Tag Archives: Ludwig Van Beethoven

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.