Residence during the 2018/2019 season. His works will be heard during eight concerts in the Great Hall, the Chamber Music Hall and at the Easter Festival in Baden-Baden. He will conduct one of these concerts himself.




  • Mr Oakmountain says:

    Anglophile …
    Message: The rest of ‘The Continent’ has always thought of Britain belonging to Europe. Anglophile is the norm in many European countries. Why do you think i was bothered to learn English in the first place?Hence Brexit is often felt on a deeply personal and hurtful level.

    • Player says:

      If only more people expressed themselves as there, ie with sorrow and affection (not behaving in a high-handed way as Juncker etc) history may have turned out differently…

  • FS60103 says:

    But surely this will be physically impossible, no? The colossal steel and concrete walls which will permanently sever contact between Britain and the continent next year, preventing all future trade, and any possibility of movement and making even a day trip to Dieppe as inaccessible as a weekend in Pyongyang will mean that performance parts will be impossible to obtain? At least, so I understand from the UK classical music sector’s wholly impartial and dispassionate experts on the subject. I mean, the bloke who wrote the Red Dwarf theme tune says so, so…

  • Alexander Hall says:

    Describing Juncker as a Merkel puppet is both offensive and inaccurate. I am no fan of the German Chancellor but it is not her fault Juncker is where he is. Together with David Cameron she was initially reluctant to accept his nomination but was forced into a U-turn by her own party and by the largest grouping in the European parliament whose leader Juncker at that stage was. Mixing diatribes of this kind with factual reporting does not enhance the standing of this website.

  • John Borstlap says:

    The Berliners are in for a nice series of heartwarming experiences, giving them the much-awaited confirmation that they have become entirely ‘up-to-date’:

    Little snippets of music float on the surface of these nihilistic, sad aural fantasies, little bits of scores as if saved from the paper shredder and glued together in a different way, in a mood of despair and rage of no longer knowing how to compose music. However, in contrary to Berliner beliefs, Benjamin is not opening doors to the future, but merely nostaligically looking back to those exciting sixties when these things had the charm of the new without the burden of musical requirement.

    I can only see in this appointment the result of the conventional thinking of Simon Rattle. He better not think, but restrict himself to conducting of the regular repertoire, where you can get away without understanding the last and the current century.

    • Hilary says:

      Hints of the harmonic progression favoured by Tom Ades in the 1st of the three Inventions. Not sure who got there first.

    • Eric says:

      Interesting that you select three examples of Benjamin’s music, none more recent than 1995, and two of which were written in the early 80s – aged 21 and 22. But if you feel they illustrate a point, then, what the heck.

      • clarrieu says:

        You must remember that, given that Sally never showed much enthusiasm at being tattooed and the only time they tried it on their cat resulted in severe scratch wounds, John Borstlap hasn’t Written On Skin for the last 20 years…

        • John Borstlap says:

          It was her 2nd husband who wanted to have some written confirmation of her loyalty, he was a member of the [redacted] Ensenble who specialized in contemporary music. She bitterly resented the sudden disappearance of the cat after the incident and together with the tattoo proposal, it became the cause of her 2nd divorce. Musicians specializing in contemporary music have a very literal take on everything.

    • Pianofortissimno says:

      Awful. I wonder if Petrenko is going to conduct that kind of “stuff.”

      However, I found some consolation in a related (?) link that poped up when checking one of videos:

  • Max Grimm says:

    Ugh, I’d rather listen to Merkel and Juncker give an in tandem Sprechgesang recital on EU tax law than listen to any compositions by George Benjamin.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      Consider it booked.

    • Hilary says:

      Deluxe modernism. It’s not particularly aggravating to listen to. I’ve yet to discern any particular individual voice though.

      • peter owen says:

        I’ve never really understood why he and Ades gets performed so often.. In both cases there is usually a lot of generic doodling around and then, when something interesting seems to be about to happen, it doesn’t.

        • Hilary says:

          Both have value but they don’t deserve such a huge slice of the cake. Time for the gatekeepers to be shuffled around a bit.

  • Jim says:

    I guess not too many Jewish folk will be going along to the Philhamonic…

  • Jeremy Atkin says:

    Don’t forget that the composer is now Sir George Benjamin. He was knighted last year.

    He doesn’t seem to use the title much. Unlike the conductor Andrew Davis who even introduces himself on documentaries as ‘I’m Sir Andrew Davis’

  • Mark Stephenson says:

    Freedom of speech is never to be taken for granted, but some of the above comments say more about those posting replies than the target of their opinions. I would prefer to hear the views of members of the Berlin Phil, since I would be surprised if they had no say in this appointment. My experience learning and studying Benjamin’s score of ANTARA with the composer, was nothing short of a revelation. Perhaps more needs to be done to communicate and reveal to audiences and listeners what goes into such compositions, in order to fully appreciate the music. Since time immemorial composers have sown threads from past composers in their own composing DNA’s, if thats what is referred to as generic. However I would agree that the question is what will the next really new big thing be, have we run out of notes and new ideas? Someone will find a new voice, I am sure.

    • Pianofortissimno says:

      So, maybe you think that we should all be sent to re-education camps?

    • John Borstlap says:

      There is no question about Benjamin’s or Ades’ sophistication, or of any of the sonic artists who have shows to be capable of handling intricate aural surfaces of timbre and rhythm. Even Boulez wrote very sophisticated sonic art. Audiences of music however, hope for, expect, a musical experience which goes beyond the aural surface. That is not conservatism or resistance to something new, but simply the nature of how the central performance culture has developed: musical experience is entirely dependent upon the interrelationships of the notes, creating an imaginary space where energies can move and be emotionally expressive. That can only be done through the use of tonality. Benjamin et al stick to the material surface, i.e. the sound, and don’t create this inner space.

      Audiences’ resistance to an art form which remains at the acoustical surface is the result of feeling that ‘this thing’ does not belong in the programme, if the rest of the concert consists of musical works. It is a different category. And often sonic art has a lot of wilfull ugliness in it if listened to as music, or is boring, because the listener tries to find musical expression in it.

      If you go into a Chinese restaurant you won’t be interested in being served a Big Mac there.

      Concert programs entirely consisting of sonic art would be much more appropriate, but there will only be a small audience for it – and that would be entirely normal. The abnormality is to include a purely acoustical work in between musical works (‘sh** sandwich’) which sometimes has the effect of a gorilla intruding into a family party. The efforts – now for more than over half a century – to get sonic art as a normal part of the musical repertoire in the central performance culture, have not worked and won’t ever work, because of this fundamental difference and all the misunderstandings it has generated and is still generating. This simply chases away the audiences who come for music, and in these days that is suicidal.