Mrs. Zietzschmann, the Berliner Philharmoniker have just completed their first tour with the future chief conductor Kirill Petrenko . How was it?
Fantastic! It has already felt like the official start of his term, although Kirill Petrenko only starts in Berlin at the end of August 2019. It was a blissful experience for the orchestra, with everyone involved feeling that the boundaries had already been explored artistically. And then what happened on stage, has also transferred directly into the audience. After the season opening in the Philharmonie and the charity concert in the Schlüterhof of the Berlin Palace, the festivals went to Lucerne, Salzburg and London.
Five appearances in five different locations – for this to work, the conductor must be extremely pragmatic. After all, there are only brief attempts at adapting to the acoustic conditions of the respective hall. Petrenko is not famous for pragmatism. How did he handle this challenge?
Impressive and with exactly the qualities that we appreciate about him: precise preparation and focus on the needs of a touchdown rehearsal. He enjoys touring very much because it gives him the opportunity to deepen his interpretations, to work on the details together every day. He is extremely well organized, so he can use the time available perfectly. Of course, the fact that the Philharmonic is very familiar with the halls was also helpful.
Petrenko is known for immediately withdrawing after concerts to return to the score study. How close was he on the tour for the Philharmonic?
He is very close in the rehearsal process. Everything that has to do with music, there is a very intense exchange. After the last concert we arranged a party – and then there was time to get closer to him personally in a relaxed atmosphere.
At the end of April 2019 you will present the first Petrenko season. Where will the thematic priorities lie?
Of course, Kirill Petrenko has looked at what Simon Rattle has done over the last 16 years . In fact, there are only a few gaps. A composer who was less present and with whom Petrenko wants to deal in the future is Mendelssohn Bartholdy. In future, Russian works will have a higher share, for example, he has set Tchaikovsky’s Fifth for his next appearance in Berlin in March 2019. And of course he will conduct the German core repertoire from Mozart to Brahms and Strauss.
And hopefully also Beethoven! Of course, after the explosive interpretation of the Seventh at the start of the season, one wishes for a Beethoven cycle from him.
Yes, that’s the way we are. However, Kirill Petrenko’s focus is not on cyclical performances. But the Beethoven symphonies will occur regularly in his programs.
Construction sites are currently spread all around the Philharmonic. How does your audience react?
Very understanding. There are actually no complaints. And the first construction phase, when the parking lot was replaced by a pedestrian zone, immediately revived the site. The new forecourt on the east side is well received, in the summer people sat on the lawn and the benches, which was very nice to watch. And we are getting more sidewalks, through the future narrower Karajan road and the transformation of Scharounstraße in a place.
Will there be the opportunity to drink or eat before the concert?
We are in discussion with the authorities and heritage protection about what is feasible, and I hope that we can start in the spring with a catering offer on the forecourt. In the medium term, I would also like to revive the old idea of establishing a restaurant on the terrace of the chamber music hall. And then of course there is still the plan of a reception building for the Philharmonic on the northeastern tip of our property at the transition to Potsdamer Platz. Here one could house the cash registers and the shop, a café as well as areas for the education programs.
How about if you would use the new federal money for it? That’s 7.5 million euros per year .
De facto, however, only 1.8 million more of them come from us because the state subsidy was significantly reduced. We prefer to invest this money directly into the music. For example, in the European concerts, for which we have always had to look very expensive sponsors. Thanks to the federal money, we can now think more freely, also with regard to the choice of the venue. On the other hand, we would like to make guest appearances in countries where you can not afford the Philharmonic. Already this season we are going to Poland, where, unlike in Japan or the US, there are no such high ticket prices. But it is important to us not only to be present in the richest nations. We have also budgeted for digital education. And finally, we want to set new thematic accents with Kirill Petrenko, also in the form of festivals.
In addition to their own concerts, the Philharmoniker are increasingly organizing guest performances by other artists in the Philharmonic and the Chamber Music Hall, including piano recitals, string quartets and early music. This leads to a market distortion, because you with your subsidies in the back the ticket prices can of course calculate differently than the private organizers.
I do not think so. Rather, our events enrich the overall offer. Because many of our projects could not be handled by a private concert promoter, a concertante performance of George Benjamin’s opera “Written on skin” with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, for example. We support the youth orchestras with which we are associated, and with our invitations we support the privately financed ensembles such as the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, which has not been in Berlin for years.
Any private organizer would also like to do a piano recital with Krystian Zimerman!
That’s true. But he has a very close connection to the Philharmonic, and that’s why he calls us when he wants to perform in Berlin. As far as the quartet nights and the original sound ensembles are concerned, we try to work closely with the private broadcasters. And I’m also open to doing something in common with the private sector, such as a guest appearance by the London Symphony Orchestra with a certain Simon Rattle.
What about the new competition from Pierre Boulez Saal, operated by Daniel Barenboim?
We all benefited from it, because it obviously fueled the enthusiasm of the audience for chamber music. In our area, too, occupancy has been rising since the opening of the Boulez hall. Which surprised me quite well.
Simon Rattle once described the director’s post at the Philharmonic: “It’s a hard job, much like playing in a string quartet. It feels like you’re married to the other three people – but without the benefits. “It feels that way”
The string quartet is indeed a good picture, because there are four of us on the foundation board where the important decisions are made.
In addition to the chief conductor and you are there represented two musicians who represent the one hand, the orchestra, on the other hand, the media activities.
In comparison to what I experienced in my former job as manager of the NDR-Klangkörper, where I moved in a four-state consortium, the Berlin situation is more manageable for me.
Which instrument do you play in this quartet?
Of course the first violin!
The three others would presumably also say that …
(laughs) Each one of us actively participates in the discussions and, like in a modern string quartet, one or the other plays a major role. That’s what makes a good discourse.
But in case of conflict, the director has to speak a word of power?
Yes, but luckily we did not have any situation in my first season that would have been necessary.