Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Beethoven's Eroica

The first full program I ever conducted was in July 1980. The program began with Stravinsky's Instrumental Miniatures, then Britten's Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings and, after intermission, Beethoven's Symphony no. 3.

I remember studying my Beethoven score on BART trains, on the bus, taking it everywhere with me. Now, in hindsight, I realize it was pretty nervy of me to conduct this magnum opus on my first concert.


That was nearly thirty years ago.
I've conducted the Eroica several times since then.
But having done it several times does not make it easier to perform.
[This would be, and is, true for most other works.]

But not for the Eroica.

Maybe it's because, after he wrote all nine of his symphonies, Beethoven said the Third Symphony was his favorite.

Maybe it's because, just as the Rite of Spring ushered in a new era in music in the 20th century, the Eroica was a turning point in the 19th.

Or maybe because it's just hard, period.

But what a piece.
What a piece!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

My father

It was a pleasant surprise to read Jeffrey Johnson's commnent in the Hartford Courant that I had programmed Copland's Our Town as a musical birthday card for my dad. Sometimes I do things unwittingly, or in this case, perhaps subconsciously. I have always liked this short work, based on AC's music to the film version of Thornton Wilder's play. But in the many times I have performed it over the years, only my first with the Florida Orchestra (in Tampa of all places, on this Super Bowl Sunday) had really captured the essence of the piece. Don't ask me why.

So, with this in mind, in preparation for an all-Copland concert last weekend, it occurred to me that doing a scene from Our Town might help to set the mood. It was not part of my planning that the performance would occur on my father's birthday, just days after he would die of congestive heart failure. But then Thornton Wilder's nephew contacted the symphony to tell the orchestra that doing a scene from Our Town would not be in accordance with the playwright's estate, which specifically states that excerpting from any of his works is not allowed. (In a very pleasant telephone conversation I had with Tappan Wilder, he told me he'd learned of our plans from a Google search!)

Too bad, because the scene we had rehearsed featured the wonderful young actress, Lauretta Pope, whose considerable acting skills were thus unfortunately not on display for our audiences to witness.

But all was not lost. Forced to punt, I instead spoke to the audience about my father (Edward II; I'm the IIIrd), who had played a scene from Our Town when he was a student at Oakland Technical High School, circa 1941. After telling this story, the Hartford Symphony musicians responded with a very heartfelt rendition of Copland's music.