|Posted by Egonne Roth on October 30, 2018 at 1:30 PM|
What does one do on a Sunday morning in Berlin?
Given that this is a city that has a strong Christian presence, you could go to church. Going back to my childhood in rural South Africa, I still love the quiet of a Sunday morning only broken by the toll of church bells calling the faithful to worship. I can still recall my Oupa checking that his formal dark suit was perfectly ironed and my Ouma putting on her hat. They looked so handsome together as they appraised each other and smiled, Oupa offering Ouma his arm to lead her to the car. A warm happy memory.
But that is a long time past and I have not found a church or synagogue that appeals to me here in Berlin. Midday services in the Berlin Dom offer a moment of quiet contemplation and a short free organ recital. Sometimes on a Sunday morning, I go to one of the flea markets in my area where I have picked up some useful bargains such as the coffee table in our living room. There are more sophisticated markets with antiques and ‘nice’ art, but their prices are correspondingly higher and I have yet to find something that deserves putting my hand that deep into my pocket.
A while back a poster advertising a concert by the Cappela Academia appeared in the corridor at work. It looked interesting – Ravel, Debussy, Saint Saëns… “You would consider a whole concert of French Impressionists?” asked my boss, on whose door the poster was taped. An odd question I thought, but as I saw that it was asked in all seriousness, I answered in the affirmative. “I’ve learnt much about the music of this period while we have been preparing for the concert,” she said a little shyly. In this manner I learnt she had been playing in this orchestra for some time. Google told me that the orchestra comprises of students, teachers and alumni of the Humboldt University. “I would be happy to see you there,” she concluded our conversation. I realised my Sunday morning was booked – there was no choice but to go.
It was my first visit to the Berlin Konzerthaus, situated on the Gendarmenmarkt square in the central Mitte district of Berlin. Built between 1818 and 1820, it is flanked on the one side by the French Cathedral and on the other by the Deutscher Dom – an impressive trio. After being severely damaged during the war especially during the Battle of Berlin, the external of the Konzerthaus was restored in 1977 to the original design by Karl Friederick Schinkel, while adjustments were made inside to accommodate modern technology. The concert I was attending, was in the Große Halle.
The members of the orchestra filed in in a neatly arranged line – not like the Cape Town Orchestra whose members wandered in, looked around, greeted members of the audience they knew and settled down to tune their instruments – a procedure I loved every time, especially as a number the musicians always greeted my father. As the Cappela Academia orchestra is made up of non-professional musicians and only performs twice a year, usually in different venues, the relationship between audience and orchestra I expected, would be different but not so. Clearly a large part of the audience was made up of family and friends of the musicians and the same friendly atmosphere existed.
And then the conductor, Christiane Silber came onto the podium and I sat up in surprise: I realised I had not seen a woman conduct before. Conducting choirs most certainly, but never a full orchestra. She immediately reminded me of a friend who at that age moved and carried herself in the same manner – young, good-looking and elegant with the collar of her beautifully tailored black velvet jacket high against her neck. Her hair short and brushed straight back but falling forwards as she moved. I felt a lump in my throat for a time long gone. Christiane Silber has been described as “PASSIONATE, GRACEFUL, DELICATE AND NOBLE....”by the Weifang Poly Grand Theatre Review. In the course of the concert we saw all these characteristics being displayed. The music was complemented by the incredible acoustics of the hall – I read afterwards that it was considered one of the ten best concert venues in the world in 2004. I was lost in the beauty of it all.
The program opened with Ravel’s “Ma mémre l’oye, Ballett-Suite” with its whimsical birdlike sounds, followed by Debussy’s “Two dances for harp and string orchestra” – a piece of music I had not heard before and loved immediately. There was more Ravel and a piece by Bizet but my favourite was Danse macabre, op.40 by Saint Saëns, where again the harp plays an important role in the opening. Such heavenly music!
Notice our Yankee cowgirl standing near the organ stool
But at some point, my eye was caught by a rather strange figure behind the orchestra – an exceedingly butch-looking woman in blue jeans and a bright tartan shirt responsible maybe for recording the concert. I glanced at my friend next to me and when my eye caught hers we both nearly burst out laughing. In this correct elegant setting with glorious music swirling around us what was she doing and why was she dressed liked a Yankee cowgirl? It was so incongruous. Nothing could have detracted from the music, but she certainly added a touch of the ridiculous. At the interval we speculated who and what she was and why nobody had told her to dress more in keeping with the formality of the orchestra and audience. And during the second half there she was again, moving quietly from point to point or sitting on the organ stool.
As the conductor took the final bow and the audience finally allowed her to go, I thought, “I must remember to thank my boss for putting up the concert poster. It was another first in Berlin that I will never forget.”