23 August 2011. We are watching a concert of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. Maestro Riccardo Chailly invited everyone to a place – in German we call it “Waldbühne” (which literary translated means “forest stage”) – and it really is in the middle of the forest. The forest stage is a gigantic amphitheatre that is placed on a steep slope with thousands of seats, benches without numbers. They all face towards the centre, towards a stage that is on the bottom of the slope. The forest stage has enough space for approximately 10 000 people. It is almost impossible to describe the atmosphere of this amazing place.
Walking from the Berlin city train towards the stage, we are among thousands of people of any age, origin and many languages. The closer you get to the entrance, the more you see people trying to sell their tickets. Seeing all the people heading towards the stage, I am quite convinced that all of them will sell their tickets before the concert starts. Once we manage to gather three tickets for ourselves, we go though the ticket check. The people checking tickets are all very nice and patient, even though there is a crowd queuing and waiting to have their bags checked and to be let in. Through the barrier we reach a big place that leads towards the forest stage, that we call “Waldbühne” in German. We follow the path and feel like Harry Potter on the way to the stadium of the Quidditch World Cup: Everywhere we see people, everyone is enjoying themselves, we just can’t see singing flags or leprechauns dropping faked gold on the heads of the visitors. In a semi-circle, close enough to the slope with all the seats are shacks where they sell everything, from crêpes, coffee or tea to strawberry punch and cocktails. If you get closer to the slope you see a big tent on the bottom, that is illuminated by blue and white light. Hundreds of gentlemen and gentlewomen, nicely dressed, explain to the visitors how and where to find their seats. We go towards the left side, our seats are in H block. There are no seat numbers. Everyone can find their own seat within the block. Having found a seat, we enjoy the view until, only a few minutes later, the maestro steps on the stage.
When maestro Chailly steps on the stage, the sun just set, and the sky is turning dark. Though it is not yet dark when the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra starts with the Suite for Jazz Orchestra No.2, composed by Dimitri Shostakovich. The suite consists of eight parts that remind me very much of soundtracks, especially of those composed by the Japanese Joe Hisaishi. One part even sounds like the tune in a childrens’ program called “Mole”. This is an excellent start for this concert, the audience is awesomely keyed to the next two hours of contemporary, classical music. After the eighth part of Shostakovich the orchestra earns a hurricane of applause. For me, this is the best piece of music they play before the break.
Next is actually a soundtrack, composed by Nino Rota (1911-1979). The piece is called “La strada” and has been composed in 1966. It is a “Suite for Orchestra from the Ballet after Federico Fellini’s film “La strada” from 1954” (tells me the programme). Even though it is played in a very impressive way, it does not cast a spell over me, as has been done through Shostakovich’s suite. If I had been able to influence maestro Chailly’s choice, I would have suggested a different soundtrack. And yet, even though Mr Chailly and I certainly have different ideas of good soundtracks, the magic of the evening is not broken at all. Under the intensive and grim music Nino Rota composed, night falls over the amphitheatre. We can clearly see now, how the trees are illuminated by floodlights. Now and then, we see blinking planes fly past somewhere in the sky and I wonder if through the clear night they can imagine the spectacle that is happening down here. From time to time I see a little bat flying through the light.
After Nino Rota’s soundtrack, the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra needs a break. Many visitors – which is not typical – stay on their seats instead of running towards the shacks, where they offer everything, from Chinese wok until strawberry punch. I enjoy my crêpe, chat and look around in the arena, that, in the middle of the night, is still illuminated by flashlights.
The break ends without any sign, no bell sounds, and everyone standing at the shacks is surprised by sudden applause, as maestro Chailly returns to the stage. The second half of the evening sounds Italian. Ottorino Respighi is the composer, Fontane di Roma (1915/16) and Pini di Roma (1923/24) are his compositions. Both are performed very well. Looking back, I especially remember the last few minutes of Pini di Roma. Several minutes, blowers and tympanos lead the orchestra. It seems as if Caesar himself marched into Rome in a triumphal procession. Ottorino Respighi’s music shines through the gigantic amphitheatre in the middle of the forest over which night fell completely. After the end of the huge spectacle, and therefore after the end of the concert as the program tells us, applause rises among the audience. For Riccardo Chailly and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, people rise from their seats, and remain so as the orchestra is already in the middle of the first encore. It is almost as energetic as Pini di Roma.
The second encore is similar and sounds, like everything that evening, like modern classical music from the first half of the 20th century.
The third encore is, just like the forest stage that is called “Waldbühne” in German, a highlight that you can only find in Berlin: The Hymn of Berlin, composed by Paul Lincke. The whole audience screams enthusiastically in the first few beats, whistles, clapping and singing echo through the whole amphitheatre whenever the music comes close to the chorus („das ist die Berliner Luft Luft Luft“ –“this is the air of Berlin”). The enthusiasm throughout the arena is almost corporeal. Everyone dances, sings, sways, sings, claps, whistles and enjoys their life. The Hymn of Berlin is the last highlight of a fantastic evening. As the last beats and the last clapping fade away, a crowd of 10 000 flows towards the exit. A crowd that climbs the stairs flows out of the barrier where we had to show our tickets, a crowd that moves towards the Berlin city train. The night is still tepid and enjoyable, and everyone is exhilarated and satisfied through the third encore. And that is this years’ end of the concert in the forest stage, as a crowd of happy, satisfied people is waiting for the city train, crowds its way into the city train and go their own year – maybe until next year.