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Berlin Comes to New York City
2007 Berlin in Lights Carnegie Hall Festival
Ronda Hauben (netizen2)     Print Article 
Published 2007-11-29 03:42 (KST)   
It is not often that someone who lives in the Bronx, one of the boroughs of New York City, can take a local Bronx bus to hear the Berliner Philarmoniker perform. This is, however, the rare treat that was part of Carnegie Hall's recent Berlin in Lights Festival.

Berlin is the city where the wall symbolizing the Cold War division of Germany was brought down. It is quite a special city for this reason alone. Adding to this distinction, however, is the fact that it is in Berlin that I have found that creative people from both the East and West of Germany and of Europe have been drawn. Thus I was delighted to see the announcement that there was to be a festival which would bring some of Berlin to New York City.

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For the festival, there were over 50 performances in various venues around New York City. I was able to attend only three. The most outstanding of these was the Berliner Philarmoniker playing Igor Stravinski's "The Rite of Spring" with over 100 dancers from schools in New York City on the stage. The artistic director of the orchestra, Sir Simon Rattle conducted. The program was presented in the majestic theater in upper Manhattan, the United Palace Theater. The theater accommodated over 3,000 people. At the performance I attended on Sunday, Nov. 18, the hall was filled with adults and many children.

The orchestra's performance was splendid. The dancers, many of whom were secondary school students, performed with passion and precision, with the exception of the youngest performers who were elementary school children. The dancers performed in groups, searching, reaching out, moving across the stage in various formations, which in general gave the impression of turmoil and trouble. Sir Rattle explained that Stravinski's score first performed in 1913 was a premonition of the coming world war that would engulf Europe.

The first part of the program was a musical presentation with words and music that had been created by school children under the direction of the orchestra's educational outreach programme. This part of the program seemed to focus too literally on the theme of sacrifice, rather than encouraging the students to give expression to the more general turmoil of our current times. Even with the weakness of the lyrics that were created for this first part of the program, the choral and instrumental music presented by the students was lovely.

Earlier, as part of the festival, I went to the program by KNM Berlin, "Metropolis: Counterpoint Berlin." This was described in the calendar of events as "a survey of Berlin's avant-garde music scene with video, sound installations, and sampling as well as virtuosic music making." The program featured a number of diverse compositions exploring sound, instrumentals, and in some cases, video. It was performed in Zankel Hall at Carnegie, on Nov. 10. A striking composition was the "Post-prae-ludium No. 1, 'per Donau' For Tuba and live electronics by Ligi Nono. The sound filled the hall in a powerful way. Another piece was Peter Ablinger's "Voices and Piano" which featured piano accompaniment to speech of Bertolt Brecht and others.

The Brecht section for me was the most striking as it captured the power of Brechts' testimony in front of the notorious House Un-American Activities Committee during the U.S. Red Scare. Peter and Marc Sabat's "Automat" featured two violins accompanying a video showing the detached people and movement of city life. The video helped to highlight a general feeling of detachment of several of the pieces that were part of the program, the detachment of modern life from meaning and the overpowering nature of the events that make up the modern experience.

This detached feeling of modern life was echoed in a different fashion by the third event I was able to attend, the program "Political Berlin: Germany and the United States" held in Weill Recital Hall on Sunday, Nov. 11. This program was a panel discussion moderated by Richard C. Holbrooke, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and a cabinet member in the Clinton Administration. Panelists were Karl-Theodor Freiherr zu Guttenberg, a member of the German Parliament from the CSU party, Josef Joffee, publisher-editor of the German weekly Die Zeit, Henry A. Kissinger, U.S. Secretary of State during the Nixon and Ford administrations, and John C. Koranblum, a former U.S. Ambassador to Germany.

The discussion of the panelists focused on the changes in the relationship between the two countries in recent times. Among these changes, Holbrooke asked, is it that Germany no longer feels a historic debt to the U.S.? Guttenberg responded that while his parents felt that gratitude, this is no longer true of his generation. Holbrooke noted that he had had exactly the same conversation the previous week during a trip to South Korea.

Joffee pointed out that the Germany the U.S. is dealing with is no longer the Germany of the 1940s. Germany now sees itself as a regional not a global power, while the U.S. foreign policy is based on taking a global perspective. Kissinger added that there is a new set of issues that the two countries need to consider in their relationship with each other. What was needed, he explained, was some conception of what the two countries in their relationship are trying to accomplish and what should be the range of actions. The issues that he proposed as central included:

1) How will Europe define itself?

2) How to view the essence of the problems with the Middle East, of which the problems of Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran are only symptoms?

3) How to deal with the emergence of Asia?

Guttenberg proposed that for the younger generation in Germany there were also other issues that were important, such as climate change.

Another major change that was discussed was the difference between Germany being a national entity and becoming part of the European Union.

With regard to the approach to the problem he saw with Iran, Kissinger noted that though both the U.S. and Germany agreed that it was unacceptable for Iran to get nuclear weapons, there was not any agreement on what constitutes an irreversible step to developing nuclear weapons.

The panel took several questions from the audience and ended with Kissinger stating his position about what should happen in negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program.

What was striking about the panel discussion, however, was that the panelists spoke about Afghanistan and Iran and even Iraq without any recognition of the havoc that has been brought to the region of the Middle East by the U.S. invasions and the fact that Germany opposed the invasion of Iraq. The recent experience of this contention between the U.S. and Germany was not mentioned, leaving the inaccurate impression that the relationship of the past had been continuous without any experience of contention.

Along with a number of other events around New York City during the Berlin in Lights festival, there were also special programs carried in the local media. One special highlight was a series of programs on the New York Public Radio station, WNYC which on the Internet is on wnyc.com.

Ute Lemper hosted the programs, which she introduced as looking at the story of Berlin as a story with many chapters. She began with a program on Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, and the period of the Weimar Republic. The second program was again devoted to Brecht, to some archival recordings she had found.

There were subsequent programs about cabaret and other artistic developments in Berlin. The programs are available on the Internet. The URLs are:

Introductory Program - Ute Lemper's Show - Nov. 2, 2007

Monday - Nov. 5, 2007- Weill and Brecht (MP3)

Tuesday - Nov. 6, 2007 - Brecht (MP3)

While the events in New York in November 2007 presented a sampling and tribute to the culture of Berlin, this year's events were only a small taste of the exploration in many diverse areas of culture and intellectual exploration that exist in Berlin. Carnegie Hall is to be applauded for beginning the Berlin in Lights festival, which New Yorkers can only hope will expand and be repeated in the coming years so that it becomes a proud New York tradition.

This article appears on my blog
Netizen Journalism and the New News.
©2007 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Ronda Hauben

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