He will miss his tower room on Gendarmenmarkt. The octagonal room on the fifth floor of the house at Charlottenstrasse 56, with the four porthole windows. From one he sees the dome of the German Cathedral, from the other the Apollo on the gable of the Konzerthaus roof. And a lot of sky over Berlin.
Having an open horizon in front of your eyes, space for the curious gaze, that was always important to Hans Rehberg. That’s why he wanted to get out of the village in Saxony-Anhalt where he was born in 1956 as quickly as possible. The childhood days were beautiful, the dance hall in his parents’ inn became an adventure playground for the boy who was enthusiastic about classical music, where he reenacted whole operas. But the 400-strong community of Schinne in the Altmark is a dead end. A place you can’t even drive through, on the way to the big wide world. That was definitely unacceptable.
So Hans Rehberg first moved to Stendal, the next district town, where he could get piano lessons and stay in his aunt’s boarding house, where the guest artists of the city theater also stayed. And then to Halle an der Saale, to the special school for music, and finally to Leipzig, to study singing. Here, in the trade fair metropolis, he wanted to stay. So after graduating, he applied for the first available position, became a member of the “Musikalische Komödie” choir and performed in operettas and musicals for five years. And he really enjoyed it. But 150 kilometers further north there was another urban promise, the greatest that you could achieve as a GDR citizen in your own country: Berlin. The change worked out right at the first audition in 1981, the radio choir wanted the baritone.
“We always said to each other during our studies: We would never go to the radio ensembles because they always look so serious as if they were already dead.” Rehberg has to laugh in retrospect – because this job soon turned out to be “paradise open Earth”: what you could do there! Not only “Countess Mariza” and “Die Fledermaus”, but studio recordings in the entire range of the repertoire, television appearances, a cappella, even radio plays. And temporary help on Unter den Linden, with the big choral operas.
Soon the versatility fan Hans Rehberg took over the organization of the muggen, i.e. the “musical occasional work”, for himself and his colleagues, he was elected to the board – and then the wall fell. A new choir director was needed, fortunately the choice did not fall on a do-it-yourselfer, but on the doer from within our own ranks. Hans Rehberg hesitated briefly, asked that his position in the ensemble be kept vacant for him for a year, then threw himself into the new task, tried to learn the basics of cultural management at the Eisler University on the side, and became full of practice monopolized, enjoyed the challenge, filled his baritone position in the choir, grew with the tasks.
Those were wild post-reunification years, full of freedom and opportunities. Because there was only the Rias Chamber Choir in the western part of the city, the radio choir, which had a large number of members, was suddenly in great demand there as well. One gig chased the next, but the future was uncertain. Finally, four institutions – Bund, Berlin, the SFB and Deutschlandfunk – pulled themselves together with difficulty to save four ensembles that threatened to go under in the reorganization of the broadcasting landscape. Together with the German Symphony Orchestra and the Radio Symphony Orchestra, the two Berlin professional choirs came under the protective umbrella of the ROC in 1994. And it paid off that Hans Rehberg, together with his manager colleague from the Rias Chamber Choir, took care early on to sharpen the different artistic profiles. Very old and very new music was the terrain of the chamber choir, the large choral symphonic works were performed by the radio choir. With 83 members, it was almost twice the size of the corresponding ensembles of West German radio stations. During the transition to the new ROC, staff cuts could not be avoided, and Rehberg finally managed to save 64 permanent positions.
When Chief Conductor Dietrich Knothe retired in 1993, Briton Robin Gritton came and brought fresh ideas with him. He was succeeded by his compatriot Simon Halsey, whose childhood friend and first name cousin Rattle finally invited the Rundfunkchor to play regularly with the Berlin Philharmonic. Claudio Abbado preferred Scandinavian choirs because of their cool, clear “Carrara marble sound”, as Rehberg calls it. His chorus, on the other hand, scores with its smoothness and warmth. With the successes, the desires grew. Tours to Japan and the USA were exciting, but there was an even higher goal: to step out of the shadow of the orchestra as a choir, and not always be mentioned in the concert reviews with just a side note of praise. He called the idea developed with Simon Halsey “Broadening the scope of choral music”. The sphere of influence of the singers should expand, both aesthetically and in terms of performance practice.
What followed were pioneering acts with a lasting effect: because 18 years ago, the scenic a cappella projects made possible what other institutions are only now discovering for themselves: greater proximity to the audience. The choreographer Lars Scheibner worked for Rhodion Schtschedrin’s “The Sealed Angel” with the choir and dancers, and Hans-Werner Kroesinger realized Ernst Pepping’s “Passion Report” as documentary theatre. The greatest success, however, was the “human requiem”: Jochen Sandig designed Brahms’ funeral mass as a spatial performance in which the singers, accompanied only by the piano, move freely in the audience. Guest performances with this production went as far as Australia. The sing-along concert, in which amateurs and professionals rehearse together and perform in the Philharmonie, has also become a hit.
Hans Rehberg will continue to teach at the Rostock Music Academy, “Music Management and Career Planning” for prospective professionals from all styles. And he will enjoy the wide view, no longer from his mansard windows on Gendarmenmarkt, but from his private balcony. He recently moved from Prenzlauer Berg to the Hansaviertel, to an apartment on the Spree.