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Ultraschall: Cutting-edge classical sounds

Back for its 24th edition, Ultraschall serves as a weathervane for sonic trends in the year to come.

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Eun Sun Kim will conduct the Deutsche Symphonie-Orchester Berlin on January 23, Ultraschall’s final day. Photo: Marc Olivier Le Blanc

Now in its 24th edition, the Ultraschall festival for new music has earned its reputation as Berlin’s leading tastemaker in contemporary music. The brainchild of rbbKultur and Deutschlandfunk Kultur, the festival is a weathervane for sonic trends in the year to come, while also laying out themes of its own.

Contemporary music is an inherently innovative endeavour. It has the power to stretch our understanding of what is musically possible and, in creating new juxtapositions, asks us to reassess the culture underpinning prevailing trends. On opening night, (Jan 19, 20:00), the DSO will put that idea to the test. Mirela Ivičevi’s premiere of Quicksilver meets a modern classic of the genre in Luca Francesconi’s Macchine in echo.

Next, Sergej Newski is one of the must-see highlights. His vocal work Die Einfachen (Jan 20, 21:30) premiered last year in Stuttgart to rave reviews. The experiences of gays and lesbians in rural Russia are set to music, via letters written in the 1920s in a period following the revolutions in which homosexuality was briefly legalised. In the openness and vulnerability of the source material, the Russian composer draws a stark contrast to the de facto criminalisation of LGBTQ+ culture in the country today.

Don’t miss out on Yiran Zhao (Jan 22, 19:00), whose selected works that evening include a dance piece, ensemble production and percussion. All of her works are inspired by, and imbued with, the spirit of movement. Her talent for creating dynamism and three-dimensionality in a piece with the most subtle visual, audible or physical cues is unmatched. This “portrait concert” is set to be the most absorbing experience of the festival.

The final day brings everything full circle, Eun Sun Kim conducting the DSO once more (Jan 23, 20:00). The standout here, though, is Johannes Schöllhorn’s Tra un fiore colto el’alto donato, which brilliantly bridges the gap between the mediaeval and the modern in a piece that brings together the heraldic shawm, the accordion and contemporary electronics.

Ultraschall Haus des Rundfunks, Heimathafen Neukölln, Jan 19 – 23, 2022