The Gramophone blog

My time in Berlin as the Wall came crashing down

James JollyThu 6th November 2014

A spontaneous concert by Daniel Barenboim summed up the mood of the time

A few weeks ago I was in Salzburg talking to Cecilia Bartoli for the November issue’s cover story. Among much else, we reminisced about the fact that we’d both been in Berlin when the wall came down - 25 years ago this weekend. She’d been there to record the role of Dorabella in Mozart’s Così fan tutte for the da Ponte cycle that Daniel Barenboim was undertaking for Erato (a project that nearly bankrupted the company, it might be added). I was there to write about it. The sessions took place in the Jesus-Christus-Kirche in the suburb of Dahlem where Karajan used to record before the Philharmonie became his centre of operations (his glorious 1962 Beethoven Ninth was taped there).

It was a Saturday and as the session drew to a close, and we were taxied back to our hotel, there was a definite feeling that something extraordinary was about to happen. And happen it did - the wall was breached and people from East German streamed through to the West. Trabant cars (‘trabbis’) were abandoned everywhere and people were united with friends, family members or simply fellow Germans after decades of division.

The Berlin Philharmonic and Barenboim gave a spontaneous concert in the Philharmonie (Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto and Seventh Symphony, with the Mozart Così Overture the only work actually rehearsed!). The hall was, by all accounts, packed (Sony Classical subsequently released a recording of the concert). Many of the music critics, finding themselves in the eye of the storm were ordered by their editors to dust down their journalistic skills and get out in the streets.

That evening we assembled for dinner in the Kempinski. Barenboim sat at the table with his then-regular cigar. And elderly gentleman approached and a frisson passed round my fellow guests. ‘Who’s that?,’ I asked my neighbour. ‘That’s Richard von Weizsäcker, the German President,’ was the reply. Already Barenboim was mixing with heads of state, and I always date his transformation from musician to statesman-musician from that weekend when he discovered at first hand the role music can play in bringing people, cruelly divided, together.

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© MA Business and Leisure Ltd. 2014