Music & clubs

Musikfest: Our picks

Time to beef up your classical music knowledge! Staging over 70 pieces by 30-odd orchestras from Sep 2 through 20, Musikfest has taken up the task this year to open a dialogue between Gustav Mahler and Arnold Schönberg.

Image for Musikfest: Our picks
Daniel Barenboim. Photo by Holger Kettner

“I feel the heat of rebellion rising in even the slightest souls,” Alex Ross quotes one of Arnold Schönberg’s programmes from 1910, one year before Gustav Mahler’s death. On the cusp of a fundamental shift towards atonality, both composers cultivated a prolific exchange.

Staging over 70 pieces by 30-odd orchestras throughout September, Musikfest has taken up the task to, once more, open a dialogue between Mahler and Schönberg, bringing the latter’s Danish contemporary Carl Nielsen into the conversation as well.

After a foray into minimalism with John Adams’ Shaker Loops and Steve Reich’s Tehillim performed by Synergy Vocals and Ensemble Modern, Musikfest takes off with Daniel Barenboim at the podium and a life-spanning selection of Schönberg compositions (Sep 2, 20:00, Philharmonie). On its first visit to Berlin in a decade, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra juxtaposes one of Schönberg’s most complex pieces, his Chamber Symphony No. 1, with Mahler’s Symphony No. 9, his last finished composition. (Sep 6, 20:00, Philharmonie).

The iconic line, “Ich fühle Luft von anderem Planeten” (“I feel air from another planet”), appropriated by Schönberg for his second string quartet, signifies the dawn of a new era. Together with soprano Barbara Hannigan, the Emerson String Quartet takes us on a journey from the tonal to the atonal, performing pieces by Beethoven, Berg, Webern and Schönberg (Sep 10, 20:00, Philharmonie).

Schönberg’s unfinished Die Jakobsleiter is a milestone in 12-tone music. The Berlin Philharmonic will tackle the rarely performed piece on top of Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder and Xenakis’ Shaar (Sep 17, 20:00, Philharmonie).

Other highlights include Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Michaels Reise um die Erde, staged by Ensemble Musikfabrik, an intense tour de force merging instruments from across the globe (Sep 18, 20:00, Sep 19, 17:00, Haus der Berliner Festspiele) as well as the sound installation Orfeo, which takes apart Monteverdi’s opera using mathematical algorithms (Sep 18 – Oct 4, Martin-Gropius-Bau).

For the full programme, visit

Musikfest, Sep 2-20 | Various locations, see link above