Musical Bliss

Last night I relived my first week in Berlin by seeing Gustavo Dudamel, my (and, rightfully, everyone else’s) all-time favorite conductor lead the Berlin Philarmonic Orchestra at the Philharmonic Hall, in the exact same place I saw him in last time; that is, front and center in Block H, the podiumplätze behind the stage, with a perfect view of his face as he conducted, and of the orchestra spread out below me.

This was the program:

_Gustavo Dudamel und Berliner Philharmoniker
March 7, 2009

Sergej Rachmaninow
Die Toteninsel op. 29

Igor Strawinsky
Konzert in D für Violine und Orchester

Sergej Prokofjew
Symphonie Nr. 5 B-Dur op. 100_

Here’s what I wrote to my parents, exhilarated after a perfect evening, that night back in September that seems so long ago, when I first saw him:


Okay so I had to tell someone (and someone was obviously going to be the two of you).

This must begin with a small caveat which is that I haven’t had my coffee yet and found out at around midnight last night that there are NO COFFEE BEANS IN THE HOUSE. Suffice it to say I’m doing my best with guzzling down black tea this morning in an effort to stay alert, but I know there’s no way I’m taking my bike this morning because I would crash it in a second…

So yesterday was the first day of class, which is not irrelevant but must be saved for another email. A couple of days ago, Simon mentioned that this big two-weeks classical music festival was about to happen in Berlin, and that there would be performances of everything from Stravinsky to Stockhausen, in the Berlin Philharmonic hall to a big airplane hanger at Tempelhof (sold out by the way and I’m still trying to get tickets). I went online to the Philharmonic website and immediately saw something that caught my eye: a performance THE NEXT NIGHT of Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” (something that is transcendent enough on CD that it must be truly unbelievable live) and conducted by none other than GUSTAVO DUDAMEL, that young Venezuelan conductor we saw the piece about on I think it was 60 Minutes.

Yesterday after class, I cycled past the Brandenburg Gate and over to the Berlin Philharmoniker to see about tickets. They told me it was all sold out except for a couple of seats that were most surely the worst seats in the house, behind the stage in section “H” for 13 Euros. I immediately said I’d take one ticket, fearing the worst.

Well, it turns out the worst seats in the house were really the best, because the Berlin Philharmonic is unlike any concert hall you’ve ever seen (check out pictures online). It is built like a roundabout theater, with seats in tiny, jagged, Caligari-esque boxes all over, both front and back, and a very special section of honor DIRECTLY BEHIND THE ORCHESTRA on STAGE. This was where I sat. I was literally looking down at the orchestra in front of me, and looking across at Gustavo Dudamel, with wild hair and even wilder hands, directing the orchestra not twenty feet from where I sat. The drummer and xylophonist was directly in front of me and the sound and sightlines were simply not to be believed. I was actually in tears it was so amazing. Then they played Tchaikovsky’s 5th Symphony, a piece I did not recognize somehow, even after my classical music training (haha MusicHum) and after each there was a standing ovation, people shouting and clapping and stomping their feet, that went on for what seemed like hours. At last we thought the concert was over, but no, he came back onstage and immediately led the orchestra (which, it should be said, was his very own “Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra” from Venezuela), in a rousing rendition of “Mambo” from West Side Story, where different groups would stand up and turn to the people behind them (us) and play to the crowd, and the violins would throw up and twirl their instruments when they were done playing. There were two more encores after that–two songs I recognized but couldn’t name. One of them sounded vaguely circus-like, and he had the entire crowd clapping either quietly or loudly according to his conducting.

Finally it was over, I think everyone in the entire concert hall left smiling, and I went home on the S-bahn/U-bahn route in a daze, completely positive I had witnessed the best concert I would ever see.

Love to both,