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Friday, Nov. 21, 2008

Documentaries frame Berlin Philharmonic's past, present

Staff writer

Two documentaries about the famed Berlin Philharmonic are being showcased in a Japan roadshow that started last Saturday at Eurospace in Shibuya, Tokyo. Both films look into the state of this venerated ensemble, but during very different periods in its 126-year history.

Directed by Enrique Sanchez Lansch, "The Reichsorchester: The Berlin Philharmonic and the Third Reich" examines the period between 1933 and 1945, when the orchestra performed for the Nazi propaganda ministry.

Tottering on the verge of bankruptcy during the interwar period, this musician-owned orchestra was sold to the National Socialists in 1934 and renamed as the Reich's Orchestra.

"It was like playing in a glass jar" recalls 93-year-old Johannes Bastiaan, one of the only two surviving wartime members of the orchestra, in the film. Under the wing of the Third Reich, the musicians performed concerts both inside and outside Germany in front of giant swastika banners, until the very last days of World War II.

Yet hesitation was always present among the musicians. When they performed a concert for wounded German soldiers near the end of the war, Bastiaan was "ashamed" to have a clean suit and good health in front of worn-out soldiers around his own age.

Interweaving archive footage and interviews with the two surviving members as well as children of the musicians, the film conveys the impact the Third Reich had on the artists' lives.

The other film, "Trip to Asia: The Quest for Harmony," directed by Thomas Grube, explores the tradition, culture and music of the Berlin Philharmonic by following its 126 musicians, including those on their yearlong probation period, and conductor Sir Simon Rattle on their three-week-long Asian Tour in 2005.

The camera captures the members on and off stage where they talk about their childhood, how instruments helped them as tools to communicate with others, the enormous pressures they face and their enduring pursuit of creating perfect harmony together as a group.

The roadshow moves to Osaka on Nov. 29, with later stops in Nagoya, Kobe, Okayama and Sapporo.

The films will run at Eurospace in Shibuya Ward until at least Dec. 12. Tickets are ¥1,800 per screening. "The Reichsorchester" (German with Japanese subtitles), shows at 9 p.m.; "Trip to Asia" (in English and German with Japanese subtitles) shows at 11:40 a.m., 2 p.m., 4:20 p.m. and 6:40 p.m. For information and tour schedule, visit www.cetera.co.jp

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