It was on a Summer morning in Mexico City that I heard the sad news of the passing of Herbert von Karajan. The notice was on the radio as I drove over to the Sala Nezahualcoytl, on the campus of Mexico's National University. I was on my way to play a matinee concert with the Orquesta de la Mineria.
Once I arrived, I immediately went to the dressing room of the conductor, Luis Herrera de la Fuente, to relate the bad news. He was alarmed. "Are you sure?" he asked. "I'm afraid so, Maestro," I replied.
As the lights dimmed in the hall, Maestro Herrera walked onstage, turning once he reached the podium to address the audience. "Ha muerto Herbert von Karajan" (Herbert von Karajan has died.) The audience responded with a collective gasp, followed by a respectful moment of silence before the concert began.
This instance encompasses how important and honored he was. For many he was the Berlin Philharmonic, and for this reason focus was directed away from the philharmonic itself; still a great orchestra, but now leaderless.
Claudio Abbado stepped in and ably led the orchestra for a number of years, but for many the results were pale compared to Karajan's accomplishments with the orchestra. Was this fair? Probably not, but there's rarely anything logical in the way musicians are assessed, and despite the fact the memory of Herbert von Karajan faded rather quietly, the Berlin Philharmonic resided somewhat outside of the talk of the greatest orchestras.
The surprising decision to engage Simon Rattle as the new maestro of the Berlin Phil in 1999 refocused attention on the orchestra. Many expected the pairing of Rattle with Berlin to fail, but instead it took flight and has continued to fly high for over a decade now.
Many now regard the Berlin Philharmonic as the best orchestra in the world. Not only has the orchestra blossomed, but the organization has undertaken one of the most effective uses of the internet of any arts organization in the world.
The orchestra's Digital Concert Hall stands heads above what other orchestras are doing, and Rattle and the orchestra have forged a highly effective relationship with young listeners.
Of course, it's always said that the "proof is in the pudding" and here we must take some time to listen to the Rattle-led Berlin Philharmonic. I've been doing so in a somewhat random fashion, but have just come upon this list from Gramophone Magazine which I believe will serve listeners well in focusing their attention.
Collectors beware (there I go talking to myself again). Those links to Amazon may prove fatal to that new year's resolution to tighten the budget. On the other hand, you might find many of these at your local public library. One way, or the other, happy listening.