Classical musicians join the arts influx in Berlin

Updated: 2013-10-20 08:03

By Rebecca Schmid(The New York Times)

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BERLIN - When Cameron Carpenter first came here, Berlin was covered in snow and looked as if spies might be lurking in the shadows. A year later, in 2010, Mr. Carpenter - the enfant terrible of the concert organ world - moved from Manhattan to what was once a bombed-out neighborhood in the East German side of the city and is now the trendy district of Mitte.

"I was personally attracted to the history of the city," Mr. Carpenter, 32, recalled recently. "It is a very reinventive place, by necessity. As an American and particularly as an artist, I find that very attractive."

Berlin, with its low-priced real estate and openness to experimentation, is well established as a magnet of the visual arts. Its growing film and fashion industries have also drawn the ambitious from all corners of the world, who have found a welcome atmosphere in which to create and mix with other artists. More recently, it has also become a hub for the classical music world.

The French label Harmonia Mundi will move its German headquarters to Mitte from Heidelberg this month, and over the last four years, Sony and Deutsche Grammophon have set up international offices here. Major management and public relations firms have opened branches and many composers including Olga Neuwirth, Mark Andre and Brett Dean have made their homes here.

While austerity plagues many parts of Europe, the German government continues to support three full-time opera houses and seven orchestras in the capital. Although the Berlin Philharmonic has always been a major draw, institutions in the former Eastern sector - like the Konzerthaus Berlin and the Komische Oper - saw a rise in attendance of over 10 percent last season. Tourism is an additional boon to the classical music scene, now that Berlin has become one of Europe's most visited cities. The Konzerthaus estimates that 27 percent of its audience consists of tourists.

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall and, more recently, with the rise of Germany as a leading economic and cultural force in the European Union, an influx of artists has gradually restored the city's vibrancy. The movement includes a young generation of Israelis.

Berlin's growth has inspired Deutsche Grammophon to initiate an outdoor festival next summer, showcasing its younger artists.

The pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard, 56, a champion of contemporary music and founding member of the Ensemble InterContemporain, calls Berlin, culturally and intellectually, "the town par excellence in Europe" right now, not least for its important geopolitical position. Two years ago, he moved here from Paris, where he had lived since his days as a student.

"It is interesting to live in a city that is undergoing permanent changes," he said in the airy, high-ceilinged apartment he shares with his companion in the quiet district of Schoneberg.

"Things are not completely solved," he said, adding: "What I find extremely positive is that Berlin carries its history with such a level of cleverness, reflection and sense for justice. I think that's a big lesson to mankind."

The New York Times

(China Daily 10/20/2013 page12)