Tag Archives: Ludwig Van Beethoven

Esa-Pekka Salonen & SF Symphony: Explore, Disrupt, Create

The San Francisco Symphony’s audience had an exciting encounter with Music Director Designate Esa-Pekka Salonen on Thursday, February 27. The program included Beethoven’s Overture to King Stephen, Opus 117 (1811); Salonen’s own Violin Concerto (2009); Carl Nielsen’s Symphony No. 5, Opus 50 (1922). Repeated on the 28th and 29th, the program presented three big works each of which had muscular qualities that shook up classical expectations.

Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770-1827)

Beethoven wrote Overture to King Stephen for a play by a German playwright, August von Kotzbue. The playwright was also a lawyer and journalist who was assassinated by a theology student who accused him of being a spy for the Russians. King Stephen is considered the founder of modern Hungary, late 10th to early 11th century. The reader may be excused if unfamiliar with the play; it is known mostly for what Beethoven created for it. It is an unusual piece of music. There are dramatic, long rests. There are themes that grow from Hungarian dances. There is intriguing syncopation, a rhythmic motivation for Hungarian dance. In addition to being completely different all on its own, Overture to King Stephen, written more than ten years before the Ninth Symphony, seems to offer musical predictions of what will come. There is even a theme suggestive of the Ode to Joy.  Like the other selections on the program and befitting for the Overture of a play, this work presents a sense of drama that captures the imagination.

Violinist Leila Josefowicz performs Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Violin Concerto with the San Francisco Symphony and Salonen conducting, February 27, 2020 at Davies Symphony Hall

Maestro Salonen composed his Violin Concerto for Ms Leila Josefowicz. A much honored artist, to say she is a dynamic performer is an understatement. The Concerto begins with nearly violent bowing which quickly repeats many times the same sounds. The qualities expressed by the work shift from orchestra section to section, sometimes led by the orchestra and sometimes by the violin, but the violin still dominates. In addition to being a master work for orchestra and soloist, it is an Olympic event of the physicality of making music. In its slow movement, the colors flow through the orchestra while a timpani insists on maintaining its beat. “I decided to cover as wide a range of expression as I could imagine over the four movements of the concerto: from the virtuosic and flashy to the aggressive and brutal, from the meditative and static to the nostalgic and autumnal,” says Esa-Pekka Salonen of his Violin Concerto. Surely its energy punches the music forward. There is a barely restrained explosion which is anticipated but still shocks with its sudden presence. Salonen’s Concerto is disruptive of form and style. Written for the classical orchestra, it takes the possible sounds, shakes them, steps out of line, and makes its own dance. It is not a shy, introspective dance. It is out there, in the open, daring but not especially caring if anyone else takes the dare. The San Francisco Symphony seemed to revel in it.

Carl Nielsen (1865-1931)

Danish composer Carl Nielsen began life in a large, poor family. He discovered music on his own at age three. He found that he could get different pitches from the sticks in the woodpile depending on their length and thickness. Throughout his life, he explored music from its most basic sources to the grandeur of his symphonies. A scholarship to the Copenhagen  Conservatory to study piano and violin began his understanding of music theory. He supported himself by performing violin and conducting in orchestras in the Tivoli Gardens, the Royal Chapel, the Royal Theater, Copenhagen Music Society, and Music Society Orchestra in Gothenburg, Sweden. His Symphony No. 5 is fantastically interesting and also dramatic. At first the music is anxious, and the anxiety is contagious to those who listen. The adagio is sensual and creamy. It is dangerous to get caught up in the adagio because the timpani will interrupt. In Nielsen’s symphonies there is a feeling of the confrontation of different poles, different energies combat for space. There may be a peace negotiation, but neither side will give in. A gift to his audience: after the changes of key alter our focus, the music rewards us by nodding, “yes.”

This was a triumphant program for both the SFS and its future Music Director. Watching them work together is thrilling.

Photo of San Francisco Symphony, Leila Josefowicz, Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting by Brandon Patoc, courtesy of the San Francisco Symphony.

Beethoven & Anne-Sophie Mutter: BRAVO! BRAVA!Part II

Violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter brought a full program of Beethoven chamber music to San Francisco’s Davies Symphony Hall, January 27. it was a stunning event which demonstrated that chamber music, in this case two trios and one quartet, is not something slight or limited in its musical character or expression. This music being all Beethoven, that thought should be underlined and in bold-face type. It was an enormously successful performance both in the artistry of the musicians and the thrills experienced by the audience.

