brilliant boston baroque playing beethoven 9th

i’ve been in furious wrestling match with ribbon-like patterns in nordic seas the last 1.5 busy month, but at 6.30am friday morning victory was declared! just in time for boston baroque first night performance of beethoven 9th too (tomorrow is 2nd performance, i have tix, better seat even, yay!!).

so, beethoven 9th, on PERIOD instruments!! i in love 8 . that ENTIRE woodwind section, marry me. :-). upon hearing my raving in full anticipation the whole week, the hausmate also arrived last minute, and thus we had a very good discussion amongst us and a couple of ladies sitting near her seat. Not sure if i well versed enough to describe it, but 1 person sort of summarized it well: “i hear things i’ve never heard before in beethoven 9th!”, to which i can only say: “yes! because it’s on period instruments!!” Think i’ve got it sort of figured out now, all thanks to the near tear-inducing 3rd movement, in combo with Mahler’s “Das Lied von der Erde” at the BSO 2 weeks ago on modern orchestra.  Let’s start with 3rd movement. Actually, perhaps first  a discussion of the difference impression one gets between a modern and baroque flute. 2 weeks ago, Christianne Stotijn floored me with her expanded + emotion-filled version of Mahler song from the earth, but every time the flute came up (she and the flute duetted quite a bit together) i remember thinking wow it’s LOUD (quite overpowering Ms Stotijn’s voice).  If you can tolerate such a comparison, modern flute = Vesselina Kasarova in the 90’s and early 2000’s, it’s got this “ping” that overpowers and pierces the air. the baroque orchestra is VK’s sound now, it’s got this “humidity” or “heft” that stays warm and close to the ground. ok, i promise, i done comparing with VK. but yes, close to ground, quite bare, FULL of colors and textures. Back to the 3rd movement: first the woodwinds entered, followed by violin 2 taking the first amazing tune before passing the torch to violin 1 on the 2nd round of gorgeous tune. This is rather a personal thing, but i have always in the head this image of the vast grass land and rolling hills as the violins introduce the “wave” of notes (think Julie Andrews in sound of music image). This time, sitting right above the 2 first violinists in violin1 section (Christian Day Martinson and Lena Wong), it felt like the violins had laid bare, opened up showing glimpses of vulnerability on the inside, yet with perseverance… quite amazing and honest the sound. totally reminded me of this particular scene in Jane Eyre (before she starved and went begging).

zelah clarke, jane eyre, 1983

zelah clarke, jane eyre, 1983

Anyhow, that’s about summing up the experience really, i heard almost every single note! starting from the woodwind section in 1st movement. simply love. in fact almost didn’t quite notice the string section until the beloved 3rd movement. but now onto a few points in bullet format:

1) they’re playing again tomorrow (today, saturday, 9-nov-2013, at 8pm in Jordan Hall, you definitely should go if you’re in the area and are a lover of beethoven 9th or baroque orchestra…)

how does tempo get picked?

how does tempo get picked?

2) how does tempo get picked? since i can’t read music or understand musical notations… i’ll start with some wild guesses here. first, i guess it’s written on the score “allegro”, “andante”, “something con brio” and such.. so say maestro Harnoncourt wanted to express something, and thus he’d pick a tempo within some acceptable range that “andante” falls into? so the distribution of would be either gaussian, skew, bimodal? just curious because i sat there thinking the 2nd movement was a bit too fast and automatically fear the 3rd movement would follow the “generic slow” and stagnant trend… but much much to my delight, the tempo was JUST GREAT, the best i’ve heard, *best*. even my favorite YT version on period instrument took it a little too fast, while 90% of what i’ve heard is more on the much slower side… This one gave you just the right pendulum swinging feeling.

3) One of the 2 ladies i chatted with at the end mentioned this is the 2nd time she heard Beethoven’s symphony the way she had never heard before in term of details. First was Beethoven 7th 3 years ago. YES! i remembered that! was the year i visited boston for a conference and showed up at last minute on 50% discount tickets, gorgeous playing! They were in my charles river slideshow too. I think Boston Baroque should do that again: sell 50% off tickets 30min before the show. It’s ashamed such beautiful music is made to a hall with several rows of empty seats. I know they have discounts for seniors and students, but the overall reduction right before concert would benefit all i think. I might have been even able to grab several colleagues/friends along. Can’t complain about my tickets though, $22 thanks to Boston Art discounts since i was quick to snatch them 2 months ago.

4) I’ve been to quite a few Beethoven 9th and my impression is that (is it also true in europe? elsewhere?) in the US some people seem to know only _that_ famous tune and are not aware that it’s a 1.5hr symphony with so much more… i once had a very good discussion with my undergraduate advisor and can now confirm his point that at one time every single instrument on stage was playing: right before the end, exactly when the piccolo joined in (the only people not singing are the soloists).

5) A few weeks ago, i walked into a friend’s office and he was building a radio! radio_inside My eyes totally lit up of course! This was exactly how i discovered classical music with Beethoven 9th chorus! With absolute no background in music, the sort of “music” i know growing up involved some synthesizer producing some generic “tune” and “rhythm” and “piano-like” or “guitar-like” sound… all to the singing into microphone and amplifiers blasting all out of speakers… Then Beethoven 9th chorus arrived in the form of a cassette tape found in trash bin :-). _The_ tune was nice, but most importantly it was like someone opened a box and on the inside, here is your orchestra, this is how “sound” is produced, harmonized, pick a tempo you like, mix instruments A, B, C of your choice, find a written sheet of music (didn’t get as far as a composer concept…), and voila, here’s music! pure form, un-amplified, outside the black box. a great discovery at age 21. Like a true explorer, i investigated in detail the piece, movement by movement, phrase by phrase (all on hearing :-)), so, yes, i hear very well, everything, many many thanks boston baroque for putting this on their agenda this season! a standing O from me with bravi shouts.  1 more show tomorrow, woohooo.


About thả diều
writing-challenged opera-addict

9 Responses to brilliant boston baroque playing beethoven 9th

  1. jcmwee says:

    I love your excitement re B9 in period instrument and the radio building analogy Dr T. Wish I could hear the period instrument B9.

  2. stray says:

    I was at BSO War Requiem last night, so all in all a pretty good music night in Boston 🙂 Wish I could stay for tonight’s b9 😦

    • thả diều says:

      oh you can’t? why not? but it’s a long weekend! That must be the Tanglewood chorus singing Britten Requiem? how was it? and the sound? were you on balcony or ground level? I was searching which chorus was at B9 but didn’t find a name…

      • stray says:

        BSO road trip was a last minute Friday night hijacking. If I’d known earlier the b9 was happening too, I’d have found a way to work it in. [sigh] I’ll be back for the BEMF opera thing at NEC though.

        War Requiem was totally boss from Center Orchestra Row M.

  3. Eyesometric says:

    Of all the aspects of musical interpretation which engender argument and even animosity, it seems that tempo is top of the list! Some folks insist that there is a “correct” tempo which usually means their preferred tempo and they are keen to dismiss anything which is does not conform to exact parameters. If YouTube postings were several centuries ago duels would no doubt be fought. Another exciting and intriguing account Dr T – thank you.

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