Seventy years ago, the decisive Battle of Stalingrad came to an end. A joint concert by a German and a Russian orchestra on February 3 will be a highlight among events marking the anniversary.
German musicians with the Theater Osnabrück made thorough preparations for their trip to Russia: purchasing warm socks, tucking their instruments into their cases, and checking the exchange rate for the Russian ruble. But they also did a lot of thinking, wondering how they, as Germans, would be received in Volgograd.
Volgogradwas known as "Stalingrad" until 1961 and stands as a symbol for one of the greatest tragedies of the Second World War.
"[You will be greeted] with a great deal of love," Christian Heinecke, violinist with the Osnabrück Symphony Orchestra and co-initiator of the concert project, assured his colleagues. Many Russians have expressed their respect that Germany, too, has placed so much significance on this 70th anniversary of the Battle of Stalingrad - an event so important in Russia.
"We are very happy and glad that the orchestra is coming to Russia from Germany," said Victor Kiyashko, manager of the Volgograd Philharmonic Orchestra. "By the way, the Osnabrück Symphony Orchestra is the first German orchestra to perform in our concert hall."
Striking the right tone
The Osnabrück Symphony Orchestra is giving three concerts as part of the Music Against War events in Volgograd, with the highlight being the concert on February 3. The German Foreign Office and the cultural organization Goethe Institute have contributed to supporting the events. The Osnabrück musicians will play together with their Russian colleagues from the Volgograd Philharmonic. "A Russian and a German musician will sit together at each music stand," said Heinecke.
Volgograd's chief conductor Eduard Serov and his young colleague from Osnabrück, Andreas Hotz, will alternate leading the concert.
Music will have to serve once more as the universal language, as the Russian musicians cannot speak German and very little English. The Germans cannot speak Russian.
The two orchestras will also have to tune their instruments together: in Russia, the classic chamber pitch of 440 Hertz is still the standard. The Osnabrück musicians, like most German orchestras, have a significantly higher chamber pitch - of 442 Hertz.
"Two different worlds are indeed coming together," said Heinecke, adding, "Just the strings alone: For years now, those of us in Germany have been playing Beethoven, for instance, with a very minimalist sound - with hardly any vibrato, even in huge orchestrations."
Russiatends to have a different take, Andreas Hotz points out, saying, "But our orchestra is very flexible; I'm quite confident that we'll find a sound in common. After all, we're not aiming to win an ECHO music award for the concert; instead, it is about creating a wonderful memorial evening for the countless number of people who died at Stalingrad."
'Be embraced, you millions!'
Works by Russian-Soviet composer Gavriil Popov, "Expectations" by London-based Russian composer Elena Firsova and Ludwig van Beethoven's Ninth Symphony are all on the program for the February 3 concert. The Osnabrück Philharmonic commissioned Firsova with her composition, which also serves as a gift to the city of Volgoland. "It's an incredibly impressive work," said Hotz, who is conducting its premiere. "The music is a mixture of deeply intimate tensions and outbursts that seem almost militant at times."
"The most fascinating part of it is when a big choir performs at the end. Then you realize that this piece is one in a long tradition of requiem compositions," he added.
An orchestra made up of musicians from both cities and a large choir will end the concert with Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. This was an express wish by the Russians. "The message of the symphony - 'be embraced, you millions!' - is precisely what we want to get across with this concert," said Victor Kiyashko.
The concert will be recorded in collaboration with the DW partner station Radio Orpheus (Moscow) and will be broadcast the same evening on German public radio, Deutschlandradio Kultur. Broadcasts in other languages will follow on DW and Radio Orpheus.