Anne-Sophie Mutter

Among her good works, Ms Mutter is dedicated to the development of young artists. The three musicians who played with her in this performance all began their careers with the Anne-Sophie Mutter Foundation. These artists include: Vladimir Babeshko, violist; Daniel Muller-Schott, ‘cellist; Ye-Eun Choi, violinist. In addition to touring with Ms Mutter, each one appears independently with distinguished orchestras around the world as well as their extensive touring performances with Ms Mutter through Europe, the US, Asia, and South America. Together with Anne-Sophie Mutter they achieved the remarkable effect of becoming what Ms Muller describes as “this one huge string instrument in which to tackle the profoundly philosophical string trios [in E-Flat major, Opus 3 and in C minor, Opus 9, no. 3] and the Harp Quartet [Opus 74] by Beethoven.”

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

String Trio in C minor (Opus 9, no. 3), written 1796-98, is a forceful, tempestuous work which contrasts precise decorum with drama, dissonance, and defiance toward the conventional. Although early in his career, Beethoven is already Beethoven. A passionate, almost anxious expression emerges. Beethoven, central to the tradition of Western classical music, is always innovative and even seems to laugh musically at what his audience would expect serious music to be. His minor mode music shifts to a calm, quiet major mode to end the Trio in a whisper.

A special delight of chamber music is that the audience can easily watch the music move from instrument to instrument, see the rhythm overlapping or interrupting from one instrument to another, experience the force when they suddenly play together. The String Quartet in E-flat major, Opus 74, 1809, offered many opportunities to see the instruments run after one another, skip rhythms, and finally catch up to express a musical energy. The Quartet ends with a view of too-many-clowns-running-out-from-too-small-a-car which lifts this listener’s heart when Beethoven creates that event in his symphonies. This was a splendid performance of a piece with deep philosophy of both fear and joy.

String Trio in E-flat major, Opus 3, 1796, reminds the listener of the Classical world’s sounds that surrounded Beethoven as he moved into the physical and imaginary world of Mozart. Order and clarity are the rule. Beethoven was able to assimilate those values into his own deeply colored, sometimes wild, always Natural while thoroughly human world. Which is, of course how Mozart had created Mozart, assimilating what was into what he was, too. A favorite portion of the lengthy Trio for this listener was in the second Minuet when the violin soars into space while the others accompany with a steady, repetitive rhythm and sound. The Trio is clear and present Beauty.

The audience knew it was hearing music that had both beauty and meaning. We all stayed on our feet applauding. The musicians, after four curtain calls, relented and repeated the Scherzo of the first trio. The moment was rhapsodic. Ms Mutter will return June 4-6 to perform Beethoven’s Violin Concerto with the San Francisco Symphony with Michael Tilson Thomas conducting. She is one of the Artists-in-Residence for this Beethoven250 Birthday festival.

Fashion note:  As reported in Beethoven & Mutter, Part I, Ms Mutter is noted for her beauty as well as her trademark strapless gowns. For this chamber music performance, she kept the strapless concept but took a creative step. She appeared wearing pants fitted to the legs and a strapless top. The pants had black and silver designs. The top was a soft yellow color. Fitted close to the body, it had a short skirt beginning at the waist, divided on the sides, and extending just over the hips. She wore black shoes which had very high, narrow heels and appeared to have a platform under the metatarsal. Fantastic.

 

 

 

Beethoven & Anne-Sophie Mutter: Spectacular!, Part I

Anne-Sophie Mutter performed a recital of Beethoven Sonatas, January 26, and a chamber music concert of Beethoven Trios and a Quartet, January 27, at San Francisco’s Davies Symphony Hall. Two days of great music performed by great artists: proof that heaven can be here on earth.

Anne-Sophie Mutter, violinist, Lambert Okris, pianist

Ms Mutter was the main reason that Davies Hall was filled with avid fans. Those who did not know the pianist playing with her were in for an amazing treat. Mr. Okris is a superb, eye opening musician. He has performed with Ms Mutter for thirty years. He has also toured with Mstislav Rostropovich for more than eleven years. He performs as a guest artist with symphonies and specializes in both period instruments and contemporary works. The partnership of Ms Mutter and Mr. Okris lifts the character of their performance into the sublime. One could revert to out of date, show biz phrases and say there is no second banana here.

