Photograph by Gordon Welters for The New York Times
By REBECCA SCHMID
Published: In the New York Times October 8, 2013
BERLIN — When Cameron Carpenter first came here, Berlin was covered in snow and looked as if spies might be lurking in the shadows. A year later, in 2010, Mr. Carpenter — the enfant terrible of the concert organ world — moved from the East Village to a loft in what was once a bombed-out neighborhood in the East German side of the city and is now the trendy district of Mitte.
“I was personally attracted to the history of the city,” Mr. Carpenter, 32, recalled recently, as he sat on a vintage couch in his apartment. “It is a very reinventive place, by necessity. As an American and particularly as an artist, I find that very attractive.”
Berlin, with its low-priced real estate and openness to experimentation, is well established as a hotbed of the visual arts. Its growing film and fashion industries have also drawn ambitious agenda-setters from all corners of the world, who have found a welcome atmosphere in which to create and mix with other artists. More recently, it has also developed into an important hub for the classical music world.
The French label Harmonia Mundi will move its German headquarters to Mitte from Heidelberg this month, and over the last four years, Sony and Deutsche Grammophon have set up international offices in Berlin. Major management and public relations firms like Opus 3, Albion Media and Konzertdirektion Schmid have opened branches here. Scores of young composers, not to mention some leading ones, like Olga Neuwirth, Mark Andre and Brett Dean, have made their homes here as well.
While austerity plagues many parts of Europe, the German government continues to support three full-time opera houses and seven orchestras in the capital. Although the Berlin Philharmonic has always been a major draw, institutions in the former Eastern sector — like the Konzerthaus Berlin, now with Ivan Fischer as music director, and the Komische Oper, under the leadership of the stage director Barrie Kosky — each saw a rise in attendance of over 10 percent last season. The Konzerthaus had 156,876 concertgoers, 17,881 more than the year before. The Komische Oper had 18,000 more audience members than in the previous season.
Tourism is an additional boon to the classical music scene, now that Berlin has become one of Europe’s most visited cities. The press office of the Konzerthaus estimates that 27 percent of its audience consists of tourists.
The pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard, 56, a champion of contemporary music and founding member of the Ensemble InterContemporain, calls Berlin, culturally and intellectually, “the town par excellence in Europe” right now, not least for its important geopolitical position. Two years ago, he moved here from Paris, where he had lived since his days as a student.
“It is interesting to live in a city that is undergoing permanent changes,” he said in the airy, high-ceilinged apartment he shares with his companion in the quiet district of Schöneberg. “Things are not completely solved. What I find extremely positive is that Berlin carries its history with such a level of cleverness, reflection and sense for justice. I think that’s a big lesson to mankind.”
Just over two decades ago, Berlin was a city incapable of competing with New York, London or Paris as a music center. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall and, more recently, with the rise of Germany as a leading economic and cultural force in the European Union, an influx of artists has gradually restored the city’s vibrancy. The movement includes a young generation of Israelis, who, according to the Berlin-based mandolinist Avi Avital, “don’t see the New York of Stern and Perlman anymore, but the Berlin of Rattle and Barenboim.”
The American cellist Alisa Weilerstein, 31, and her new husband, the conductor Rafael Payare, have plans to make the city their European base soon — not least because so many musician and artist friends are flocking here.
“Berlin is what New York was 30 years ago, and I mean that in the best possible sense,” she said by phone from her Manhattan home. “It has all the advantages but without the craziness. Because it’s so affordable, it is much more inclusive, in a way. There is such a sense of discovery and openness.”
Berlin’s rise is not a sudden phenomenon. The conductor Herbert von Karajan played a pioneering role in the recording industry after the war with the Berlin Philharmonic, championing stereophonic and then digital recording technologies. This year Deutsche Grammophon is celebrating a full century of partnership with the orchestra. The city offers a variety of recording spaces, from the up-to-the-minute Teldex studios, which Ms. Weilerstein calls the best in the world, to the unassuming but acoustically strong Jesus-Christus-Kirche and the Funkhaus Nalepastrasse, a former East Berlin broadcasting headquarters where the violinist Daniel Hope recorded his most recent album, “Spheres.”
The president of Sony Masterworks, Bogdan Roscic, said that there has been a “pretty massive output of important recordings” from Berlin that wasn’t there five years ago. Since the company consolidated its core classical activities in Berlin, Sony Classical has signed Lang Lang, Plácido Domingo and Jonas Kaufmann, as well as newcomers like Mr. Carpenter and the pianists Khatia Buniatishvili and Igor Levit.
Berlin’s growth has also inspired Deutsche Grammophon to initiate an outdoor festival next summer, showcasing its younger artists. And in a city where techno can be heard any time of day, the recently established label Panorama has brought together the electronica artist Schiller with Anna Netrebko, Hélène Grimaud and Albrecht Mayer for its first album. Ms. Weilerstein recalled performing Shostakovich’s Eighth String Quartet with interludes of live D.J. remixes at the alternative arts space Radialsystem last summer. “Only in Berlin could we cross worlds so easily,” she said.
A version of this article appears in print on October 9, 2013, on page C1 of The New York Times of the New York edition with the headline: Musicians, Too, Make Berlin Their Capital.