In fact, things don’t always get worse in the forest stage. The fact that the seats have been numbered consecutively since last year, which was actually due to the pandemic, contributes a lot to the more peaceful coexistence of stewards and the audience. After all, you no longer have to be there extra early to secure coveted places.
Of course, there were discussions as to whether it was appropriate for the Berliner Philharmoniker to play Russian music for an evening at their traditional end-of-season concert this year. Apart from the fact that the program for Saturday evening was set long before the war against Ukraine began, the evening itself, with over 20,000 listeners in the completely sold-out Waldbühne, gave a pretty clear answer to the question.
That also had to do with two notable open-air debuts. Kirill Petrenko, artistic director of the Philharmoniker since 2019, stood here for the first time at the podium and led through a program with summery cheerfulness, which, in terms of the tonal implementation, left no doubt that it was far superior to the times.
And then Kirill Gerstein, who had stepped in at short notice for the sick Daniil Trifonov, gave such an acclaimed open-air debut on the piano that this time the first encore even came before the break. He let Sergei Rachmaninoff’s concerto for piano and orchestra ripple through the Waldbühne with a cool clarity that the cottony, damp thunderstorm air might have been longing for.
Two screens on the right and left of the stage made it possible to visually follow the astonishing movement of the fingers over the keys, even from further back, the perfect precision with a simultaneous impression of lightness and improvisation, which the jazz lover on mysterious way into the classical interpretation. He expressed his thanks for the enthusiastic applause with Fritz Kreisler’s “Liebesleid” in the piano transcription by Rachmaninoff.
The concert began with a malicious little witch, the symphonic poem “Kikimora”. In the second part, Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition”, the witch Baba-Yaga played a supporting role. The early summer green of the trees behind the stage, the background of which was bathed in amaryllis red, illustrated the painter’s colours.
The Philharmoniker played the walk from the gnome to the great gate of Kyiv, the funeral music as the core of a promenade through the facets of bulging life, with an intensity and drama that made it very clear that music has more to do with the soul and its timeless dimension than with it current world events.
The latter will always outlast them, at best as a source of confidence and hope. The furious finale left the audience almost breathless. It was then able to relax with the “Pas de Deux” from Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker” for the “Berliner Luft”, which Petrenko conducted exuberantly, perhaps relieved, after a brilliant concert evening.
Yes, the trappings are of course still annoying. The fact that “for safety reasons” you can’t bring any alcoholic beverages to the Waldbühne, but inside you can drink sparkling wine on ice for eight euros, must have something to do with the safety of the liver of each individual.
Instead of fine salads, people now eat fries for 4.50 euros, as if there were no more outdoor pools. And the fact that in normal concert halls one is allowed to have larger handbags than here, where one is then faced with the decision beforehand whether to pack a rain cape or sunglasses, still seems like an unnecessary nuisance. But music can also be strong enough to temporarily let legitimate anger fly away.