Anne-Sophie Mutter

The first of their three sonatas was Sonata for Piano and Violin No. 4 in A minor, Opus 23 (1801). It is a tightly focused, brilliant piece. The piano and violin have an interesting conversation, but each instrument has a mind of its own. The program note by James M. Keller refers to it as “repartee.” It is the kind of repartee one might expect from Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy: not when they are cooing, but when they are lawyers on different sides of a case. Sharp and bright, the rhythms are surprising, always something unexpected. There was something new around each corner, and it had more corners than easy curves. Intricate and challenging, it was a complete delight.

Lambert Okris

Sonata for Piano and Violin No. 5 in F major, Opus 24, “Spring,” (1801) was fresh, bigger, very different from Opus 23. Beethoven seems to give himself more room to develop the innovative presentation of this sonata. The violin and piano are equals but it is the violin that takes the lead. While Beethoven did not give this sonata its nickname, “Spring,” it is fitting. The music suggests the weather is just right for an amble through the arboretum. We are pleased by the new leaves and early blooms which open us to nature as they open themselves to life. We do not hurry even though we want to see it all. The Scherzo shows the piano and violin meeting, deciding to dance together but not quite together until they whirl around in the middle of the movement. Closing with a Rondo, this sonata is all warmth and smiles, and was played above the artistic heights.

The Kreutzer sonata, Sonata for Piano and Violin in A major, Opus 47 (1802-03) is twice so long as either Opus 23 or Opus 24. It is symphonic in its breadth and power. The two instruments were able to reach the effects one might imagine only coming from a full orchestra. Beethoven makes the music run full tilt and stop suddenly. He plays with breath and rhythm, always challenging what the human heart and mind can do. Imagine a great ballet dancer leaping, spinning in air, and, in mid-spin, suddenly stopped. Body and mind are suspended. Just as suddenly as the pause began, an apparently reckless, headlong race begins again.

It was a privilege to be in the audience for this performance. This writer had known about Anne-Sophie Mutter, and this was our first time to hear her live. She is an extraordinary artist, full of power and grace. Beethoven & Anne-Sophie Mutter, Part II, appears in the next post.

Ms Mutter and Mr. Orkris satisfied the applauding, bravo-ing crowd with an encore. It was a selection by John Williams from the movie, Cinderella Liberty. Her latest recording is Across the Stars with adaptations of his movie scores made for her by Williams.

P.S. A fashion note: Through her career, Ms Mutter has been known for her beauty and her trademark strapless gowns. Her appearance in this recital did not disappoint. She wore a gown which could be every woman’s dream. Strapless, it had a full skirt which puffed away from her body. The skirt alternated matte black panels with panels which seemed to be laid over that matte silk. These were darker black, maybe velvet, maybe lace, with charming designs, maybe appliques, going up and down. A black ribbon around her waist was tied in a bow in the back. Her strapless bodice repeated the black and lace theme and appeared to be a layer over the base of the bodice. It had what I remember as a black lace ruffle at the top. I remember very long ago reading a review of a pianist. The writer criticized her for what she wore. I thought then and still think now that was a terrible thing to do. I believe commenting on a musician’s appearance is a dreadful faux pas. However, Ms Mutter and that dress defy the rule.

 

 

San Francisco Symphony, Sibelius, Beethoven, Widmann: BREATHTAKING

Conductor Dima Slobodeniouk        It is a day and a half since we attended the stunning matinee performance, January 23, 2020, of the San Francisco Symphony  with violinist Sergey Khachatryan and conductor Dima Slobodeniouk. We are still breathless. The SF Symphony, always outstanding, truly played above any symphonic group could in a normal world. The musicians seemed to rally together and just go up into the music. The program selections, an astounding conductor, a soloist who plays like an angel: it was an inspired performance which inspired the whole audience.

Jorg Widmann, composer, conductor, clarinetist

The program opened with Con Brio, by contemporary composer, Jorg Widmann. It was totally original, a delight. The conductor, Dima Slobodeniouk, made comments which contributed greatly to the audience’s enjoyment. He advised us to imagine a page of music. Then, see it torn into many pieces. Think of it arranged as the pieces fell. That is the composition of it. While it may also be true, as the program note informed us, that it reflects the composer’s devotion to Beethoven, that is not so obvious. Widmann has found ways to make the symphony instruments make sounds which are not mechanical or electronic but fascinating. There are whooshes. There are residual sounds which might have gotten brushed aside and then picked up again. Rapid clicking and tapping notes seem to be falling downhill, maybe falling off of a music stand. The basses become percussion. The most musical music comes from the trumpets. The sounds make a curling shape. The absence of sound creates suspense. There is an odd matter of rhythm in the opposition of sounds from one section of the orchestra to another. It is running, accelerating and then running down. The woodwinds announce butterflies. We hear air coming out of tires. The mysterious sound of light; it is over.

