What do the 19 musicians in the photo have in common? Not only are they members of the Orchestra of the Deutsche Oper Berlin, but they are also graduates of the opera house’s own Orchestra Academy. They represent an initiative that, back in the day, was breaking new ground in the formation of top musicians.
Although large concert orchestras such as the Berliner Philharmoniker had already begun to introduce budding talent to the life of a professional musician by means of mentoring and practical contact, in 1983 the Deutsche Oper Berlin was the first opera house to do the same in the genre of musical theatre.
And that function is as important today as it was 40 years ago, explains violinist Kaja Beringer, head of the Academy since 2012: »Courses or modules on musical theatre are few and far between at music colleges. Alumni tend to have only a vague idea of what playing in the orchestra pit involves.« Which is odd, not least because Germany has more opera orchestras than concert orchestras and most musicians will end up more influenced by Wagner and Verdi than by Brahms and Mahler.
Playing in an opera orchestra is special too in the sense that a musician is not rehearsing a work that will be performed in a one-off concert and then discarded for years. The great operas of the likes of THE MAGIC FLUTE, TOSCA and PARSIFAL are mounted on a regular basis and become part of the marrow of musicians. Without that familiarity we would not have the unspoken understanding that allows a hundred musicians to react spontaneously to the breathing of a singer.
Beringer lauds these synchronicities among musicians but is also aware that each new intake has to be eased into these experiences. Alongside the intensive mentoring, she says, it is also important to give them time to prepare. Academy members play in many fewer productions than full orchestra members do. Familiarisation with the repertoire is a drawn-out process.
Over 40 years the Orchestra Academy model has proved a success. Thanks in part to financial support from the Society of Friends and Patrons of the Deutsche Oper Berlin, the number of students has grown from six in the early years to sixteen, with an average of 100 candidates competing for each place. The expansion is also partly because Kaja Beringer has broadened the scope of the Academy, which as well as familiarising students with life at an opera house now also helps them to prepare mentally for auditioning as permanent members. Academy graduates are not restricted to the Orchestra of the Deutsche Oper Berlin but can be found playing in major orchestras from Hamburg to Zurich.
For the grand anniversary concert on 18th March they hope to reunite as many as possible. In fact, that would be an ideal occasion for another group photo.
Benjamin Britten [1913 – 1976]: The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra