Die Berliner Philharmoniker

Die Berliner Philharmoniker is an orchestra based in Berlin, Germany. In 2006, a group of ten European media outlets voted the Berlin Philharmonic number three on a list of "top ten European Orchestras", after the Vienna Philharmonic and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Its primary concert venue is the Philharmonie, located in the Kulturforum area of the city. Since 2002, its principal conductor is Sir Simon Rattle. The BPO also supports several chamber music ensembles. The funding for the organization is subsidized by the city of Berlin and a partnership with Deutsche Bank.


The Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra was founded in Berlin in spring 1882 by 54 musicians under the name Frühere Bilsesche Kapelle (literal translation, "Former Bilse's Band"); the group broke away after their previous conductor Benjamin Bilse announced his intention of taking the band on a fourth class train to Warsaw for a concert. The orchestra was given its current name and reorganized under the financial management of Hermann Wolff in 1887. Its first conductor under the new organization was Ludwig von Brenner; in 1887 Hans von Bülow, one of the most esteemed conductors in the world, joined, and from then on, the orchestra's reputation became established, with guests Hans Richter, Felix von Weingartner, Richard Strauss, Gustav Mahler, Johannes Brahms and Edvard Grieg conducting the orchestra over the next few years. Programmes of this period show, surprisingly, that the orchestra possessed only 46 strings as against the Wagnerian ideal of 64.

In 1895, Arthur Nikisch became chief conductor, and was succeeded in 1923 by Wilhelm Furtwängler. Despite several changes in leadership the orchestra continued to perform throughout World War II. After Furtwängler fled to Switzerland in 1945, Leo Borchard became chief conductor. This arrangement lasted only a few months, however, as Borchard was accidentally shot and killed by American forces occupying Berlin. Sergiu Celibidache then took over as chief conductor for seven years, from 1945 to 1952. Furtwängler returned in 1952 and conducted the orchestra until his death in 1954.

His successor was Herbert von Karajan, who led the orchestra from 1955 until his resignation in April 1989, only months before his death. Under him, the orchestra made a vast number of recordings and toured widely.

Claudio Abbado became principal conductor after him, expanding the orchestra's repertoire beyond the core classical and romantic works into more modern 20th century works. He stepped down from this post in 2002. During the post-unification period, the orchestra encountered financial problems resulting from budgetary stress in the city of Berlin. Several years after his departure as chief conductor, in 2006, the Orchestra Academy of the Berlin Philharmonic established the Claudio Abbado Composition Prize in Abbado's honour.

Sir Simon Rattle conducting the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra

In June 1999, the musicians elected Sir Simon Rattle as their next chief conductor. Rattle made it a condition of his signing with the Berlin Philharmonic that it be turned into a self-governing public foundation, with the power to make its own artistic and financial decisions. This required a change to state law, which was approved in 2001, allowing him to join the organization in 2002. Rattle's contract with the orchestra was initially through 2012. In April 2008, the BPO musicians voted in favour of retaining Rattle as their chief conductor. The current Intendantin of the orchestra is Pamela Rosenberg. In April 2008, the orchestra announced that Rosenberg would not continue as Intendantin after the expiration of her contract in 2010. In 2006, the orchestra announced it would investigate its role during the Nazi regime. In 2007, Misha Aster published the book The Reich's Orchestra, his study of the relationship of the Berlin Philharmonic to the rulers of the Third Reich. The first concert hall of the orchestra was destroyed during WWII in 1944. Since 1963, the orchestra has been resident at the Philharmonie, which was constructed from 1960-1963, after the design of architect Hans Scharoun. On 20 May 2008, a fire broke out at the Philharmonie. One-quarter of the roof underwent considerable damage as firefighters cut openings to reach the flames beneath the roof. The hall interior did sustain water damage as well, but was otherwise "generally unharmed." The firefighters limited damage by the use of foam. The orchestra is restricted from use of the hall for concerts until at least 2 June 2008.

UNICEF appointed the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and Sir Simon Rattle as Goodwill Ambassadors in November 2007.





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