Thursday, August 1, 2013

What Is the Buying Power of $199 These Days? The Berlin Philharmoic's Digital Concert Hall's 2013-2014 Season

     There are not many of us in these present times who are untouched by the economic uncertainty and turmoil of inflation. If you, courteous readers, are without regard for such a calamity due to a life of affluence or luxurious wealth, I applaud your financial stewardship and acumen, and I stand in awe of your shrewd dealings. If, however, you are rather more related to me in such things, and you have a decidedly limited supply of capital to expend upon such a potentially trivial matter as entertainment, then this post shall have greater value for you.

     Scarcely do I know anyone who can procure every classical music or operatic concert ticket he or she fancies, and it is often that I hear tales from even those who afford themselves some of the most exhaustive budgets for such things that they must abstain from a concert here or there because the expense is too great for their allowance. It is with even greater frequency that I am informed of younger people who usually inhabit the student class who lament that they wish they could attend concerts or other performances at the expense of eating, and there is ever the dilemma that plagues concert audiences as to which performance they should see when they are forced to obtain one ticket or another.

     If you are fortunate enough to belong to the aforementioned class of students, there is some hope for you in this expensive world of refined entertainment. Many orchestras and opera houses, in an admirable effort to find more younger people to enhance and enliven their audiences, have introduced what are known as rush tickets. These are usually made available the day of the performance and can only be purchased in limited quantities with a student identification card. These usually come at a greatly reduced price, and they are generally excellent seats with a face value of over twice as much and oftentimes more. Of course, the value of the seat in more meaningful terms of sightline, accoustic situation, and other factors are superb, and, fear not, for it is my experience that your neighbors at either side of you usually never even guess that you paid a lesser amount than did they for such an exquisite evening's entertainment.

     Yes, this maximizes your buying power to a certain extent, and if you budget well, and you reside in a locale that features a good many performances every season, this can be an excellent strategy to employ for seeing the greatest quantity of performances, but it is to no avail when a favorite performer of yours visits the venue you frequent, and the event has sold its last ticket months in advance. Furthermore, it does not, in most cases outside of the Metropolitan Opera of New York, apply to those who are graduated from their educational pursuits. What is to aid people in these cases?

     It is here that we should do well to abandon the option of attending a live performance in the traditional sense and welcome the saving grace of the Internet to rescue us from the throes of grief that our limited budget of almost two hundred dollars can provide. Indeed, there are a great many offerings for live streaming of performances on the Internet. The BBC's iPlayer service does a more or less excellent effort at broadcasting and streaming them to users worldwide mostly through audio, and there are free options such as sonostream.tv, which is built upon Microsoft's Silverlight video encoding platform, the same as Netflix's streams. Medici.tv grants subscription holders access to its catalog of over 1,000 on demand concerts and art films, but free users may access its "live" concerts for up to thirty days, and sometimes more, which makes it a worthy alternative, but there is a final option for us to consider.

Sir Simon Rattle, Music Director of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra (Image courtesy of www.guardian.co.uk) 
      Within the last couple of weeks, I received the Berlin Philharmonic's Digital Concert Hall 2013-2014 season program guide. Since it is among distinguished conductor Sir Simon Rattle's final seasons with this exceptional world-class orchestra, I was intrigued to discover what masterpieces had been included in this season. I can honestly say that there were few performances that were listed that did not immediately capture my interest for some reason or another. With a season lasting from August 23, 2013, to June 10, 2014, it is among the longest in the sphere of classical music seasons, and its schedule of 40 events through the Digital Concert Hall is impressive. All of this comes at the utmost expense of $199 dollars a year, which equates to a cost of a mere five dollars a concert, and if you only enjoy half of them in the season, your charge is only doubled to ten dollars a performance, but this does not take into account the access this provides to the Digital Concert Hall's impressive archive of past performances, too, which gives you a plethora of other options for your entertainment wishes. Add to this fact the reality that they have a mobile application for iOS devices later than the iPhone 3GS and several smart television platforms, and you notice a technology infrastructure that is rivaled by few arts organizations in the world. A Windows 8 application for the Digital Concert Hall is available for native support in your new operating system, and an application is being developed for Android 4.0 and above. For those who are interested, the video is encoded in the H.264 standard and filmed in high definition. The sound is stereo channel sound encoded in the AAC codec, and the best quality rate of transfer is presently capped at 256 kilobytes per second, which could be better in my opinion.

