Winner of 2013 Usedomer Musikpreis, Berlin Counterpoint has rapidly established itself in Europe and around the world. Through their strong musical ideals, well thought out programming, and above all, their intense desire to communicate through music, they are considered one of the premier ensembles of its kind. Their goal is not only to make classical music accessible to all audiences, but also to show how important this language is in the modern world today. The members of Berlin Counterpoint have performed worldwide as individuals, but joined together to find something more fulfilling, where the importance truly lies in the joy inherent in the music and in communicating that joy to their audiences.
Between them, the six musicians hold passports from Romania, Holland, France, England, the United States, and Turkey. Each nationality brings an inherently different approach to the music, and Berlin Counterpoint merges all of these influences to develop a style all its own. The reference to Berlin in the ensemble’s name is not simply due to the coincidence of the members meeting there, but to the fact that Berlin is one of the few places where such a meeting of creative minds from such various backgrounds is not only likely, but extremely fruitful. It is the modern, energetic, and creative Berlin they represent, and like the city is itself, a truly multicultural ensemble. Their sparkling sound, homogeneous virtuosity, and adventurous, yet thoughtful, interpretations are very much owed to this meeting of different cultural and musical backgrounds.
Berlin Counterpoint’s ever-growing repertoire, spanning from Baroque era to contemporary music, includes traditional works for wind quintet and piano, as well as members’ own arrangements and new works commissioned from acclaimed international composers such as Kamran Ince and Leonardo Martinelli. The group performs in varying constellations, from duo to sextet, and is open to collaborations with guest artists.
Since its conception in 2007, Berlin Counterpoint has received great acclaim for its appearances at many prestigious venues such as the Sociedad Filarmónica de Bilbao, Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival, Palau de la Música Valencia, and the Kammermusiksaal of the Berlin Philharmonic. Its highly praised debut CD (2013 Genuin Label) was not only extremely well received by audiences and critics, but also brought them a nomination for a Preis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik.
Aaron Dan, flute
Sacha Rattle, clarinet
Olivier Stankiewicz, oboe
Lionel Speciale, horn
Joost Bosdjik, bassoon
Zeynep Özsuca, piano
J. Strauss (arr. Aaron Dan) – Overture to Die Fledermaus
Ligeti– 6 Bagatelles
Poulenc – Sextuor, Op. 100
– Intermission –
Beethoven – Quintet for Piano and Winds in E-flat Major, Op.16
R. Strauss – Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks
If one were to piece together the most substantial 70 minutes of the literature for piano and wind quintet into a single program, you would be hard pressed to find a more iconic group of works. In Fun, Mockery, and Schadenfreude, Berlin Counterpoint uses the compositions of Johann Strauss and Richard Strauss to bookend a program of works that are not only milestones in their respective genres, but also extravagant, cheeky, and thoroughly idiosyncratic pieces.
Berlin Counterpoint is happy to identify itself with any one of these titles, in which a pinch of melancholy and a sprinkle of mockery are mixed with a whole lot of humor to merge into masterpieces that celebrate the joy of life.
Ligeti’s six entertaining Bagatelles, one of the shining stars of the wind quintet literature, Poulenc’s Sextuor, and of course Beethoven’s Piano Quintet are core elements of the program. These three pieces have accompanied Berlin Counterpoint from their first day together and yet continue to challenge them in every performance. They are sandwiched by two characterful arrangements that transform the great orchestral sound into a transparent, versatile and yet powerful sextet sound. Despite the lack of the typical 80-member orchestra, Till Eulenspiegel still manages to celebrate his cheeky pranks perfectly amongst these six musicians.
Wagner – Prelude to Tristan and Isolde
Mozart – Quintet for Piano and Winds in E-flat Major, K. 452
Guillaume Connesson – Techno Parade
– Intermission –
Claude Debussy (arr. Aaron Dan) – Prélude à l’Après-midi d’un Faune
Ludwig Thuille – Sextet in B-flat Major, Op. 6
Richard Wagner’s Tristan Prelude marks the end of an era, while Debussy’s Prélude à l’Après-midi d’un Faune is the beginning of the era in which wind chamber music had its most important flowering. Around these two composers, this program tells a story that begins long before the birth of Mozart and is still far from finished with Connesson. Our story. The story of the composer’s confrontation with this idiosyncratic wind instrument combination, which looks unequal, is unequal, and no composer has been able to handle without a struggle.
Mozart, Thuille, and Connesson saw this struggle with inequality as a positive and because of it, not despite it, created genius pieces which later became a breeding ground for the three epochs of our ensemble literature. Mozart’s Quintet became the direct inspiration for Beethoven’s Quintet, Op. 16. Thuille’s Op. 6 is the climax of the German romanticism and was the model for Theodor Blumer and many others. And Connesson? His writing evokes so much energy and his use of the instruments is so fascinating that composers will want to follow him in droves.
Handel – Overture in D Major, H.W.V. 336
Barber – Summer Music
York Höller – Klangzeichen
– Intermission –
Poulenc – Trio for Oboe, Bassoon, and Piano, F.P. 43
“Creativity has something playful, and this playfulness is at the forefront of new music.” – York Höller
Music has always been contemporary and new art has always been divisive enough to cause an uproar. Sound Signs introduces the audience to five composers who created something that was considered unusual in its time, but has now not only found its place in the repertoire, but lays down a path for its further development.
Handel’s Overture, H.W.V. 336, was originally rejected because the Italian audience demanded a new overture, and he had written this in French style. Louise Farrenc, whose sextet was the very first work ever composed for Berlin Counterpoint’s full instrumentation, should be celebrated as a prophet. Who knows where we would be today, had she not indulged herself in the weird and wonderful world of piano and winds.
Samuel Barber’s Summer Music deserves its place as possibly the best wind quintet ever written, purely because it is so unusual. Berlin Counterpoint felt there was no choice other than to include it on its debut 2014 CD, Barber, Beethoven, Connesson, Poulenc & Strauss: Works for Woodwind Quintet & Piano.
The program title comes from York Höller's sextet, Klangzeichen (Sound Signs), a work dedicated to Israeli and Palestinian children as a call for peace in the Middle East, and premiered in Jerusalem in 2003. Each piece in this program could be seen as a prime example for playful experimentation.
Debussy (arr. Aaron Dan) – Prelude a l'Apres-midi d'un Faune
Glinka – Trio Pathétique
Juon – Divertimento, Op. 51
– Intermission –
Rimsky-Korsakov – Piano Quintet in B-flat Major
Strauss – Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks
Danish author Hans Christian Andersen said that music is a language that begins where words stop. How might Jules Verne have sounded if he had replaced his words with scales? To what worlds might Rimsky-Korsakov have taken us, had his vehicle been a fantasy novel instead of a piano quintet? Where pieces are no longer just language and representations, but also evoke complex structures, intimate autobiographies, and creeds – this is where our repertoire feels most at home.
The first four compositions of this program attempt to reveal the true soul of the Russian people. Centered around a deep belief in beauty, they tell of passion, humor, and the joy of life. In these three large-scale works, Glinka, Rimsky-Korsakov, and Paul Juon give us a glimpse into their most beautiful and glorified images and memories of Russia.
The program is framed by two arrangements that are characteristic of Berlin Counterpoint’s repertoire, transforming a large orchestral sound into a transparent, virtuosic, and, above all, flexible body of sound. The phrasing of melodies and the shaping of the sounds becomes an irresistibly captivating game for both the musicians and the audience.