The Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra was founded in 1882 by 54 ambitious musicians in revolt against Benjamin Bilse and the ensemble in which they performed. To date, the orchestra’s membership continues to retain special status, although the performers are employees of the state of Berlin, the musicians still constitute a "free orchestral republic" which is self-governing and retains rights of self-determination. Since October 1963, the orchestra's home has been the Philharmonic Hall at Kemperplatz, designed by Hans Scharoun, extended in 1987 by the adjoining Chamber Music Hall. In 2006, ten European media outlets voted the Berlin Philharmonic number three on a list of "top ten European Orchestras, “ UNICEF appointed the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra as Goodwill Ambassadors in November of 2007, and in 2008, the ensemble was voted the world's number two orchestra in a survey among leading international music critics organized by the British magazine Gramophone. In December 2008, the orchestra announced the official creation of its revolutionary, Digital Concert Hall, a unique internet platform that enables listeners worldwide to access the Philharmonic's concerts, live or on demand. The orchestra founded its own recording label, Berliner Philharmoniker Recordings, in 2014.
Montreal-born conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin will become the Music Director of the Metropolitan Opera, New York, in 2018. He has previously served as the Music Director of The Philadelphia Orchestra and long-time Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of the Orchestre Métropolitain of Montreal. He previously served as Music Director of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, a role he completed in order to take his new post, but for whom he will hold the title of Honorary Conductor. He will additionally remain with the Orchestre Métroolitain of Montreal and The Philadelphia Orchestra, until at least summer 2026.
Claude Debussy began La Mer in 1903 and completed it in March of 1905. The premiere performance took place on October 15, 1905, at the Concerts Lamoureux, in Paris, under the baton of Camille Chevillard. Debussy subtitled the work, Three Symphonic Sketches. I. De l'aube à midi sur la mer (From dawn to noon on the sea) II. Jeux de vagues (The play of the waves) III. Dialogue du vent et de la mer (Dialogue of the wind and the sea.) Debussy first mentioned the piece in a letter dated September 12, 1903. At that time, he proposed a title for the first sketch, “Calm Sea around the Sanguinary Islands,” which he borrowed from a short story by Camille Mauclair. He wrote to his publisher, Jacques Durand, “the sea is always endless and beautiful. It is really the thing in nature which bests puts you in your place… The sea has been very good to me. She has shown me all her moods. You do not know perhaps that I was intended for the fine career of a sailor and only the chances of life led me away from it… I have an endless store of memories… Music is a free art, boundless as the elements, the wind, the sky, and the sea.” On the cover of the manuscript he placed the drawing titled Hollow of the Wave off Kanagawa by Katsushika Hokusai and when the composer’s personal score was printed, he insisted that the cover include the detail, which was enormously popular in France. For years, Debussy had sought to capture the majesty of the ocean in various quartets and sonatas, but none please him and he protested, “They never sounded wet enough.” Though poorly received by critics at its 1905 premiere, La Mer has survived to become one of Debussy’s most beloved and enduring orchestral works.
Sergei Prokofiev composed his Fifth Symphony within a single month during the summer of 1944, which he spent at the Soviet Composers’ Retreat near the city of Ivanovno. The composer conducted the first performance himself, in Moscow, on January 13, 1945. In a 1946 autobiography, he wrote, "It is the duty of the composer, like the poet, the sculptor or the painter, to serve his fellow men, to beautify human life and point the way to a radiant future. Such is the immutable code of art as I see it." As it happened, the year 1944 was one of the happiest times of Prokofiev’s life. He was content, fulfilled by his marriage to his second wife, and enjoyed being the most famous and often-performed of all the Soviet composers. Though the man was famously apolitical and self-absorbed, he had been deeply affected when Hitler invaded the Soviet Union in June of 1941, but the tide of the conflict had turned decisively and Russia was now winning World War II.
"In the Fifth Symphony, I wanted to sing the praises of the free and happy man; his strength, his generosity and the purity of his soul. I cannot say I chose this theme; it was born in me and had to express itself," he described, "it is a symphony about the spirit of man." Thus, together, the accessible style of the work and its feeling of optimism, suggest that the spirit it exalts is that of the Russian people in their hour of victory. Following his return to the Soviet Union in the 1930s, after fifteen years of living in Europe and the United States, the Fifth Symphony quickly became both Prokofiev’s most successful work and most beloved symphonic score.
Alixandra Porembski, English Language Annotator