     Of course, all of this means little without the talent to back it. While it is a well understood piece of knowledge that the Berlin Philharmonic is one of the foremost orchestral forces of the world with perhaps the greatest talent pool of any of their international rivals, any orchestra is only as good as the repertoire it delivers to the audience. If it plays all of the predictable pieces and lacks a sense of adventure and the musical leadership necessary to make each performance live with passion as if it was new in the hearts of the audience, its merits should matter not to most of us, and we should seek other talents to fill these voids. However, I am pleased to divulge that the Berlin Philharmonic wants for none of these banes to an orchestra.

      A study of the program book I received proves my preceding statement to be true. My natural inclination is to lean with the greatest predilection toward vocal music concerts, but I have lately had a desire to expand my knowledge of orchestral works. I am familiar with a good many of these, but my knowledge of vocal music and opera is much greater, and I should like to rather close the gap of knowledge between these two. It is with this in mind that I study the orchestral offerings, too, to see if anything appeals to my inner ear to hear and desire to learn more of the works that have made the truly great composers. If I was blessed enough to possess a season pass to the Digital Concert Hall, these are the orchestral concerts I should anticipate the most in the coming season.

Friday 23 August 2013, 7:00 PM: Mozart -- Sir Simon Rattle opens the Digital Concert Hall's season leading the Berlin Philharmonic in an all-Mozart program that includes his Symphony No. 39 in E-flat Minor, Symphony No. 40 in G Minor, and Symphony No. 41 in C Major, "Jupiter." Any music of Mozart's is worth hearing at least once, and one could do far worse than hearing the Berlin Philharmonic playing his works.

Saturday 14 September 2013, 8:00 PM: Lutoslawski, Janacek, and Bartok -- Alan Gilbert, Music Director of the New York Philharmonic, leads Berlin's orchestra in this enticing program including Janacek's Violin Concerto Putovani dusicky (The Pilgrimage of a Little Soul) and Wutoslawski's Symphony No. 4. Thomas Zehetmair is the violin soloist for the evening, and one can hardly ask for more gorgeous music than what Janacek wrote for such an emotive instrument.

Saturday 28 September 2013, 8:00 PM: Mahler -- Mahler's unfinished Symphony No. 10 is on the program for this particular evening, and maestro Daniel Harding, with whom I am sad to say that I am unfamiliar, leads the musical forces. It is interesting to note that the Berlin Philharmonic recorded this very work in 2000 under the baton of Sir Simon Rattle, so I am anxious to hear the differences in the color and mood of the piece in different leading hands.

Sunday 20 October 2013, 8:00 PM: Spatial Sounds -- Marking the 50th anniversary of the Philharmonie, the concert hall of the Berlin Philharmonic, is a gala performance featuring modern works, one of which is the premiere of Wolfgang Rihm's IN-SCHRIFT II, which was commissioned by the Berlin Philharmonic for the occasion. In homage to the classical music staples that have given it such prominence, such works are not entirely absent from the evening. Pianist Dame Mitsuko Uchida plays Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp Minor, "Sonata quasi una fantasia." Rattle conducts, of course.

Friday 6 December 2013, 8:00 PM: Stravinsky, Schubert, and Beethoven -- Darling of conductors and Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Gustavo Dudamel takes command of the orchestra for an evening of two suites by Stravinsky offset by two complete symphonies by Schubert and Beethoven. If nothing else, his charisma shall make this exquisite to watch in the hall or online.

Thursday 12 December 2013, 8:00 PM: Corelli and Vivaldi -- The Berliner Barock Solisten perform works by Corelli and Vivaldi in this program of Baroque music in its entirety under the direction of Rainer Kussmaul, who also lends his talents to the violin, and they are joined by Daishin Kashimoto on violin and Saskia Fikentscher playing recorder.

Saturday 1 February 2014, 8:00 PM: Dvorak and Lindberg -- Alan Gilbert returns to lead the Berlin Philharmonic in Dvorak's Cello Concerto in B Minor with Truis Mork as the cello soloist and Lindberg's Kraft for piano, cello, clarinet, percussion, and orchestra with the composer playing his own melodies and harmonies on piano.

