“We’ve begun going to schools and interacting with students in grades as young as kindergarten because it’s important to make the first impression,” says Martin Hoffmann, the general manager of the Berliner Philharmoniker Image Credit: Ahmed Kutty/Gulf News

The Berliner Philharmoniker Orchestra provided classical music enthusiasts in the capital a rare treat with a special one-night performance last month at the Emirates Palace Hotel. The concert was part of the orchestra's world tour and hosted by Abu Dhabi Classics.

Now in its third season, Abu Dhabi Classics is an extensive musical and educational programme that began in October and will run until May 2011, with performances being hosted in both the Emirates Palace Hotel in Abu Dhabi and the Al Jahili Fort in Al Ain. This season's highlights include a highly anticipated performance by Grammy award-winning cellist Yo Yo Ma, who will performg three concerts accompanied by the Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale of Italy.

"This is the first time I have travelled with the orchestra to the Middle East but I have visited countries here when on holiday, including Egypt, Yemen and Jordan, and was fascinated by what I saw and experienced … we decided to return to perform in the region again because of the strength of the Abu Dhabi Classics programme," said Martin Hoffmann, general manager of the Berliner Philharmoniker. "Abu Dhabi has been increasingly focused on highlighting, promoting and supporting many cultural programmes and events, which is a great thing. I would like to bring the orchestra back here, whether to Abu Dhabi or the region, in the future.

"It's a very long procedure to schedule performances, but we must find a way to do it again," he added, smiling.

The performance, the first in the region since their concerts at the Baalbeck Festival in 1968 and in Tehran in 1975 — both conducted by Herbert von Karajan — represented a historic return for the 128-member orchestra. It was conducted by the critically acclaimed Sir Simon Rattle, the orchestra's music director and the artistic director of the Berliner Philharmoniker since 2002, and featured compositions by Joseph Haydn, Alban Berg, Johannes Brahms and a piece by Australian composer Brett Dean titled Komarov's Fall, which chronicles the Soviet cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov's crash-landing and death in 1967.

"We chose these pieces to show what we could document. From performing pieces reflecting 300 years of history, such as Brahms, to works by living composers, such as Brett Dean, they gave a good range of what the orchestra is capable of, along with our interpretations of these works that show the richness of the music," Hoffmann said.

A lawyer by profession, Hoffmann was the managing director of Sat 1, a private television channel belonging to ProSiebenSat1 Media AG, before becoming the CEO of the television production company MME AG. Last year, he agreed to become the orchestra's general manager after his predecessor, Pamela Rosenberg, stepped down.

"This is a very exciting time for us. Ever since I formally took up my position in September, I've been discovering something new about the orchestra and the institution. They have been very warm and welcoming with me, which is wonderful. It's a big jump for me, as my background is in media, but I've always had a good relationship with the orchestra. We began talking and they offered me the position and I didn't hesitate to accept it. This position has seen its share of general managers leaving, whether months or years after joining, but so far, I've officially been with them for two months and hopefully will be with them longer," Hoffmann said.

The Berliner Philharmoniker is one of the best-funded orchestras in the world. Every year it receives more than 15 million euros (Dh72 million) in government subsidies, with its main sponsor Deutsche Bank consistently selling 90 per cent of its concert tickets in Germany alone. Since joining the Berliner Philharmoniker, Hoffmann has been going in full force, utilising his extensive experience in the media industry to not only promote the orchestra but also to provide fans with a way to rediscover the orchestra in a new light.

"I plan to bring the orchestra into the 21st century. It is about 50 years behind in utilising tools to increase its presence among the younger generations. We've created a Facebook page and already have 100,000 friends. We have also created a YouTube channel dedicated to the orchestra. Also, in association with Deutsche Bank, the orchestra's live performances are being broadcast in real time and in High Definition on the Digital Concert Hall website. Additionally, we've broadcast performances in cinema theatres and I am planning on providing an opportunity for theatregoers to watch future broadcasts in 3-D," Hoffmann said.

Deutsche Bank and the orchestra have jointly launched the award-winning educational programme Zukunft@BPhil, which has introduced more than 16,000 children and young adults of diverse social and cultural backgrounds to the world of classical music.

"We've begun going to schools and interacting with students in grades as young as kindergarten because it's important to make the first impression. The best way to reach out to them is to first make them an offer so they can start expressing their interest in classical music.

"Afterwards we can explain the background of the orchestra and the pieces we perform, and allow them to experience first-hand what we do.

"Also, we have both educational and dance programmes, where participating students can create dance pieces that will be accompanied by the Berliner Philharmoniker," Hoffmann said.

Hoffmann also indicated that he is arranging for the orchestra to collaborate with various institutions and orchestras around the world, and organising a minimum of three concerts a year for the Berliner Philharmoniker.

"We have begun working with other institutions and artistes, such as [renowned jazz artiste] Wyton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Centre in New York, which has composed a special piece to be performed by both groups.

"Hopefully, this will lead to additional collaborations not only in Europe and the United States but around the world and perhaps even in the Middle East," Hoffmann said, smiling.