For more than five decades, the Hamburg Symphony Orchestra has been one of the freshest and most original of the city’s ensembles, with both a national and international reputation. As the orchestra in residence at the Laeiszhalle – one of Europe’s most renowned concert halls – the Hamburg Symphony is firmly anchored in the city’s musical life and plays a leading role in the development of Hamburg’s plan to establish itself as a Musical Metropolis. The distinguished Principal Conductor, Jeffrey Tate, and Daniel Kühnel, the General Manager and Artistic Director, have since the beginning of their collaboration in 2009 created a distinct profile for the orchestra with exciting performances of innovative repertoire. Partly as a result of these programming policies, which have become an integral part of the orchestra’s identity, Tate and Kühnel have succeeded in the past three years in increasing the number of visitors to their concerts by 56 percent.
With a special intuition for extraordinary young artists, the orchestra established an Artist in Residence position in 2008, engaging such performers as the clarinetist Martin Fröst, the harpist Xavier de Maistre, the young pianist and crossover musician Francesco Tristano, and the violinist Guy Braunstein, each of whom has worked with the orchestra for an entire season. In addition, through the engagement of celebrated international soloists and conductors, the Hamburg Symphony strives to give the city an unmistakable musical identity with an impact on all areas of life, something that can be heard and experienced by every citizen and which resonates beyond the city’s borders. Daniel Kühnel feels, “The attempt to live and embody this ambition for artistic excellence, so close to our own sense of ourselves and our audience, is an exciting, worthwhile, and necessary balancing act.”
The Hamburg Symphony Orchestra joins with the other participants in the city’s musical life to give it a unique voice. With new accents in Hamburg’s musical landscape, the orchestra attempts to realize its hopes for excellence, originality, and audience contact. Building upon its traditional summer series of open-air concerts in the inner courtyard of Hamburg’s City Hall, the orchestra presented in the summer of 2011 the festival, “Transformations”, in which the six movements of Gustav Mahler‘s Das Lied von der Erde were performed individually in six different locations throughout the city along with thematically related works by other composers. The success of such programming concepts underscores Hamburg’s potential as a modern and lively Musical Metropolis, supporting the orchestra’s vision and Kühnel when he says, “We cannot preach and talk about a Musical Metropolis without actively working for its development and trying to provide content for this still rather abstract idea.”
In the discussion of sociopolitical issues, the Hamburg Symphony considers orchestras in general, and itself in particular, to be musical centers of expertise, which – through the continual encounter with a non-spatial art – acquire a particular knowledge informing their relationship to our perception of time. The Hamburg Symphony Orchestra believes in articulating sociopolitical themes through music and proposes the acceptance of a musical standard for social action.
The orchestra’s season reflects this view of itself. The Hamburg Symphony can be heard in two subscription series, a broad selection of unusual special concerts produced by the orchestra itself, a distinguished subscription series of chamber music concerts, a popular sequence of vocal recitals, concerts devoted to famous silent films with live orchestral music, and a broad range of events for children and young people; the latter includes, in addition to the series of children’s concerts, a rapidly expanding educational outreach program in which members of the orchestra work closely with schools and other social programs. Of particular importance for the Hamburg Symphony Orchestra is a modern, long-term, and socially conscious approach to a broader understanding of musical culture.
The Hamburg Symphony’s activities are attracting a growing international interest. As the “thinking orchestra” of an emerging Musical Metropolis, the Hamburg Symphony is on the way to establishing itself as one of the most interesting ensembles touring internationally, without compromising its identity or traditions. Its music and video installation, an environmental critique accompanying Messiaen’s Des Canyons aux Étoiles, has received support from the German environmental ministry, the first time this agency has provided funding for an arts project. The Hamburg Symphony Orchestra will perform this work during a tour to the USA in 2012.