Opening 28 Feb 2008
In 2005 members of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra travelled three weeks to perform in six Asian cities: Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai, Taipei, Seoul, and Tokyo. Director Thomas Grube and a team of cameramen, technicians, and sound experts filmed them 14 hours a day. They gathered 300 hours of raw material, which they pieced together to make a revealing portrait of the life of musicians in “the world’s most famous orchestra” (Die Welt am Sonntag), directed by Sir Simon Rattle.The repertoire was Asyla by Thomas Adès, Eroica by Beethoven, and Ein Heldenleben by Richard Strauss. This was their first such trip in 26 years, when they had toured Asia under the direction of Herbert van Karajan. There are many statements by Rattle, as well as his musicians, about the sense of competition, the role of music in their lives, the insecurity of a probation year before one is elected to become a lifetime member, and the hardship of practicing and performing without much sleep. Composer Simon Stockhausen, with a huge sense of confidence considering the impressive music all around him, amazingly composes a new soundtrack made up of noises recorded throughout the cities and fine-tuned to become music.
I especially enjoyed watching solo oboist Albrecht Mayer give master-class instructions to young Asians, telling them to stand up straight and stop making contortions. Two musicians took along their bicycles which they unpacked in Hong Kong and rode all over town, dressed like Tour de France competitors. Two others found a plastic snake which they flipped out under the noses of Chinese on the streets, causing them to shriek and flee. In Taipei the concert was shown to 30,000 viewers on big screens in a market place. After the concert, the orchestra appeared outside to the crowd which celebrated it like teenagers at a Beatles concert. Thomas Grube already had a rapport with this orchestra as the musicians cooperated in his film Rhythm is It, which emphasizes young people and dance. Trip to Asia is about music and adults and as Grube says about his documentary, “The orchestra is a parable for society, for life in a social community." (Becky Tan)