The Rundfunkchor Berlin (= RCB; Berlin Radio Choir)) is the oldest radio choir in Germany. Made up of 63 full-time professional singers, it gives about 50 concerts each year. Its wide-ranging repertoire extends from the Renaissance period to the present day. The main emphasis is on works involving choral and orchestral forces. The Rundfunkchor Berlin works with the world’s leading orchestras and conductors, regularly appearing in all major concert venues. It has built especially intensive partnerships with the Berliner Philharmoniker under Sir Simon Rattle, the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin under Kent Nagano and the Rundfunk Symphonie-Orchester Berlin under Marek Janowski.
"It is our philosophy to work under the best possible conditions: with the best orchestras, with the best conductors and with a well-balanced repertoire." This is how Simon Halsey summed up the profile of the Rundfunkchor Berlin on a note of self-confidence. Whoever has seen the charismatic choral conductor and long-time associate of Simon Rattle at work, whether in Sydney or Paris, Los Angeles or Salzburg, Birmingham or Berlin, will be aware that he is not aiming too high.
Since April 2001 Simon Halsey has infected the Rundfunkchor with his enthusiasm, vitality and characteristic British zeal. The choir appears in approx. 50 concerts worldwide each season. It responds to the wishes of widely differing conductors in a rapid, flexible and accurate manner. The choir is accustomed to working with both generalists and top-notch specialists in old and new music because it sets great store by stylistically aware interpretations of the whole repertoire from the Renaissance to the present day that reflect the current state of performance practice. Globally present as a concert choir through live performances and CDs, the Rundfunkchor considers it axiomatic to give accent-free performances of foreign-language works with due regard for correct intonation and timbre, a fact that prompted Marc Minkowski to describe it as “the most French of all those wonderful German choirs”.
An impeccable and meaningful declamation of the text in any language required is the basis and starting-point for the choir’s work, for its distinctive and yet ever-changing tonal character. Its main feature is a physically oriented style of expressive singing directly aimed at the audience. Building on the absolute homogeneity of its different sections, it commands the entire spectrum from the polyphonic textures of a Renaissance motet, which emphasize the contrast between the solo voices, to the highly romantic, blended sound of a choral work by Brahms or Bruckner with its infinite variety of colour, dynamic range, expressive shading and technical virtuosity. Moreover, the choir constantly deals with complex scores of contemporary composers and with experimental vocal techniques. As a radio choir it regularly awards commissions, most recently to Qu Xia-Song, Mauricio Kagel, Klaus Huber, Wolfgang Rihm, Frank Michael Beyer, Antony Pitts and Mark-Anthony Turnage, and encourages the rediscovery of forgotten and neglected pieces and composers as borne out by a long list of award-winning CD releases, some forming part of Decca’s legendary “Entartete Musik” series.
The repertoire of the Rundfunkchor Berlin revolves around large works for orchestra and chorus, ranging from L.v. Beethoven’s Ninth to Hans Werner Henze’s Ninth, which recently has become the choir’s calling card with performances in Berlin, New York, London, Monaco and many other places. The Rundfunkchor teams up with the MDR-Chor Leipzig for large-scale projects such as Gustav Mahler’s Eighth Symphony under Kent Nagano or Berlioz’s memorable Requiem under Marek Janowski at Berlin’s Cathedral and at the Grimaldi Forum Monte Carlo. Nikolaus Harnoncourt relies on the choir for a Schubert cycle and Michael Gielen for an international Arnold Schoenberg project, but oratorios, Passions and Masses by J.S. Bach, George Frideric Handel, Mozart and Haydn also figure regularly on its programme. Needless to say, the choir maintains especially close ties with three of Berlin’s eight major performing groups: the Berliner Philharmoniker under Sir Simon Rattle, the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin under Kent Nagano and the Rundfunk Symphonie-Orchester Berlin under Marek Janowski. On joint tours and with spectacular a cappella programmes, it is acting as a cultural ambassador for the German capital. In this way it is continuing a tradition that began with international G.F. Handel performances under Helmut Koch in the 1950’s, culminated in Leonard Bernstein’s two Ode to Freedom concerts in east and west Berlin telecast live across the world shortly after the fall of the Wall and finally attained its full potential after reunification.
Since its inception in early 1925 the Rundfunkchor Berlin has regularly participated in both concert and stage performances of operas and operettas directed, among others, by Walter Felsenstein, Joachim Herz, Götz Friedrich, Ruth Berghaus and Harry Kupfer. This form of activity, which calls for spontaneity, physical expression and stage presence, also benefits the ensemble’s concert appearances. Therefore, the choir is consistently pursuing this line further both in collaboration with Sir Simon Rattle and with scenic projects of its own. Rodion Shchedrin’s Russian liturgy „The Sealed Angel“ is scheduled to be presented in May 2005 as a drama for chorus and five dancers in a production by the Berlin choreographer Lars Scheibner.
To retain its flexibility and curiosity, the Rundfunkchor is exploring the limits of its repertoire in stylistic and geographic terms as can be seen from its performance of Chinese music by Qu Xia-Song, of spirituals under André Thomas or Leonard Bernstein’s Mass under Kent Nagano. It reaches out to tomorrow’s audiences in specific youth programmes, offers selected young professional singers traineeships and, once a year, invites amateur vocalists to a sing-along concert on the British model, with a major work for chorus and orchestra being rehearsed and performed together with the Rundfunkchor Berlin within a single day. These sing-along concerts, fuelled by the enthusiasm of hundreds of singers and Simon Halsey’s communicative skills, have become something of an insider’s tip both at home and abroad. “In the English-speaking countries the main forms of the arts are linguistic in nature,” Simon Halsey pointed out, providing an explanation for the current success of English artists such as Simon Rattle on world markets. “For this reason we must be better at communicating classical music.” As a modern, professional concert choir, the Rundfunkchor Berlin has perceived this trend towards more dialogue and openness. Under the direction of Simon Halsey it is pursuing a dialogue with the audience, with other cultures and with eminent artists from all over the world with keen senses.