Friday, May 15, 2015


15 May 2015

We had a wonderful holiday in Berlin last week. This was my first visit to this fascinating city and it was great to explore it. We took bus and boat tours and visited the Brandenburg Gate, Checkpoint Charlie, remaining sections of the Berlin Wall and Charlottenburg Palace. One of highlights of our trip was climbing to the top of Norman Foster's Reichstag Dome – you walk up a spiral ramp inside the massive glass dome, with amazing views out across the city as well as being able to look directly down into the German Parliament chamber (the people symbolically above the politicians). We also visited the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe – an amazing installation of 2,711 concrete slabs, designed by architect Peter Eisenman and engineer Buro Happold. We enjoyed the Pergamon Museum, particularly the enormous reconstruction of the Ishtar Gates of Babylon. It was interesting to be in Berlin in the week of the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. There were lots of exhibitions about the war and we marked the anniversary of VE Day by attending a stunning performance of Benjamin Britten's 'War Requiem' at the Gethsemane Church. The War Requiem was written for the consecration of the new Coventry Cathedral, was built after the original fourteenth-century structure was destroyed in a World War II bombing raid. Britten combines the text of the Latin requiem mass with war poems by Wilfred Owen. I played in a performance of the War Requiem while I was at University in Birmingham, but I hadn't seen it performed since. The work requires massive forces – a symphony orchestra, chamber orchestra, choral society, boys' choir, organ and three soloists – so it always feels like a major event. This concert was presented by the Junges Ensemble Berlin and featured the Berlin youth orchestra and youth choir, together with the Prometheus Ensemble and the Berlin Cathedral Choir. It was conducted by Frank Markowitsch and Michael Riedel. Having so many people performing resulted in a sell-out audience of mostly young people and families. The concert started with a video collage projected on a large screen above the stage, showing scenes of conflict from World War II to Vietnam to modern-day Afghanistan and Iraq. This film was accompanied by a performance of Arvo Pärt's haunting 'Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten'. The dying chimes of the bell at the end of this piece merged seamlessly into the opening notes of the War Requiem. It was a wonderful concert, brilliantly performed and very moving – and an emotional end to our visit to Berlin.



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