Violinist Sergey Khachatryan

In the program note by Michael Steinberg, the late, very great music writer, he describes Sibelius’s desire to be a virtuoso violinist and his failure to achieve that dream. Sergey Khachatryan is the violinist Sibelius yearned to become. With the SFS, he performed Sibelius’s Violin Concerto in D minor, Opus 47 (written 1902-1905). This is a huge masterwork. Khachatryan plays it as though the music lives through every fiber of him. If it is true that this concerto was written to embody the violin’s possibilities and Sibelius’s grief at losing the experience of playing at the height of the music the violin could achieve, it also expresses what music can be; the desperate struggles and love of every human journey. I have heard this work in recordings. This performance – as is true of the performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 – demonstrated how much more there is in the experience of being there as the music is performed live. I am sure I heard notes that I missed hearing a recording. The great overlaying of rhythms in new dimensions of time which also created physical space between the sounds and between the instruments was eye and ear awakening. The concerto demands the violinist play as a soloist for much of the work. Khachatryan is a charismatic stage presence whose playing of this fiendishly difficult work is nothing less than angelic. Although I have reflected on the superiority of being there while the music happens, I will still search for the recording of Sergey Khachatryan performing this concerto with the Sinfonia Varsovia to try to recreate this experience. Readers, you might do that, too.

Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770-1827)

This year is the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth. The San Francisco Symphony is honoring the great artist whose work is at the center of Western civilization with multiple programs of his works. Symphony No. 7 in A major, Opus 92, (written 1811-1812) is grand, enormous, and seems to encompass the world. There is not a phrase that is slow. It goes from grandeur to energy to harmonies one might wish to stop to hear again. And again. In fact, in its premiere concerts, the audiences demanded the second movement encored right then. Familiar though one might think it is, it is powered by the creation of new rhythmic patterns, new melodies, daring repetitions, even a creative use of “off key” sounds.  When this explosive beauty comes to an end, it is impossible to believe that the energy has gone. The edifice structured with intense care soars with rhythmic force. The last movement lives fast and loose, a herd of wild horses on the plains. It left me and the entire, packed to the ceiling audience out of breath, cheering the SF Symphony and Slobodeniouk, lifted up out of their chairs by the extraordinary force of music, something physical we felt but could not see or touch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

San Francisco Symphony Presents Triumphant Beethoven’s 9th

San Francisco Symphony’s Music Director, Michael Tilson Thomas, led the SF Symphony in a dramatic, exultant performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, November 24, 2018. The program opened with Seven Early Songs by Alban Berg. Overall, the experience left the audience on its feet cheering and seemingly not sure what to do next. Leaving appeared to be out of the question. Soaring above the chairs was much more likely.

  Alban Berg     Berg’s Seven Early Songs were written between 1905 and 1908 to be sung with piano. The orchestral score was not published until 1969. The songs are lovely, lyrical pieces set to the poems of seven poets. There are glimmering moments reflecting the natural world and Romantic reveries. The music has delicacy even as the songs express personal longing. Although the composer’s name can make some listeners apprehensive, in these songs Berg was not in his dissonant realm.

The soloist, soprano Susanna Phillips has a clear, charming voice which was the perfect match for the music and the poetry. Good news: the performances of Berg’s Seven Early Songs were recorded for SFS Media.

Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (written 1822-1824) is great, enormous, gorgeous, heart-rending, uplifting. It is a grand, musical summation of what’s good about Western Civilization. It celebrates the values of brotherhood, unity among differences, equality, freedom, joy in life. It lifts the top of one’s head off and cheers the heart. The SFS performance was splendid, capturing the mystery as well as the expansive energy of life. Performing with the SFS were the SF Symphony Chorus and four soloist singers. These do not join in until the Finale. All were excellent: soprano Susanna Phillips (pictured above),

(L to R): mezzo soprano Kelley O’Connor, tenor Nicholas Phan, bass baritone Davone Tine.

The giant, first movement is mysterious, disruptive, anxiety provoking. There is struggle and fear, but there is also a persistent forward motion that pushes the soul of the music onward. The Adagio has a loving expression; it is a tide pulling us–sometimes unwilling, sometimes just tired–by our hope and care. And then, the Finale. The Ode to Joy sings out as though our hearts will burst with hope for our highest selves to prevail through love and simple but ecstatic joy in friendship and living. At the end, the music speeds up, scampers, runs and jumps like an endless number of clowns happily tumbling out of a tiny car. I think that might be us: salamanders, penguins, humans; the jumble of life being alive.

