Goebbels: 25 Years of Surrogate Cities

Goebbels: 25 Years of Surrogate Cities

2019 marks the 25th Anniversary of Heiner Goebbels’ Surrogate Cities (1994), an interdisciplinary orchestral cycle for mezzo-soprano, speaker, sampler, and big orchestra, which premiered in Frankfurt in 1994. The project first began as a commission for a double anniversary: the 700th birthday of the city of Frankfurt and the 29th birthday of the Junge Deutsche Philharmonie, an undertaking that inspired Goebbels to create an urban metaphor out of the structure of an orchestra. 

Since its 1994 premiere, Surrogate Cities has been performed in many shapes and sizes, with or without community involvement, dancers, or special effects. Each of the seven movements can also be performed separately. Recent performances over the past few years include concerts at the Oper Wuppertal (2017), the KunstFestSpiele Herrenhausen in Hannover (2017), with the Taipei Symphony Orchestra in Taiwan (2018), and a 2018 performance put together by the Stadttheater Giessen in Germany, which additionally involved almost 250 school children as a part of the 50th anniversary of the Gießen-Ost school districts. 

Surrogate Cities (1993/94)  

for mezzo-soprano, speaker, sampler and big orchestra 
with texts by Paul Auster, Heiner Mueller, and Hugo Hamilton
I. D&C; II. In the Country of Last Things; III. Die Faust im Wappen; IV. Suite für Sampler und Orchester; V. Drei Horatier-Songs; VI. Die Städte und die Toten; VII. Surrogate
Duration: 90'
World premiere: Frankfurt, 31.8.1994

Photo of David Moss performing Heiner Goebbels 'Surrogate Cities' with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra
Performance of Surrogate Cities, Seattle Symphony 2019

Most recently in April, Surrogate Cities soloists Jocelyn B. Smith and David Moss travelled to Zagreb, Croatia to perform Goebbels’ piece with the Zagreb Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Jonathan Stockhammer. Less than two weeks later, they led two consecutive performances in the USA with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Ludovic Morlot. In June, they will be performing in Switzerland with the Basel Sinfonietta led by Baldur Brönnimann.

The latest Seattle Symphony performance even credits Goebbels as lighting designer, along with Norbert Ommer’s sound design. “Just using lighting, I have staged it as a scenic concert many times. However, this music does not really need any kind of illustration,” says Goebbels. The Seattle Symphony spotlight on the German composer also included a concert earlier in the week, featuring a world premiere of his Under Construction for large orchestra and sampler (2019). Commissioned by the orchestra, the latter was presented as a new section of the piece, becoming yet another mosaic tile in Goebbels’ “attempt to approach the phenomenon of the city from various sides, to tell stories of cities, expose oneself to them, observe them.”

Surrogate Cities is often performed as a concert performance, rather than a full production. In a 2014 interview with Ricordi, Goebbels explained that Surrogate Cities “is not really a stage work, but rather an orchestra cycle that has been staged and choreographed on various occasions.” Case in point in 2008, when the Berlin Philharmonic and Sir Simon Rattle presented Goebbel’s piece in Berlin’s vast Treptow Arena. Adding young schoolchildren and a dance company, the result was not only an interdisciplinary dance project but also a many-sided exploration of the arena’s industrial space. Watch the whole performance at the Digital Concert Hall for free here—or take a look at the trailer below.

Press quotes

"Goebbels’ Surrogate Cities has lost none of its power and relevancy. It’s as disturbing, probing, and soul-shaking as it undoubtedly was at its premiere." (Classical Voice America)
"Surrogate Cities casts its spell, provoking unexpected thoughts about the repertoire and suggesting the overlooked musicality of daily life." (memeteria)
"wonderfully intellectual and scenic" (
"an organizational strike of genius" (Opernwelt)
"It is barely possible to musically instill any more of a feeling of a city, of a factory than in Surrogate Cities." (Neue Presse)
"enables a new auditory experience for well-acquainted classical aficionados " (Gießener Anzeiger) 
"a palpable musical vital force" (nmz Magazin)
"a powerful collage(Hannoversche Allgemeine Zeitung)
"the machine-like, often pulsating with rhythm, essence of a city" (Westdeutsche Zeitung)
"facilitates a particularly low-key introduction to electronic culture." (Gießener Allgemeine Zeitung) 
"Goebbels presents such a sheer wealth of ideas in these 90 minutes that most colleagues wouldn’t even be able to achieve in 10 hours." (


Photo of Heiner Goebbels in panel at the Zagreb Music Biennale
Pre-concert talk with Heiner Goebbels, Music Biennale Zagreb 2019

Recent and upcoming performances

16.09; 01./14.10; 15.12.2017
Oper Wuppertal, Johannes Pell (cond.); Wuppertal (DE)

Ensemble Modern Orchestra, Ingo Metzmacher (cond.); Hannover (DE)

Stadttheater Gießen, Martin Spahr (cond.); Giessen (DE)

Taipei Symphony Orchestra, Peter Rundel (cond.); Taipei (TW)

Zagreb Philharmonic Orchestra, Jonathan Stockhammer (cond.); Zagreb (HR)

Seattle Symphony, Ludovic Marlot (cond.); Seattle (USA)

Basel Sinfonietta, Baldur Brönnimann (cond.); Basel (CH)

Photo of Heiner Goebbels with Jonathan Stockhammer after performance of 'Surrogate Cities' at the Zagreb Music Biennale
Performance of Surrogate Cities, Music Biennale Zagreb 2019

Score of "Surrogate" from Surrogate Cities

Take a look at the other movements here, or have a listen to the Junge Deutsche Philharmonie's recording of Surrogate Cities.

Photos: James Holt/Seattle Symphony, Matej Grgic