Saturday 15 February 2014, 8:00 PM: Mozart, Messiaen, and Haydn -- Dame Mitsuko Uchida makes another appearance at the Philharmonie playing Mozart's Piano Concerto in B-flat Major Op. 18, K. 456 and Messiaen's Oiseaux exotiques for piano and small orchestra. Rattle leads the supporting orchestra again.

Saturday 15 March 2014, 8:00 PM: Mozart and Bruckner -- Bernard Haitink joins forces with legendary pianist Emmanuel Ax in a program of Mozart and Bruckner, a composer with whose works I am not as well versed as I should like. This promises to be an excellent foray into this relatively new composer to me.

Saturday 31 May 2014, 8:00 PM: Vieuxtemps and Tchaikovsky -- Conductor Tugan Sokhiev visits Berlin to lead the orchestra and violin virtuosa Hilary Hahn in Vieuxtemps's Violin Concerto No. 4 in D Minor.

     With such musical opulence as these concerts dare to promise, and with the great quantity of them to which we are rewarded over the course of the season, the vocal offerings should be no less of a glittering roster than this list I have just assembled. Despite such high expectations, I am pleased to reveal that even I was astonished at the superlative nature of the vocal concerts the Berlin Philharmonic have booked for the coming season. World renowned artists are juxtaposed with singers whose names many outside of their spheres have yet to hear, which is an ideal pairing for the furtherance of talent and the increased interest of the public. I was quite surprised to notice the quality of artistry that is to be expected throughout the year. I include some of these to provide something of a sample to my inquisitive readers to discern as to whether or not I speak truth in this matter.

Sunday 8 September 2013, 8:00 PM: Lutoslawski, Mahler, and Janacek -- Sir Simon Rattle conducts the orchestra in a performance of Mahler's Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen and Janacek's Glagolitic Mass with soprano Luba Orgonasova, mezzo-soprano Mihoko Fujimura, tenor Stuart Skelton, and baritone Christian Gerhaher. The baritone and tenor's talents are known to me, and their's are ones I admire, so it shall be quite educational and informative to see how the ladies compare to the gentlemen upon this evening in these two works that are as yet unheard to me.

Magdalena Kozena and Sir Simon Rattle (Image courtesy of www.osterfestspiele.de)
Saturday 19 October 2013, 8:00 PM: Bach -- Peter Sellars directs a staging of Johann Sebastian Bach's St. Matthew's Passion, and the prospect rather frightens me. I have never seen a work of his for which I have possessed any particular fondness, and his sense of fashion in both attire and coiffure is far beyond the realm of possibility for me to grasp, so I care little for his involvement. My focus is rather more concentrated on the aural bliss that shall come from Rattle's baton leading soprano Camilla Tilling, of whom I have heard excellent reports, his wife, mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kozena, whose voice fits a variety of repertoire and is ever at the least an interesting instrument since one never knows quite how her performance shall fare in repertoire in which one has not previously heard her, tenor Topi Lehtipuu, whose crystalline voice is quite exquisite and new to my ears, tenor Mark Padmore, baritone Eric Owens, who is ever a safe choice for any cast, and baritone Christian Gerhaher, who can be heard singing with Kozena on Boulez's recording of Mahler's Des Knaben Wunderhorn, an excellent addition to a library lacking a copy of this work.

Sunday 27 October 2013, 8:00 PM: Schoenberg -- Rattle again marshals impressive talent for Schoenberg's Gurre-Lieder in soprano Soile Isokoski, who, for my taste, is heard too little at the Met these days, mezzo-soprano Karen Cargill, whose musicality and amicability are beyond question if Twitter is of any indication, tenor Burkhard Ulrich, whose voice is a new one to my virgin ears, tenor Stephen Gould, and baritone Lester Lynch. In his post-retirement career, baritone Thomas Quasthoff makes an appearance as the Speaker, which makes an erudite addition to the cast.

Sunday 15 December 2013, 8:00 PM: Schumann -- Nikolaus Harnoncourt, in what I must imagine must be an increasingly rare appearance for him these days due to his lengthy career, leads the Berlin Philharmonic in a performance of Robert Schumann's Scenes from Goethe's Faust. The soloists are led by four stellar artists in soprano Dorothea Roschmann, bass-baritone Luca Pisaroni, bass-baritone Franz-Josef Selig, and baritone Christian Gerhaher. Joining them are soprano Martina Jankova, tenor Werner Gura, and contralto Wiebke Lehmkuhl. Beyond the inclusion of the former four artists something of interest is the inclusion of an actual contralto in the cast as opposed to a mezzo-soprano.