The hopes that are vaunted in the Ninth are the same ones dashed when Napoleon crowned himself Emperor. Beethoven removed the dedication to Napoleon from his Third Symphony, the Eroica (written 1803-1804). It is a tribute to Beethoven’s dedication to these values that, now deaf, he still celebrated them with music from his heart and every fiber of his being. If he could keep his vision alive in terrible times, can his audience hesitate?

The performances of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and the performances of Michael Tilson Thomas’ From the Diary of Anne Frank the week before were programming to honor the 70th anniversary of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

 

 

Israel Philharmonic in San Francisco: Bardanashvili, Ravel, Beethoven

The Israel Philharmonic, Zubin Metha conducting, performed at Davies Symphony Hall, November 8. The concert presented challenging music with excellent results: A Journey to the End of the Millenium, by Josef Bardanashvili; La Valse, by Maurice Ravel; Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major, Opus 55, Eroica, by Ludwig van Beethoven.

bardanashviliThis writer confesses to trying to like music by contemporary composers and mostly not succeeding. A Journey to the End of the Millenium is an exception. The composer calls it a symphonic poem; it was inspired by Bardanashivli’s opera of the same name , but is not a suite from the opera. The music has a dramatic path which captures the listener’s emotions and attention. The opera asked, “What are the mores of society at the opening of the 21st century?” The symphonic poem takes a journey with a woman. About to die, she looks back to her wedding day in a marriage in which she will be the second wife. Bardanashvili draws from deep sources: Moroccan music, ancient Jewish music, classically beautiful music, abrupt sounds. It has a three dimensional texture, like a rich wall hanging made in ikat colors of rubies and lapis; it is sometimes knotty and sometimes silky smooth. Most of all it was interesting, original, full of musical ideas which reached into the imagination and plucked at one’s nerves. Josef Bardanashvili was born in Georgia and moved to Israel in 1995. He is the composer of operas, ballets, and symphonies, music for theater and film.

RavelRavel’s La Valse changed its character from 1906 to 1919. Ravel intended to write a piece titled Wien (Vienna) in appreciation of Johann Strauss. When World War I began, the composer had not finished it, and his world was not the same. Diaghilev, the ballet impresario, commissioned the composer to complete La Valse. They had had success with Daphnis et Chloe for the Ballets Russes, but Diaghilev rejected La Valse, ending the partnership. The music is violent. One can visualize waltzing couples circling the dance floor, the brilliant chandeliers, the colors of the gowns becoming a blur as they spin faster. Ravel wrote a note for the music which suggests the scene at “An imperial court, about 1855.” Perhaps 1855 signifies a time of the old order, the time before civilization spun out of control and stopped looking like “civilization.” La Valse premiered in 1920. It sounds modern. It is recognizable as a waltz, but it is turbulent and frightening, a refusal of all the grace, ease, and pleasure that a waltz could incorporate. This may have been the best performance of La Valse that The Hedgehog has heard.

14708And then, the Eroica. Beethoven conducted the first public performance in 1805. On his own, Beethoven over turned the music world’s old order. Symphony No. 3 announced that music could not be the same as before Beethoven. It is bigger than previous symphonies both in its length and the universe it encompasses. It is grander, more powerful and accomplishes more revolutions than those enforced by Napoleon Bonaparte to whom Beethoven had originally meant to dedicate the work. Napoleon declared himself Emperor. Beethoven, yearning for a leader who would make the rights of man the basis of government, was furious at the betrayal. Beethoven changed his mind back and forth on the dedication to Napoleon, but left the name off the final manuscript. This article is being written on Veterans Day. The second movement, Marcia funebre: Adagio assai/Funeral March, is not to celebrate one Great Man. It commemorates each individual whose life was diminished or finished by war. It was played at Mendelssohn’s funeral, another great life lost. Beethoven introduces the lively boldness of heroes, the painful waste of their loss. The rights of man belong to every one; the Eroica is for every individual. Through the individual, Beethoven knows he reaches all humanity. The Eroica ends with a “YES,” Finale: Allegro molto. Having fought his way through loss and pain, the human is still himself and that is the human victory. The Israel Philharmonic and Maestro Mehta presented the Eroica with the musical integrity and passion it requires.

ZMehtaZubin Mehta, much honored conductor and music director of orchestras around the world, has been with the Israel Philharmonic since 1969. Since 1981 he has had the title, Music Director for Life. The very good news is that he is as handsome and charismatic as ever.