Cameron Carpenter in Tegel Süd
7 May 2020

Why Bach’s Goldberg Variations can be like first aid

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Concerts outside the city’s windows: as far as American organist Cameron Carpenter is concerned, Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Goldberg” Variations, an organ and a truck are just what are needed to give something back to his adopted home of Berlin in times of corona and restrictions. To the city in which he has lived since 2010 and which, in his own words, has allowed him to follow his own artistic path and to see this path as an opportunity.


Cameron Carpenter played over thirty spontaneously initiated concerts last week with the help of the charitable organisation Bürgerstiftung Berlin. Most of them took place in front of retirement homes, such as the Johannesstift or the Agaplesion Bethanien Diakonie, to give older Berliners in particular (and, therefore, those most severely affected by the restrictions) the courage to face life and moments of community. But Cameron Carpenter has also performed his 25-minute concerts in neighbourhoods and districts where many people live in high-rise buildings. He was also a guest in Tegel Süd in the Gewobag neighbourhood at Emstaler Platz.

When the truck pulls up at lunchtime, construction workers take a break to see what’s going on. Before that, they get coffee and a black and white cookie from the bakery on the square. A wildflower meadow is being created on the square, the seeds are planted, various flags are waving from balconies, parasols can also be seen and pine cones are lying on the meadow in front of the multi-storey buildings.

And then, Cameron Carpenter begins. Bach’s music makes the high-rise walls vibrate and people start to push their curtains aside. Children stop skateboarding, older ladies propped up on cushions watch from their windows, a package deliverer stops in front of the closed “Wraps & Burger” shop. They are amazed. It’s not every day you see an organ on Emstaler Platz and hear a classic open-air concert.

Cameron Carpenter is convinced that music can help and he felt the need to play his music live for people. This is important to him, especially with classical music. But playing with his organ on a truck is also a first for him. When asked why he chose Bach’s Goldberg Variations for his “Window Concert Tour”, he says that the composition is both logical and irregular at the same time. It is music that calms and builds trust. Regardless of whether you listen to Bach for an hour or ten minutes, the essence is always there, says Carpenter.

Cameron Carpenter at his Bach concert for residents at Emstaler Platz in Tegel-Süd.

For Carpenter, how important music can be, especially in such times of crisis, depends, of course, on each individual: “Music can create trust during particular times. Different music at different times for different people. But for me, Bach is the best choice when it comes to making music that helps. A kind of first-aid music,” he says and is already on his way to the next concert.

Photos © Johannes Schneeweiss