Sunday 21 December 2013, 8:00 PM: Abrahamsen and Brahms -- Young conductor Andris Nelsons, Music Director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in England and who is soon headed to the prestigious Boston Symphony Orchestra to accept the same position there, leads soprano Barbara Hannigan in a performance of a world premiere commissioned by the Berlin Philharmonic by Hans Abrahamsen entitled Let Me Tell You for soprano and orchestra. This captivates my imagination almost as much as a modern work performed by sopranos Hila Plitmann or Dawn Upshaw. I shall listen in rapt bliss, indeed.

Saturday 18 January 2014, 8:00 PM: Crumb and Bruckner -- Legendary maestro of distinguished musical intelligence Zubin Mehta takes the podium conducting soprano Marlis Petersen singing Crumb's Ancient Voices of Children for mezzo-soprano, boy soprano, and small orchestra. This is a new work to my ears, and it promises a subject of immense pleasure and tremendous emotion.

Friday 28 February 2014, 8:00 PM: Bach -- Rattle assembles much of his previous cast for Bach's St. John's Passion, which is again staged by Sellars. An addition to the former group of soloists is baritone Roderick Williams. This shall be an excellent complement to Bach's St. Matthew's Passion.

     As many of my kind readers shall see from these concerts I have listed, there are many incentives and inspirations to purchasing a subscription to the Berlin Philharmonic's Digital Concert, and the cost of $199 is paltry, indeed, for such marvelous musical gems as these have ever hope and intention of being. If I had such an amount at my disposal, I could hardly elect a better manner in which to spend it on entertainment. Likewise, subscriptions are available monthly with automatic renewal and at thirty day intervals and weekly intervals without renewal in addition to the annual option, which also comes without automatic renewal. The Digital Concert Hall's partners this year are Deutsche Bank and Sony. With Sony's Bravia smart television systems, Sony Entertainment Network customers receive the free application for their system pre-installed, and they are granted with a thirty day free access period of the entire live schedule as it is premiered and the archive, which is certainly an incentive to upgrade your television if you have yet to do so. You will need an Internet connection to access this content.

     I hope that all of my gracious audience who peruse my posts with any predilection and liking have enjoyed this post and found it at least somewhat informative for scheduling their season of classical music concerts to attend. It has certainly helped to shape mine, and I shall gladly wait in anticipation for the performances of which I have spoken to greet us, for the Berlin Philharmonic also included a free seven day pass to the Digital Concert Hall in my season program booklet packet. My greatest obstacle now shall be deciding which week in which to employ it. Which concerts draw your greatest degree of excitement in this glittering season? Do leave a comment, or send me a Tweet to provide such information if you are so inclined. I express my gratitude to all of you for your continued reading, and I humbly leave you in the love and mercy of our Lord and Savior Christ Jesus, whose grace is all that can save us from sin and death in the spirit.

(Image courtesy of www.examiner.com)

2 comments:

Mirto_P said...

Excellent info here, but I noticed you didn't mention the arte website, which I've used from time to time - although lately I've run into country restrictions on it (e.g., for the Aix Elektra). I've tried using a proxy server, but couldn't completely connect with it. Is that the reason you left arte out? I hope U.S. isn't blocked from it altogether now, should try again, ugh. I 'hope' it's just certain programming.

Tyler Barton said...

Dear Mirto,

First, it is an extraordinary pleasure to have you read my posts, and it is doubly so that one whose company and knowledge I enjoy as much as yours should leave a comment on any humble post of mine. Yes, in answer to your question, I did omit Arte due to the technical difficulties I have had with the site. Some of their programming has been specifically locked to audiences in certain regions, but they also offer video available to all very often as evidenced by a recent Giulio Cesare starring Cecilia Bartoli. My technical difficulties have arisen from poor streaming. As for your difficulty with a proxy server, this is not at all uncommon as the server for the content probably recognizes your proxy client as a false one, so it has probably been blocked. A better option is to use SSH to tunnel into a system located in the region where viewing rights are granted, or you could purchase a subscription to a VPN service to eradicate your problem. There are other more technical ways of removing such obstacles for free, and I am glad to delve into these in a more private format such as e-mail if you should like. Nevertheless, I wish you happy viewing!