Berliner Philharmoniker & Wilhelm Furtwängler (1939–45)
Streaming concerts were not invented in the Corona crisis. They already played a central role during the worst lockdown of the 20th century, the Second World War – in those days, in the shape of radio broadcasts. During the war years, the Berlin Philharmonic carried on playing Brahms and Beethoven unmoved, right up to 23 January 1945, four days before the Auschwitz concentration camp was liberated. On the rostrum – and at the top of Hitler's list of divinely gifted artists - stood chief conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler, whose extreme tempi and dynamics seemed to be a sign of the times.
The recording tapes initially ended up in Soviet archives, and were not returned into German hands until 1990, when they were refurbished. Thus today's listener can hear with a mixture of fascination and horror Walter Gieseking playing Beethoven's Fifth Piano Concerto with the sound of anti-aircraft guns in the background.
This is an article from the Elbphilharmonie Magazine (issue 03/2020), which is published three times per year.
Sam Cooke – Live at the Harlem Square Club (1963)
»Don’t know much about history«, Sam Cooke famously warbled, advancing with his velvety voice to become the first soul superstar, and thus paving the way for Aretha Franklin, James Brown and Stevie Wonder. But Cooke was just teasing with the opening line of the song: he knew his »black history« only too well, being friends with the civil rights campaigner Malcolm X and with boxer Cassius Clay, with whom he celebrated Clay's first win as world boxing champion in Miami in 1964. The turbulent mood of the time can also be heard in Cooke's 1963 gig at Miami's Harlem Square Club: the singer really let it all hang out in front of the Afro-American audience. At the time, his producer felt the recording was too gritty and raw, and only 22 years later did the record company release it; their choice of the time for a live album were the slick renderings of »Sam Cooke at the Copa«.
Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison (1968)
»Hello, I’m Johnny Cash.« When the country singer, clad in his usual black suit, walked on stage in the dining hall of Folsom State Prison on 13 January 1968, several wheels turned full circle. It was ten years since he had scored one of his first big hits with »Folsom Prison Blues« , inspired by a film about what was reputed to be the harshest jail in the United States. After that, he sang to prison audiences on several occasions before his drug addiction brought him close to a jail sentence several times, and interefered with his career. With his first live album recorded behind prison walls, he made an impressive comeback.
To be on the safe side, two recording sessions were scheduled, but in the end nearly all the tracks were recorded one after the other. There seems to have been a special bond between the reformed character on the stage and those awaiting reform in the audience: the prisoners saw Cash as one of their own. This didn't escape the attention of the Columbia label, which henceforth marketed the singer as an outlaw, and brought out another prison album the next year entitled »At San Quentin«. Although he was detained overnight several times for misdemeanours, the »Man in Black« never actually served time in jail.
The gig that Cash gave in Folsom Prison was not filmed. But it does feature in the Oscar-winning movie »Walk the Line«, in which Joaquin Phoenix plays the part of Johnny Cash.
Barenboim, Perlman, Zukerman, du Pré and Mehta: »Forellenquintett« (1969)
Since Haydn and Mozart once played string quartets together, there has probably never been an all-star ensemble like this: Daniel Barenboim (piano), Itzhak Perlman (violin), Pinchas Zukerman (viola), Jacqueline du Pré (cello) and Zubin Mehta (double bass) met up on 30 August 1969 to perform Schubert's »Trout Quintet« in the newly-opened Queen Elizabeth Hall in London.
With the exception of conductor Mehta, at 33 the oldest of the five, all the musicians were still at the outset of what were to be brilliant careers. Thanks to the legendary concert film made by Christopher Nupen, their close friendship and love of playing can still be enjoyed today. The film includes wonderful backstage scenes, such as the musicians swapping instruments: du Pré wedging the violin between her knees while Perlman scrapes the bow across her cello strings.
Elbphilharmonie Magazine | Live!
Keith Jarrett: The Köln Concert (1975)
This is the best-selling solo jazz album of all time – and was probably the worst-organised concert of all time as well. When Keith Jarrett arrived at the Cologne Opera House in 24 January 1975, literally nothing was right: instead of the Bösendorfer Imperial Jarrett has asked for, the staff had set up a baby grand in rotten condition – untuned, with broken strings, keys that stuck and faulty pedals. The American pianist felt totally whacked anyway: instead of flying from Zurich, the previous stop on his tour, he got the money for the plane ticket refunded and chugged up to Cologne in a rickety old Renault 8. Even the restaurant waiter ignored him before the late-night gig (the opera house wouldn't give him any other slot).
»It’s okay, I play. But never forget: Just for you!«
Keith Jarrett to Vera Brandes
It was only thanks to the entreaties of the concert organiser Vera Brandes, an 18-year-old schoolgirl, that Jarrett even went on stage at all – and the result was a magic moment of improvisation in two senses. The ECM sound technicians really only switched on the tape machine for the purpose of internal documentation, thus producing a recording that was to become the label's absolute cash cow. The adverse conditions Jarrett had to play under actually inspired him: this is already clear in the first improvisation, where to general amusement he uses the opera house's interval gong as a basis – unconsciously, as he later admitted.
Keith Jarrett about the Köln Concert
Read the interview with Vera Brandes about the concert story (German only)
Rafael Kubelík / Czech Philharmonic Orchestra: »Má vlast« (1990)
42 years are a long time in a person's life. After he left his country in 1948 in protest against the Communists seizing power, 42 years were to pass before the famous Czech conductor Rafael Kubelík set foot on his native soil again. In the intervening period, he established himself in Chicago, London and Munich as one of the most sought-after conductors of his time. Only after the collapse of the Eastern bloc and the »Velvet Revolution« in Czechoslovakia did Kubelík, now 75 years old, return to the rostrum of his old orchestra at the invitation of the new state preident, Václav Havel. At the opening concert of the »Prague Spring« festival he conducted Bedřich Smetana's cycle »Má vlast« (My Homeland), including the well-known »Moldau«, to mark the anniversary of the composer's death. There were more than a few moist eyes amongst audience and musicians alike.
Eric Clapton: Unplugged (1992)
It's impossible to say with certainty which is the most successful live album of all time – this would require a systematic record of worldwide sales figures. But it looks as if the honour might belong to Eric Clapton and his album in the MTV Unplugged series. In 1989, the music channel started inviting pop stars to play acoustic gigs that soon met with a strong response. Elton John, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Mariah Carey, Nirvana, Aerosmith and many more agreed to the adventure of a concert with almost no amplification. In this setting, with a mix of his own hits like »Tears in Heaven« and old blues classics, »Slowhand« Clapton's virtuosity on the guitar was heard to best advantage; the album has sold over 25 million copies since it was released.
Text: Clemens Matuschek, last updated: 14.8.2020