The Pocket Philharmonic Orchestra

This Munich-based ensemble is

the “Smallest Symphony Orchestra in the World”

The Pocket Philharmonic Orchestra

Die Taschenphilharmonie, Germany

It calls itself the smallest symphony orchestra in the world. Founded in 2005, the Pocket Philharmonic (Die Taschenphilharmonie) is quickly making a name for itself not only in Munich’s busy classical music scene but in whole Germany. In 2005, Peter Stangel, a former classical opera and symphonic conductor, founded the Pocket Philharmonic. He wanted to create a unique kind of a symphony orchestra that offered a fresh approach to enjoying classical music performances.

Similar to highly positive press feedback since its start in 2005, the CD releases of the Pocket Philharmonic have been praised widely outside Germany. Critics and concertgoers alike seem to be agreeing with Stangel that “Less is more”.

What is the Pocket Philharmonic?

The Pocket Philharmonic is made up of just 12 to 19 highly professional musicians. Usually the ensemble plays only one of each instrument (e.g. flute, oboe, clarinet, basoon, horn, harp, percussion and string quintet). This tiny group stands in stark contrast to a full symphony orchestra, which typically includes about 100 players. Astonishingly enough, the “mighty dozen“ is able to produce a volume and colours of much more than the real number of players suggests.

Why the Pocket Philharmonic?

One of the aims of the Pocket Philharmonic is to bring the music closer to listeners. With such a small ensemble before its eyes, the audience is able to see each musician and hear each instrument clearly. Each note becomes important, and listeners hear things that can be drowned out in a large orchestra.

Another unique feature of the Pocket Philharmonic is the brief lectures given during each performance by the conductor Peter Stangel. Both informative and entertaining, Stangel comments on composers, the pieces, and his interpretation of them. The conductor’s philosophy is: “If you know more, you hear more”.

Stangel and his musicians also make their music accessible to children. The Philharmonic regularly holds family concerts in Munich (some free of charge), with Stangel explaining the instruments and basic concepts of music to his young audience. A large edition containing 13 CDs was recently nominated for the “Echo Classical Award“, won various prices and is highly acclaimed. Meanwhile the Pocket Philharmonic has released their 22nd programme for children.

Founder and Conductor Peter Stangel

Stangel was born in 1964 in what is now the Czech Republic, and was raised in Hannover, Germany. In 1989 he completed a degree in music at the University of Music in Wuerzburg, Germany.


He spent the next 15 years working as a coach, staff conductor and guest conductor of a number of operas in Europe, including Opera St. Gallen, Switzerland; Opera Innsbruck, Austria; and the State Opera House in Munich. He was nominated the “Best Conductor” in the “Opera World International” 2000.

From 1999 to 2002, Stangel was the musical director and chief conductor of the Max Bruch Philharmonic Orchestra and the Theater of Nordhausen, Germany. In 2003, Stangel began to plan the establishment of the Pocket Philharmonic. He is also successful as a composer (e.g. “Dribbling”, “Cabaret Voltaire”) and is currently writing a book on classical music.

A SELECTION OF PROGRAMMES

Adventure for the Ears

A series of six annual concerts held at the Court Church of All Saints (Allerheiligen Hofkirche) in Munich. Each concert contrasts the works of two composers who either complement or differ broadly from one another. It includes both classical masterpieces as well as modern compositions. For example, an upcoming concert features Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll, a poetic and romantic piece, followed by Stravinsky’s Bach-inspired Dumbarton Oaks.

Great Music for Little Ears”

A series of 1-hour afternoon concerts for families. The orchestra plays such children’s classics as Saint-Saens’ Carnival of the Animals, Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker Suite and Schumann’s Kinderszenen.

Listener’s Academy

An educational collaboration between the Pocket Philharmonic, the Munich School for Continuing Education, and Munich’s University of Music and the Performing Arts. In six annual concerts, the orchestra presents major pieces of the Classical and Romantic Eras. The conductor Stangel discusses the piece, with the Philharmonic playing parts as illustration. The piece is then played through in its entirety.

Commentaries

The most successful new Mahler release considered here is a strange one of his strangest symphonies, the Seventh. It is a chamber music version – really! – performed by the wonderfully named Taschenphilharmonie (“Pocket Philharmonic”) and released under the Orchestra’s own label. …

This is a thoroughly convincing and simply wonderful reading of the Seventh, and one that showcases Mahler’s structural skills and instrumental balancing far better than do most full-orchestra versions of the symphony. Peter Stangel keeps the music flowing at just the right pace throughout, so the contrasts among the movements appear with greater clarity than usual. …

This is a must-have CD for Mahler lovers – although anyone not familiar with the Seventh would do better to avoid it until that familiarity has grown.

- Infodad.com Review on Mahler’s Symphony No. 7 (arr. Stangel)

… There’s no doubt that the Munich-based group … plays this arrangement of the symphony with intensity, commitment, some scrappiness, and more than a little bravado. … This arrangement makes the chamber elements in Mahler’s orchestration even more transparent, and gives the Taschenphilharmonie a stunning vehicle that other chamber orchestras can envy.

- AllMusic Review by Blair Sanderson 

Fanfare Magazine Review by Raymond Tuttle on Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 “Eroica” 

The musicianship on display here is terrific, and Stangel has a fine ear for timbre. Furthermore, he conducts the score excitingly.

The first movement is as brisk as any I’ve ever heard. (It would be difficult to get a full-sized orchestra to play the music this fast yet with comparable clarity.) … There are a few places in the symphony where one wants more heft than one receives here – at the climax of the first movement, for example. The relative dominance of wind instruments gives the score an air (literally, one might say) of Harmoniemusik, but in the “Eroica”, that’s not inappropriate. …

This is a lot of fun, and it will be the breeziest, brightest “Eroica” in your collection – a veritable cream puff instead of the customary beef stew.

Peter Stangel’s cut-down Mahler 7 is an unlikely triumph, the chief surprise being that the interpretation and playing are so convincing that you forget that you’re listening to an arrangement. … Crucially it never feels anaemic or undernourished, the orchestra’s 20 musicians playing with intoxicating zest. You’d expect the shadowy inner movements to thrive: horns and cowbells are magical in “Nachtmusik 1” and the eerie scherzo is brilliant. Best is a sublime “Andante amoroso”, with Stangel’s flowing tempo being exactly right.

 

The few moments of strain come in the vast outer movements, though they never spoil the fun. The “Allegro con fuoco” has a sublime soft centre, and the brash coda is thrilling. The baggy finale’s heroics inevitably sound a bit thin with just four players, but the spirit is there. I did miss the tubular bells; what extra percussion we do hear sounds a bit like a rattly bag of smashed crockery. But I cheered at the end: this is a Mahler performance, which will convert sceptics and make fans grin.

- TheArtDesk Review by Markus Seiber on Mahler’s Symphony No. 7 (arr. Stangel)

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