Berlin goes weirdly Spanish for New Year

Berlin goes weirdly Spanish for New Year


norman lebrecht

December 22, 2020

An enigmatic piece of programming from Kirill Petrenko brings 2020 to an end at the locked-down Berlin Philharmonic. Typically, the conductor does not explain his choices. Y viva espana.

Press release:

The Berliner Philharmoniker’s traditional New Year’s Eve concert will be streamed live from the Philharmonie Berlin in the Digital Concert Hall (18:00) and in a time-delayed live broadcast on arte (18:35). Radio station rbbKultur will present the concert live at 18:00. Under the baton of chief conductor Kirill Petrenko, the Spanish-themed programme features ballet music by Manuel de Falla and Joaquín Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez with guitarist Pablo Sáinz-Villegas as the soloist. Other works include Heitor Villa-Lobos’ Bachianas brasileiras No. 4 and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio espagnol. The evening opens with the Leonore Overture No. 3 in C major, op. 72, once again in the context of the 250th anniversary of Ludwig van Beethoven’s birth, although here too the action takes place in Spain.

Andrea Zietzschmann, general manager of the Berliner Philharmoniker Foundation: “We all look back on a challenging 2020, which has tested our resilience and has taken its toll on us. More than ever, we have become aware of how much culture is one of the foundations of our society and how important face-to- face encounters in the concert hall are. We are grateful that, despite the impact of the pandemic, we have maintained contact with our audiences in Berlin and around the world, with our friends and supporters, with the artists, and with our partners. They have constantly motivated us to fight for the visibility of culture in this crisis. So we are delighted to come to your home this year with our traditional and festive New Year’s Eve concert, and in doing so, giving culture a strong voice as the year draws to its close.”

Kirill Petrenko, chief conductor of the Berliner Philharmoniker: ‘Our New Year’s Eve concert this year takes place at a time when we look with hope and trepidation at our society and the whole world. We are infinitely grateful to all those who are now fighting for us on the front line against the pandemic. In this concert, we would like to reflect on this time, offer some consolation and hope, and once again make it emphatically clear that art and music are indispensable, even – and especially – in such a situation.’


  • Gustavo says:

    Well Spanish flu, Corona, etc., etc.

    It’s good to cheer the spirits.

    Got it?

  • Guglhupf says:

    Finally someone who doesn’t program Beethoven 9 for New Year’s.

  • sam says:

    What’s weird?

    Last year, the theme was USA (heavy on Gershwin and Bernstein).

    This year, it’s Spain.

    Nothing weird.

    I tell you what’s weird, every single year, year after year for about 100 years, a certain orchestra’s theme is Austria, and not just Austria, but Vienna, and not just Vienna, but a single dance from Vienna, and not only a single dance from Vienna, but 2 identical pieces about that single dance…

    Now, that’s weird.

    • Marfisa says:

      No, Sam, that’s not weird, that’s tradition.

      And quite a variety of other pieces are programmed as well, along with the not-to-be-named dance.

      • Couperin says:

        Tradition is the illusion of permanence!

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        For many people tradition IS weird; so used are they to the free-for-all decadence that passes for society today.

        • Enough already says:

          Sue, I agree with you completely. Can you imagine that the following examples of free-for-all decadence have been front page news the world over, and millions still seem to approve? I too deplore this moral and political decadence:

          -claiming a fair and transparent election stolen, thereby endangering democracy

          -separating children from their parents

          -grabbing them by the xxxxx

          -just in: pardoning your criminal buddies

          Happy Christmas (for white people only, Christians naturally, preferably protestant)

  • Peter says:

    What is weird about programming Spanish-themed music? If you look through some of the BPO’s New Year’s programs of the past, they have worked around certain themes. Apparently Maestro likes the repertoire. What is weird is Villa-Lobos is Brazilian, not Spanish.

    • V.Lind says:

      Does Petrenko think they speak Spanish in Brazil? That piece sticks out like a sore thumb.

      • No worries. Petrenko is very intelligent man and definitely knows which language is spoken in which country and where composers come from. I feel that all this urge to criticism has in that case chosen a very wrong address.

      • Nydo says:

        Would you have made the same criticism of the Simon Bolivar orchestra’s inclusion of Brazilian music in its programs? There is this thing called Iberian that includes both Spanish and Portuguese music, and that is as easily applied to the western hemisphere.

  • Petros Linardos says:

    Petrenko focuses on what he can do best.

    Did Abbado, Karajan, Furtwängler or Nikisch bloviate about music?

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Two days ago I was in the car and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony #6 came onto the classical station. Normally I’d go hum-hum, tap-tap but this was one was different. Though I’d only started with the 3rd movement there was something energizing and of rich texture about it. By the last movement – that dirge – I became entranced, particularly with the attack in the string sections. It felt like Kleiber with all his understanding of an over-arching structure and redolent of all the main themes right there in the end. Drama throughout that I’d never heard before. I speculated it was either Berlin or Vienna Phils and I was right; it was the former. But it was Kirill Petrenko and I smiled and said to the spouse, “that’s why they wanted him; this was absolutely excellent”.

