April 2004

A fruitful crossroads

While there's a lot of insecurity in the arts in Berlin these days, the city feels musically vital like no other

Excerpts from an article in The Los Angeles Times on April 14, 2004

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A fruitful crossroads

While there's a lot of insecurity in the arts in Berlin these days, the city feels musically vital like no other.

by Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

This city has not turned out the way many predicted when the wall came down 14 years ago. It has not become a 21st-century version of Fritz Lang's Metropolis. The population has not exploded as was expected. With the financial outlook grim, some institutions that have weathered earlier storms may not continue to do so. On the other hand, there is little complacency. Orchestras, opera companies and other musical organizations continually have to prove themselves. …

Politicians here control the purse strings of the city's arts institutions, and the city is broke. Officials are looking for any excuse they can find to merge or even fold orchestras. … There is in Berlin right now enormous insecurity in the arts. It is ever in the news that this conductor or that administrator is threatening to resign if the needs of his ensemble or company are not met. Simon Rattle made that threat before he assumed the post of music director of the Berlin Philharmonic last season. Daniel Barenboim is constantly badgering the government for the support he insists the Staatsoper Unter den Linden, the superb and challenging opera company he runs, deserves. From all these reports, it would be easy to think that Berlin's bubble has, or will shortly, burst. …

For all its problems, and to some extent because of them, [Berlin] feels musically vital in a way that no other city I know can equal. Vienna can seem more musical, but a lot of that is nostalgia and image. London and New York teem with music, but not with the kind of intellectual vibrancy and sense of adventure you find in Berlin. Paris is maybe hipper, but it doesn't have the German capital's deep musical resources. Tokyo has many orchestras, amazing venues and phenomenally devoted audiences, but it is very traditional. …

Is it any wonder that Barenboim, for all his complaining about Berlin politics, finds ways to keep working at the Staatsoper, but that he has decided not to remain with the Chicago Symphony once his contract expires in 2006? He has said in interviews that he no longer has the patience for the increasing nonmusical demands on his time that it insists upon. Berlin, in short, is a lot more serious.

(The complete article appeared on The Los Angeles Times: calendarlive.com.)