Every orchestra may well have 12 cellos, but attempting to “clone” the 12 Cellists of the Berlin Philharmonic — the world’s foremost cello ensemble, aka “The 12 Cellists” — is a formidable ask. Thanks to the efforts of renowned Taiwanese cellist Chang Chen-chieh, who has maintained a friendship with the 12 cellists for many years, Chang managed to grab two of the ensemble’s 30 concerts, as part of its 40th anniversary season, to present several works that have become meaningful to the ensemble over the past four decades. These two performances will be on July 4 in Kaohsiung and July 5 in Taipei.
One of the most important works of the 12 Cellists is Hymnus for 12 Cellos, Op. 57, written by German cello professor Julius Klengel (1859-1933) for his 12 cello students in 1920, for without this historic piece, the 12 Cellists might not even exist. At a press conference in Taipei last Tuesday, Berlin Philharmonic principal cellist Ludwig Quandt said from his home in Berlin via an online video conference that Austrian Broadcasting found the score of Hymnus and invited the Berlin Philharmonic members to play the unusual piece, until then all but forgotten, in 1972. The 12 Cellists’ first concert was a success and astonished then Berlin Philharmonic director Herbert von Karajan in the audience, praising its beautiful tonal combination as the sound of nature. Thus, the cellists decided to stay together as an independent group. The 12 Cellists will, of course, play Hymnus as the opening piece in the concerts in Taiwan.
Though the individual members of the 12 cellists have changed since then, the standard of the group’s performance today is better than ever, said Chang. According to Quandt, the most senior cellist in the ensemble today has been a member of the Berlin Philharmonic since 1986. The ensemble’s repertoire ranges from original compositions to arrangements, including jazz, tango and avant-garde music. Through years of practice, the 12 cellists, each of whom contributes a vital part of a musical whole, demonstrate their well-coordinated musical rapport and well-attuned intoxicating timbres on 48 strings, covering the tonal range of the human voice.
The all-cello ensemble, sitting in a large semi-circle, takes audiences by storm whenever it plays. In its upcoming Taiwan tour, in addition to Hymnus, it will play a program of works, including Villa-Lobos’ Bachianas Brasilieras No. 1, Piazzolla’s Adios Nonino, Libertango, and Fuga y misterio, The Beatles’ All my Loving, arranged by Shigeaki Saegusa, Morricone’s The Man with the Harmonica, Duke Ellington’s Caravan, and other crossover works.
Chang, who has been called the king of innovation, may bring a surprise to audiences in The 12 Cellists concerts by playing as the13th cellist in an encore piece. But Chang said last Tuesday that he has not decided yet since he might be too busy organizing the concerts to appear as the 13th cellist. In the concerts in Taiwan two years ago, the 12 Cellists performed Taiwanese folk classics Du-Du-Dang and Jasmine in June as their encore pieces, and Chang hopes that this year, the ensemble will perform another Taiwanese folk classic Dark, Dark is the Sky. This, however, will depend on whether pianist and composer Hsieh Wan-ling, Chang’s wife, has time to arrange the song for the 12 cellists.
(Lin Ya-ti, Taipei Times)