Love London Love Culture chatted to the Philharmonia Orchestra’s tim Woodall about the orchestra’s upcoming Weimar Berlin: Bittersweet Metropolis series.
Could you explain a bit more about the idea behind Weimar Berlin: Bittersweet Metropolis? The idea comes from a long line of immersive series the Philharmonia and Esa-Pekka Salonen have promoted at Southbank Centre that aim to dive deeply into a particular period in history or particular composers output. The idea is to get under the skin of a subject, both in live performances, but also within an insights programme of talks and events, and digitally (for this series, we’ve made a series of short films, shot on location in Germany) . The format allows to go beyond the standard concert format for a symphony orchestra. So in this series, there is a live screening (movie and orchestra accompaniment), a show with strong audio-visual elements, a free queer extravaganza of contemporary cabaret and a insights day.
How was the programme decided on? The programming was led by our Principal Conductor & Artistic Advisor, Esa-Pekka Salonen, whose idea this series was. The main backbone of the programme – choices of pieces by Kurt Weill, Alban Berg and Paul Hindemith – came from him, but with ideas from elsewhere for different parts of the project. Specifically, we have been working with the writer and director Gerard McBurney, who is creating the cabaret show at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on 23 September.
What are some of the highlights from Weimar Berlin; Bittersweet Metropolis? The opening night, on 9 June, will be special: the four pieces Esa-Pekka is conducting give a single snapshot of Weimar Berlin, with a strong focus on theatrical works of the period, most famously the suite from Kurt Weill’s Threepenny Opera. This concert (Sunday 9 June) is the culmination of a whole day of activity across the South Bank. We are partnering with BFI Southbank for the first part of the day – a talk and screening of the movie of Threepenny Opera, and audiences can buy a Day Ticket to enjoy the whole lot.
How would you say that people can relate to the idea of the Weimar Republic today? I think in terms of the atmosphere of our public life and discourse, and in the media, there is definitely a related feeling between today and Weimar Germany: uncertainty, anger, unfiltered emotions – a certain feeling of instability. We obviously know how the Weimar Government ended, with the rise of Nazism. But of course people then didn’t know how their politics would pan out – much as we don’t know, in this moment, where we are headed. I think the parallels are uncanny in many ways.
Why do you think that this is such an important part of history? It is distinctive because so much happened in a clearly defined period. Because Weimar Germany has such a clear beginning and end, it’s a bit like a single story, with the collapse at the end of the First World War and the radical (for then) progressivism of the Weimar government being chapter one and the emergence of Hitler and the Nazis being the final, terrifying chapter.
If people are coming along to experience anything that is lined up part of the programme – what can they expect? People can expect really vibrant performances: there are not many really long pieces (like big long symphonies) in the programmes – rather there are lots of shorter pieces, all with lots of variation, from huge to tiny orchestrations and with soloists from violinists to singers.
By Emma Clarendon
The Weimar Berlin: Bittersweet Metropolis season will run throughout June and September.