  • Guitarist says:

    What is weird is the choice of the guitarist. Berlin Phil, really?? More than mediocre musician, throwing a big seductive smile every time he barely plays a difficult passage. Not a classical musician, but an entertainer. There are guitarists who are real musicians out there, Mr. Petrenko!

    • Florist says:

      I agree, but at least he plays better than Milos… Let’s just accept that the instrument is cursed. We will always have the great guitarists playing in guitar festivals in churches for 500€

  • Bostin'Symph says:

    ¡Feliz año nuevo, Berlín!

  • Karl says:

    The OSM had a Spanish Festival planned for April, but it got cancelled by the pandemic. They were going to play some rarely heard stuff by Xavier Montsalvatge, Juan Crisóstomo de Arriaga, and Clermont Pépin. I was planning on attending every one of those concerts.

    • William Safford says:

      I got to perform a piece by Montsalvatge a couple years ago. I liked it. I’d never heard of him until then.

  • Edgar Self says:

    even “Fidelio” and the Leonore overtures have Spanish connexions.

    The blind Joaquin Rdodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez” some decades ago overtook Rachmaninoff’s Paganini Rhapsody then as the most-played concerted work. Rodrigo was in Paris c. 1940 when he wrote it, taking some lessons with Cortot. The exquisite slow movement is an elegy for his infant son. Among its many fine advocates, Narciso Yepez stands out He plays his 10-string guitar like a Jesuit, and shares St. Ignatius Loyola’s family name Yepez

    Andres Segovia did not play it because Rodrigo dedicated it to another Spanish guitarist whose name I forget, which is a great pity. Interestingly,Segovia wrote that he had “his first religious eperience in music” from Cortot, who is wonderful in Albeniz. This does not surprise me at all. Rodrigo instead dedicated “Concierto por un Gentilhombe” to Segovia..

    • Ari Bocian says:

      The Concierto de Aranjuez was dedicated to Regino Sainz de la Maza.

      • Edgar Self says:

        Many thanks, Ari Bocian, for the name of Regino Sainz de la Maza, the dedicatee of Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez”. Now I will try to remember it.

        What a pity that Andres Segovia took offense over the dedication and did not play it. But I am very happy with Narciso Yepez, and even gladder to have Iseen him play an enormous recital in St. Mary’s college church in Moraga, California, attended by every guitarist west of the Rocky Mountains. He played his 10-string guitar, left hand splayed ip and down the length of its finger-board by the end of Bach’s chaconne, which fit it like a glove.

        John Williams, who studied with Segovia, and Julian Bream were also admired for their performances of Rodrigo’s beautiful “Concierto”.

        When I later saw Segovia play in San Francisco when he was very old, we made too mucnoise for him. and he abruptly chorded off and left the platform for a while, eventually consenting to return after we promised to b be good. A very great player, the most Romantic of all, but with thin skin and machismo in full view. And as stubborn as Casals about Rodrigo’s perceived slight. unworthy of him, unnecessarily forswearing the best piece for guitar and orchestra.

  • microview says:

    “The evening opens with the Leonore Overture No. 3 … although here too the action takes place in Spain.”
    Made me smile!

  • Nomath says:

    Why not instead of Leonore the Egmont ouverture? The count was beheaded on the Grand Place in Brussels on behalf of the Spanish king, which sparked the 80 years war for the independance of the Netherlands.

  • M2N2K says:

    My guess is that HV-L probably knew Spanish better than either LvB or NR-K ever did, so based on that admittedly weakish assumption the inclusion of the Brazilian’s music for this program may kind of be almost justified.

  • Hilary says:

    a gesture of solidarity towards a country which has suffered more tragedy than any other since March.

  • sorin braun says:

    classical repertoire is narrow and can only be recycled.that’s the plain truth.Ok , you’ve got period instruments and Toscanini/Furtwaengler style ,Walter/Harnoncourt delicacy or Currentzis hybridness.But the notes remain the same and we are not in for a culture-shock surprise.

    • V.Lind says:

      That’s like saying because there are only 26 letters in the Roman alphabet there’s a limit to what can be written.

    • Marfisa says:

      Harnoncourt – delicate? Not how I would describe his style, at all! Robust, fierce, humorous …

      I agree with your desire for a bit of culture shock, though. I love listening to the old familiar stuff, and stuff from the old familiars that I haven”t yet heard, and stuff like the old familiar stuff from lesser known composers, but I really need to be jolted out of my groove once in a while.

  • Edgar Self says:

    The correct title is Fantasia para un gentilhombre, the piece Rodrigo dedicated to Andres Segovia, who commissioned it.

    Concierto de Aranauez’s first player and dedicatee, Regino Sainz de la Maza, has an interesting biography. I’m grateful to Ari Bacian for giving me his name. It actually was written in 1939 in memory of an unborn son lost by miscarriage.

    Rodrigo also studied with Paul Dukas at the Ecole Normal in Paris. Rodrigo’s daughter Cecilia survived him and succeeded to his title as Marquesa de los Jardinez de Aranjuez. Rpdrigo, blind from diptheria at age three, died June 6, 1999, in Madrid, aged 97 He never mastered the guitar..