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Camerata Bern: That Special Something

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Diversitiy and depth of expression, stylistic surety and technical virtuosity represent only one side of the Camerata Bern. What this edition also strives to document are the charisma, enthusiasm, dedication and spontaneity of this unique Swiss ensemble.

This content was published on May 26, 2009 - 16:22

The Camerata Bern has earned a reputation as one of Europe's leading string orchestras thanks to the standards established in its recordings and concerts. The members manifest joy in performing together and their intense dedication are refreshing. This, together with the sovereign, yet unobstrusive direction of violinist and concertmaster Thomas Füri as "primus inter pares" is perhaps "that special something" at the heart of the Camerata Bern.

Historical details

The Camerata Bern was founded in 1962, drawn from a group of enthusiastic string soloists studying under Max Rostal at the Berne Conservatory and inspired by the idea of playing without a conductor. Founder and leader of the ensemble, a "first among equals", was Alexander van Wijnkoop. He was succeeded as a concertmaster by Thomas Füri in 1979.

Since then the Camerata Bern has continued to enjoy increasing international acclaim as one of the world's finest orchestras. They have performed in Japan, Australia, New Zealand, made several tours to the United States and Canada, and have appeared regularly in most West European countries as well as in Poland, Czechoslovakia and Russia. They frequently perform with such world-renowned artists as Nathan Milstein, Gidon Kremer, Radu Lupu, Andras Schiff, Heinz Holliger, Aurèle Nicolet and Peter-Lukas Graf.

The orchestra's numerous recordings include works from the Baroque through the classic and the romantic to the contemporary. Especially this recording, "That Special Something", demonstrates the orchestra's range of styles at its best.

Among the awards that they have earned are the "International Record Critics Award" and the "Grand Prix International du Disque".

That special something

That "special something" which distinguishes this ensemble, as one of its members said, "is fifteen good musicians who play together. It is as simple and as complicated as that". But how they play together! In performance they exude a charisma and energy which sweeps through an audience. The absence of a conductor forces, even frees the musicians to communicate with each other, be it through facial expression, body gesture, breathing or an intuition that is fed by their intensive rehearsals.

One of the distinctive characteristics of the Camerata Bern's repertoire is its diversity. This reflects the musicians' varying interests and preferences as well as their principle of using contrast for variety and to set off individual works.

The Camerata Bern is most often praised for its typically "romantic" sound. It is characterised by a richness and sentimentality which is never trite, gushy or overly melodramatic - even compositions such as Schoenberg's "Verklärte Nacht" shimmer with the Camerata's "transparent sonority".

Idealism or security

Whereas large, established orchestras can depend on fixed concert earnings and union organisation, the Camrata Bern is much more dependent on the idealism of its artists - and the generosity of donors. The age of its members has remained constant over the course of the years, ranging between 25 and 35.

There is a price to pay for this idealism, since the orchestra does not provide a substantial income. In order to supplement their incomes, all of the members are forced to maintain other jobs or positions, most often either as teacher or in other ensembles. Sooner or later, however, most members are forced to quit the orchestra in preference for a more stable and profitable position.

Production information

Camerata Bern. That Special Something (1992). Musica Helvetica MH CD 63.2. Producedy for SRI by Patrick Linder.

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