07.07.2022, Berlin: Die Zuschauer schützen sich während des Konzerts der Berliner Symphoniker beim Classic Open Air auf dem Berliner Gendarmenmarkt mit Schirmen und Regencapes vor dem Regen. Foto: Soeren Stache/dpa +++ dpa-Bildfunk +++

Gerhard Kampf and Mario Hampel caught the coldest, wettest day of this bone-dry, overly hot summer in Berlin for this year’s start of their “Classic Open Air” festival. But the two outdoor organizers are used to grief.

Together they have survived many a crisis in the three decades since the Gendarmenmarkt spectacle was founded. There were always financial bottlenecks, as well as meteorological challenges: unforgettable, for example, that storm in which even large restaurant umbrellas whirled through the air.

The regular audience also clearly belongs in the “We’re not made of sugar!” category. On Thursday, the pitch is full – and that hardly changes until the break, despite the continuous rain that started at 7:15 p.m. At 7.42pm Kampfe asks for “a little patience”, ten minutes later the Berliner Symphoniker come onto the stage, which is set up in front of the Konzerthaus, and at 8pm conductor Robert Reimer raises the baton for the “Fledermaus” overture.

The excellent sound system effortlessly drowned out the rattling on thousands of umbrellas and raincoats, and the Strauss operetta provided the perfect motto for this “First Night”: “Happy is he who forgets what cannot be changed”.

Then Joja Wendt, loosely based on Edward Grieg, jazzes and drums his way through “The Hall of the Mountain King”, which here is definitely a stalactite cave. Lars Redlich intones the Leonard Cohen hymn “Hallelujah”, but he can’t calm the heavens with it either, despite the magnificent bombast-pathos arrangement.

“Classic Open Air” started in 1992 as a festival with a very specific target group, namely only with classical music. Since then, entire evenings have been dedicated to individual composers or countries. There was, for example, “Wagner in Light and Fire”, a “Rendezvous with Mozart”, programs with Italian arias, “Viennese Blood” waltz bliss or the “Russian Night”. Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana” was performed at the Gendarmenmarkt, as was Carl Maria von Weber’s “Freischütz”.

Over the years, however, the programs expanded stylistically, first came swing, then film music, soul, and finally hits, pop and rock. Instead of the classical stars – José Carreras was acclaimed in 1992, followed by Gwyneth Jones, Jochen Kowalski, Montserrat Caballé, Lucia Aliberti and Jose Cura – audience favorites from other genres now got their solo evenings: Helmut Lotti, Chris de Burgh, Unheilig, die Söhne Mannheims, Katie Melua. Howard Carpendale is the top act this summer.

The program has become more and more popular, one could also say: more democratic. In any case, more suitable for the masses. The name is only conditionally program, but cannot be easily adapted to the sounding realities – “Ein Kessel Buntes”, the title of the once popular GDR entertainment show, might be more appropriate.

But “Classic Open Air” has become a real brand in three decades, with a level of recognition that no cultural manager would want to jeopardize by renaming without state subsidies behind him.

This Thursday, “Singing in the Rain” will be practiced: the soprano Lindsay Funchal and the tenor Alexander Geller present two arias from Verdi’s “Rigoletto” in a way suitable for city theaters, the Basque accordion virtuoso Enrique Ugarte plays a short version of the “Concierto de Aranjuez” – and then comes Max Mutzke.

He is beyond measure impressed by the weather resistance of the visitors and inspires himself with a highly emotional power performance when he sings “The Way We Were” and “Welt hinter Glas” with a full orchestra and, very intimately, to Ugarte’s accordion “You Are So Beautiful”.

Those who hold out until after the break will hear more from Joja Wendt and Lars Redlich, will be rewarded with a performance by the wonderful Katharine Mehrling and experience the traditional “First Night” fireworks display over the concert hall, to “Star Wars” sounds by John Williams. May the force be with the festival organizers at the other open air events until next Monday!