(image from the web)
Last weekend a friend of mine asked me when I was going to return from my Thanksgiving trip to Columbus. He said that the Cleveland Orchestra was going to perform Beethoven's Fifth this weekend. He told me that he had always wanted to hear that symphony in a live performance but that he didn't want to go to the concert alone. How could I refuse? Besides, I had never heard it in a live performance either. So I reserved two tickets for the Saturday night concert.
The opening movement of the Fifth Symphony is so familiar, and has been used and reworked in so many ways that it is... dare I say it... almost trite. But imagine the impact it must have had when it was new and unfamiliar to the audience's ears. The work premiered at a concert in Vienna on December 22nd and was conducted by the composer himself. The debut was not auspicious. The orchestra had not had time to thoroughly rehearse the piece, and at one point Beethoven had to stop the music and start over. In addition, the concert, which included eight works by the composer, was excessively long... over four hours long! And the concert hall was unheated and uncomfortably cold. The weary audience was probably eager to go home to their warm beds, and did not realize that they were the first to hear one of the great works of musical history. In subsequent performances, however, the symphony was quickly acclaimed as a masterpiece.
Our concert on Saturday night was not nearly that long, and the audience at Cleveland's Severance Hall was not shivering in their seats. And of course the world renowned Cleveland Orchestra was impeccably prepared.
The concert began with a piece by the 20th century, English composer Benjamin Britten. The Sinfonia da Requiem was written in 1939 on the brink of World War II. I had never heard this work before, and I found it quite interesting.
The concert continued with Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 23. I like Mozart, but, frankly, he is not my favorite composer. I find his music to be lovely and beautifully crafted, but always restrained. Mozart never gives me goose bumps. (I prefer the unrestrained emotion of a symphony by Mahler, Tchaikovsky or Sibelius. By the finale I sometimes experience what I jokingly refer to as a "musical orgasm". I have tears in my eyes, and I am short of breath.) The orchestra expertly performed the Mozart concerto, and the soloist, a young Russian pianist by the name of Daniil Trifonov is extremely talented. He played the work with such heart and soul that it was a pleasure to watch him. By the final movement with its familiar and lively theme I was tapping my foot. But, sorry, no goose bumps.
After intermission the concert concluded with Beethoven's Fifth. Our orchestra performed it superbly. And there is so much more than that famous first movement. The following movements are familiar but not that familiar. I was eagerly following how the themes developed. And then the finale... the joyous and rousing finale! Beethoven's Fifth may be an old warhorse, but it hasn't lost its power. And, yep, I had a "musical orgasm".