Thursday, May 21, 2009

Beethoven's Seventh Symphony

At the conclusion of the Hartford Symphony's performance of Beethoven's majestic Symphony no. 7, I held up four fingers for the orchestra to see. I had not done this after four consecutive performances of Beethoven's Fourth Symphony earlier in the season, nor had I done it after four performances of the mighty Eroica , which is longer than the Seventh.

When I held up my fingers, I mouthed the words, 'we did it four times. . . FOUR TIMES!' One player within earshot cracked back to me, 'let's do it four more times.'

My reason for such a display? I will give a hint first. . .

During my pre-concert talk earlier that week (joined by the young gifted musician, Joseph Henaris), I mentioned that the 2nd movement had to be encored at the 1813 premiere. The audience would not let Beethoven continue with the third movement until he repeated the 2nd movement! And in some history circles, there is the belief that Beethoven had to play it a third time.

Well, later that evening, after we did the Allegretto, a number of people in the balcony applauded. It sounded a bit forced, not very spontaneous; the brief clapping probably would not have occured had Joseph and I not mentioned the encores demanded at the premiere. But I felt compelled to address the moment, telling the audience "this is really hard work, and we need to keep going . . . if you want to hear it again, please come back tomorrow night!"

And therein lies the answer -- playing/conducting Beethoven's Symphony no. 7 is completely exhausting, like a half-marathon. Most works have a moment here or there where one can physically dial-it-down, if not mentally. (After a concert, my head is totally spent no matter what the physical requirements may be.)

Wagner knew what he was talking about when he called this piece the 'Apotheosis of the Dance.' Once you get on the dance floor, there's no leaving it until the jig is done.

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