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Musikfest: Classics with a bang

The beat goes on at this year's Musikfest. For 19 days the classical music festival gives the drummer some love. Check it out Sep 2-20 at various venues across the city.

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Gustavo Dudamel. Photo by Gerardo Gómez

Give the drummer some at this month’s percussion-focussed Musikfest (Sep 2-20).

Perhaps the best indicator of what to expect from the Berliner Festspiele’s orchestral fest is the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks rendition of “Tutuguri”. Wolfgang Rihm’s boundary-smashing piece is known as one of the composer’s most ferocious, unrestrained contributions, largely in part because of the percussion arrangement pulsating through the composition like an ever-quickening heartbeat. Under Daniel Harding, six percussionists recreate the thunderous production (Sep 3, 19:00, Philharmonie), setting the tone – or the beat – for the rest of the 19-day affair, which showcases the power of percussion in orchestral settings.

Superstar conductor Gustavo Dudamel and the Orquesta Sinfónica Simón Bolívar de Venezuela will bring enthusiastic rhythms from South America, including their opener, Bacchianas Brasileiras, from Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos (Sep 13, 20:00, Philharmonie). Ensemble Musikfabrik adds a touch of rock to the programme with music from Frank Zappa, who drew endless inspiration from Frenchborn composer Edgard Varèse. The ensemble plans to show off its logistical mastery by performing Varèse’s Ionisation for 13 percussionists, a composition that was called “a sock in the jaw” during its Carnegie Hall debut in 1933 (Sep 18, 20:00, Haus der Berliner Festspiele).

They aren’t the only Varèse aficionados in the programme: The Junge Deutschen Philharmonie will arm the stage with percussion sounds during an interpretation of Déserts (Sep 11, 20:00, Philharmonie), and the Berliner Philharmoniker will include Arcana, originally written for 12 percussionists, during its two sets (Sep 9 at 20:00 and Sep 10 at 19:00, Philharmonie).

Aside from the clangour of percussion, this year’s festival will also pay homage to the silver screen. Great Britain’s John Wilson Orchestra makes its German debut on Sep 4 with a celebration of MGM films: expect orchestral arrangements of cinematic classics like “Over the Rainbow” and “Gigi”.