Classical music: let the Berlin Phil come to you

With concert halls and opera houses closed, we sample the stay-at-home alternatives from Budapest to Dar es Salaam

• As home entertainment becomes inevitably more central to our lives, the quest will surely be to capture the spirit of the authentic live experience. First and boldest into the arena has been the Berlin Philharmonic (“The Philharmonie is closed – so we will come to you!”), removing all charges from its online streaming service. Go to and enter the code BERLINPHIL by 31 March. Here you will find, among concerts from Karajan to Abbado, a recent concert under Simon Rattle that was streamed live without an audience. Berio’s phantasmagorical Sinfonia is juxtaposed with a sumptuously sonorous Bartók Concerto for Orchestra. Elsewhere on the site there’s the latest from new chief conductor Kirill Petrenko, pushing into the music of the 1940s with Stravinsky’s Symphony in Three Movements, Zimmermann and Rachmaninov.

Watch a trailer for the BFO’s Quarantine Soirées

• There is something eerie about seeing a full orchestra in formal dress playing to an empty hall. The maverick conductor of the Budapest Festival Orchestra, Iván Fischer, declares that this is not the right time for orchestral music (probably because those concerts of his have been cancelled). He prefers to deploy his skilful players in chamber music combinations in nightly Quarantine Soirées, at – an hour or so of small-scale music-making from Mozart and Beethoven to Schubert and beyond. Fischer is a perpetual innovator of new formats.

• If you prefer the large-scale spectacular, then the Metropolitan Opera in New York is providing a free stream via its homepage of a classic from its archive each evening at 7.30pm New York time (11.30pm GMT), available for 20 hours. So wake up here tomorrow morning and you can still catch Valery Gergiev conducting Renée Fleming, Ramón Vargas and Dmitri Hvorostovsky in Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin (from February 2007). Closer to home, Opera North is now streaming Wagner’s epic four-part Ring cycle, free.

Watch Opera North’s Das Rheingold.

• In the UK, this is a chance to remind ourselves, through the invaluable provision of live concerts on Radio 3, just how central to our musical life are the BBC’s own orchestras – one of the many benefits provided by the licence fee. Start with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, on terrific form for Donald Runnicles in Bruckner’s towering Eighth Symphony (BBC Sounds), imaginatively preceded by the wondrous Carolyn Sampson in Henri Dutilleux’s song cycle Correspondances. (But hurry: thanks to the restrictions on BBC Sounds, which should surely be lifted now, it’s only available until 27 March.)

• The BBC Symphony Orchestra, conductor Stefan Solyom, celebrated Heroic Strokes of the Bow – female composers from Germaine Tailleferre to Judith Weir (BBC Sounds until 6 April); Mark Wigglesworth conducted the BBC Philharmonic in Beethoven’s rarely heard Cantata on the Death of the Emperor Joseph II (until 25 March); while the Ulster Orchestra conducted by Jac van Steen partnered one of the most interesting of younger pianists, Hannes Minnaar, in Schumann’s Piano Concerto (until 4 April).

• As schools close and music conservatoires move to online tuition, there will be a chance for anyone to test the ever-expanding area of web-based teaching: expect an explosion of offers formal and informal from grounded musicians, such as tuition from the violinist Tasmin Little: 20-minute quick-solve lessons or 60-minute in-depth ones. Contact

I have probably never felt the actual life saving meaning of music and sound before—not in this existential dimension of today. Everything feels new. Thank you for allowing me to share this with you. This is what keeps my inner light burning these days. See you tomorrow.

— Igor Levit (@igorpianist) March 19, 2020

• Maybe small is best for enforced home listening. A clever, timely initiative from Toronto playwright Nick Green is the Social Distancing festival. Among its presentations is the artist/dancer Tadhia Alawi @tadhialawi ​from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The supremely intelligent pianist Igor Levit has started a nightly live recital on Twitter (@igorpianist). But nothing I came across in this trawl quite surpassed the sudden impact of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, played in its piano-duet version by Michael Brown and Orion Weiss from the Chamber Music Society of New York: utterly gripping.

This article was amended on 22 March. The Berlin Philharmonic perform Stravinsky’s Symphony in Three Movements; this has now been corrected.


Nicholas Kenyon

The GuardianTramp

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