With two chamber music concerts in Wolgast and in the Baltic Sea resort Heringsdorf, musicians of the Baltic Sea Philharmonic and the New York Philharmonic ended the exclusive European residency of the US orchestra at the Usedom Music Festival. The world-renowned US orchestra and its music director Jaap van Zweden gave three concerts in Peenemünde on the Baltic Sea island of Usedom from 20–22 May. The opening concert of the residency featured twelve players from the Baltic Sea Philharmonic, who performed ‘Side by Side’ with the New York Philharmonic in Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 9. Musicians from both orchestras – five from the Baltic Sea Philharmonic and six from the New York Philharmonic – also came together for two chamber music concerts on 23 and 24 May performing Barber’s Summer Music and Brahms’s String Sextet No. 2.
A unique collaboration in a perfect setting
The programme for these chamber music concerts was devised by the New York Philharmonic and the Baltic Sea Philharmonic in collaboration. The playful, dreamy Summer Music by American composer Samuel Barber, in which the instruments intertwined imaginatively in many voices, was followed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s humorous Horn Quintet in E-flat Major KV 407. In the second part of the atmospheric concerts, the audience heard the second String Sextet by German composer Johannes Brahms, which holds a cryptogram as a reminder of Brahms’s childhood love.
For the musicians of both orchestras, the collaboration was an enriching and gratifying experience. Richard Deane, principal horn player of the New York Philharmonic, said: ‘The whole Usedom Music Festival was great fun. And there were great synergies between the musicians. The musicians of the Baltic Sea Philharmonic wanted to learn, and we also learned a lot and got to know different styles. We became friends and had a great time.’ Alexey Mikhaylenko, clarinettist and senior musician of the Baltic Sea Philharmonic, was surprised by the way of playing and the convincing technical quality of the New York Philharmonic: ‘Sitting and playing inside of the NYPhil is comparable to sitting in a space craft – a perfectly organised machine, which goes forward without any delays and with visual lightness of performing.’ For Viktoria Kassel, an oboist with the Baltic Sea Philharmonic, unforgettable memories are linked to the collaboration: ‘I learned so much and met so many wonderful new people and musicians, I would never want to miss this experience. I am impressed by how perfectly yet realistically the musicians of the New Yorker Philharmonic make music. It’s not about the individuals, it’s about the whole, about the music and about offering the audience a special kind of concert experience. It reminds me a lot of our own orchestra, the Baltic Sea Philharmonic – maybe that’s why the collaboration worked so well straight away.’
Playing ‘Side by Side’ with the New York Philharmonic marked the Baltic Sea Philharmonic’s first performance collaboration with such an illustrious world-class orchestra. The Usedom Music Festival has been the natural host for this coming together, as the Baltic Sea Philharmonic was founded at the festival in 2008 and considers Usedom its birthplace and its home beside the Baltic Sea. Usedom also connects the two orchestras, through the late maestro Kurt Masur. The great German conductor became the first patron of the Usedom Music Festival during his tenure as music director of the New York Philharmonic, and one of his last concerts was with the Baltic Sea Philharmonic in Peenemünde at the 2013 Usedom Music Festival. The Baltic Sea Philharmonic and the New York Philharmonic were among a group of six international orchestras that co-commissioned Steve Reich’s 2018 Music for Ensemble and Orchestra; the Baltic Sea Philharmonic gave the German premiere of the piece in September 2019 at the Usedom Music Festival, and the New York Philharmonic gave the New York premiere in December 2019.