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Concert Report: Guido Schiefen & Berlin Symphonics

img  Tobias

Berlin Central Station, just finished and still reeking of newness, is a bustling moloch, a multiplatform nightmare of shops, inert masses of shoppers and trains speeding away into the tunnels somewhere in the deep and up above. Just a short subway-ride away, the intimacy of the Philharmonie feels oasic, oneiric and comforting – this is one of the concert halls, which actually look smaller and more personal in reality than they do on TV.

Within these walls, the giant-like posture of Guido Schiefen hardly seems to fit the stage. After the Berlin Symphonics have ceremonially opened the evening with Haydn, some aides have placed the shinier version of a europalett next to Jorge Uliarte, the dancer among conductors with his smooth moonwalking and elegant movements, but one is constantly afraid of seemingly close to 2-meter tall-Schiefen falling off. Especially considering the sheer passion with which he dives into Offenbach’s “Concerto Militaire”.

Let’s remember: Almost exactly ten years ago, he already recorded the very same piece with the nationally renowned orchestra of the Cologne-based broadcaster WDR, later released on German classical and contemporary label cpo. A tasteful and well-mannered rendition, lyrical but slightly polite, full of pliant melodic lines embedded into soft cotton candy arrangements. In the time that has passed, Schiefen has gauged the outer edges of the piece, gaining the confidence necessary to take it to extremes. The third movement, a swinging cantabile on the cpo disc, sounds like a completely new composition tonight. Schiefen and the Symphonics play the main motive with an edgey angularity, with stop-and-go metrics which always leave things hanging suspended in the air for a second, before coming to a conclusion.

Not only has his view on the music changed, Schiefen has maintained a fresh vision. One could claim, positively absurd, that his current interpretation is not more, but rather less mature. It is almost, as if all parameters are beautifully exagerated – his vibrato is more sweet, his gruffy brushstrokes more gruffy, his slides more fluid. The latter, in fact, is a distinct trademark of his performance here, as he savors the space between two notes in full and jumps for joy in the passages in which the cello seems to take off into whimsically atonal regions. By pushing the limits of his techniques, he urges Offenbach’s music on into the 21st century.

His exuberant style is most contageous in the fast-paced outer movements. After the opening “Allegro Maestoso”, there is a sudden storm of applause in between, the public unable to control itself. They are greatful for a man, who may not be the coolest or hippest performer imaginable, but who embodies a value which doesn’t seem to be top priority in the current classical climate: Enthusiasm. While waiting for his turn, you can seem him move his hands in anticipation, following the music with his head, all smiles.

The Symphonics answer this quest for truth in style. Their Haydn already penetrated the textures of the piece, generating raw walls of noise akin to the racket produced by Metal in some minor keys, while languishing in the splendour of the melodic passages. Now, as a musical partner for the cello, their playing encompasses the power of military parades, without the clownishness which often goes with them.

Schiefen has become famous for his chambermusical concerts, but he is obviously determined to enjoy every second of this grand-scale event. His fingers don’t so much play the cello, they grip it, trying to squeeze out a maximum of emotions. After the concert, he embraces Uliarte and with the almost comical difference in their respective hight, it is a moment of humaneness, which could not be invented in a marketing course.

There’s another character trait: Sympathy. Schiefen reduces the formalism of a classical concert to its essential parameters: A gathering to hear great music. There’s is something comforting in that. When I go for a quick snack at Central Station, before heading back to Münster, there is still a buzz of relentless activity around. But everything seems much calmer now.

By Tobias Fischer

Picture by Rainer Kurnatowski

Homepage: Guido Schiefen
Homepage: Berlin Symphonics

Thanks to Silvia Merk & Christina Hartmann of get2together

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