Young German Philharmonic Roll up Your Sleeves, Music!

Agile, creative, independent – the team of the Young German Philharmonic
Agile, creative, independent – the team of the Young German Philharmonic | Photo (detail): Achim Reissner

One could have lamented. But that was not the way of the founders of the Young Germany Philharmonic in 1974. For them, it was about creating a new link between the years of study and the professional career that was sufficiently professional to ensure it could hold its own in the competition of orchestras. The experiment has succeeded. – 40 years of Young Germany Philharmonic.

If youth and student orchestras in the form of regional, national and international initiatives are not quite a dime a dozen, they are no longer a sensational rarity. Often a conductor is behind them, one who recognised the value of qualified work with talented young musicians, or an organisation, a concert promoter, or at least a weighty sponsor who can identify with the music-educational programme and cultural-political idea that actuates the orchestra. The Young German Philharmonic is to some extent the mother of this type of ensemble. Nevertheless, in its case everything is different.

Initiative against a lack

The Young German Philharmonic is now forty years old, but the average age of its members is still no older than that of Germany’s current national football team. It differs from all other youth and student orchestras in the manner of its founding and its autonomous and self-governing structure. For the Young German Philharmonic was not founded by some other organisation; it founded itself. It emerged in 1974 from a circle of enterprising young musicians who had just outgrown the National Youth Orchestra and felt painfully the lack of an ambitious student orchestra with professional perspectives. The only solution was to launch such a lacking ensemble. And there it has been for the last four decades, in the midst of musical life.

That its internal structure should be democratic; that the composition of the programmes and choice of conductors should be jointly decided upon; that the organisational apparatus should remain on a small-scale and work closely together with the musicians; and that the artistic quality should be impeccable: this was the founding consensus. From the start, the audition thresholds were high, for the Young German Philharmonic wanted and wants to be not only an autonomous student orchestra but also the best one in Germany. Normally, there are three to four project phases per year. The repertoire is determined and designed by the musicians themselves, and conductors for the projects are sought jointly. The Young German Philharmonic has no difficulty in engaging not only internationally known conductors but also renowned soloists, both for its projects and for longer-term collaborations. Since 1995, for example, Lothar Zagrosek has been the Principal Guest Conductor and Artistic Advisor of the orchestras, positions that Jonathan Nott, head of Bamberg Symphony Orchestra, will assume in 2014.

Springboard and playground

Following the insight that today divergent skills, stylistic openness and technical flexibility will be demanded of orchestra musicians in the course of their careers, the Young German Philharmonic attaches great importance to its musicians possessing a wide range of aptitudes. The great symphonic repertoire is one important focus, and the historical performance practice of older music and the performance of the music of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries are two other major strands. In rehearsing new works, the orchestra makes abundant use of the opportunity to talk to the composer himself about his compositions.The work of the orchestra forms an important link between the musician’s years of study and his professional life, and it can point to its great success in this.

In the four decades of its existence, the Young German Philharmonic has not only produced a proud pile of its own recordings and booked to its account a long list of prestigious appearances, guest conductors, guest soloists and touring projects, but also influenced the professional form of the music industry in Germany and Western Europe. Numerous former members may now be found in leading international orchestras or as teachers at conservatories. They have established chamber music ensembles and found a professional home in other autonomous and democratically structured ensembles such as the Ensemble Modern, the German Chamber Philharmonic Bremen, the Ensemble Resonanz or the Freiburger Barockorchester.

Anniversary with prospects

For its fortieth birthday the Young German Philharmonic has designed a festival project for the summer of 2014 entitled “Free Play”, which took place with an ingeniously coordinated timing in Frankfurt and Berlin. The focus was on the audience itself, “that group of people without which music and art would be inconceivable”. The orchestra wanted to find an audience that does not usually come to its concerts. It therefore went to odd places and there performed a surprising programme – film music, scenic compositions, music that processes city sounds. And those who were curious as to what they should imagine under a “composer slam” were able to experience one. In September then follow concerts entitled “Young Classics” conducted by Sir Neville Marriner, and the activities of the anniversary year will finally be rounded off by a big birthday ceremony on 13 October 2014 in Frankfurt’s Alte Oper.