Sunday, November 20, 2005
A fitting end to a day in Berlin - Verdi in the Dom
As I was stumbling through the afternoon enjoying all the sites of Berlin, I made my way to the Berliner Dom, which is the Protestant Cathedral at the end of Strasse des 17.Juni. The Berliner Dom was built in 1747-1750 as a monument to Protestanism; in fact, there are statues of the major early figures in the Protestant movement including Luther and Calvin. I went to the Dom (picture at top form a distance), only to find that I couldn't get in. I asked why and discovered that there was a final rehearsal underway for a 6 p.m. performance of Verdi's Requiem by the Berlin Philharhomic and chorus. Well, it took 2 seconds to decide what I would be doing at 6 p.m. I bought my tickets and timed it to return in a couple of hours (more later).
In the meantime, I visited the German Historical Museum, which includes the new I.M. Pei addition. I strolled the streets with all the Christmas Festival booths and I mingled with the tens of thousands of people shopping in this amazing area.
When I returned to the Dom for the Requiem, I found that my seats were high up in one of the balconies - not a problem because it was the sound I was eager to hear. As people were shuffling in nervous excitement, I knew I was in for something special. The orchestra, chorus, and conductor came out. A moment of hushed silence and then out of nothingness the quiet breath of violins floating through the Dom's interior space so imperceptable that you could hardly hear it. The Requiem was underway and I gazed above me to the towering interior, adorned with gold, marble, sculptures and every kind of decoration you can imagine. I took some video inside but do not have any still photos, however, a close up of the exterior that gives a little idea of the intricacies is above.
The Requiem was utterly amazing. For those of you who don't know it, the Dies Irae (Day of Reckoning) repeats several times. In the Dom setting it was absolutely stunning. The first tympany that accompanies the chorus is freightening but the second phrase convinces you that literally the doors of hell have been unleashed. I'm getting the chills all over again as I even think of it. I don't remember many other musical moments this realistic or revealing about the depths of desparation of the human spirit. (Well, maybe the Mahler No. 2 (Resurrection) beats it...)
I had the great pleasure of sitting behind a couple with a young son - probably only six years old. This child was perfect throughout almost two hours of the Requiem. The only exception was each repeat of the Dies Irae at which times the little boy reached up around his mother's neck, hugging her tight for security, and reassurance. I was struck by the natural response and how appropriate he was in understanding the reality of what he was hearing. I wish I had someone to hug as well.
The trip to Berlin was a bit disorienting because it was so long. But, I wouldn't have missed it for anything. I feel that I've seen a critical part of modern history and I cherish the opportunity.