Monday, March 29, 2010

Beethoven's 7th

We heard Beethoven's 4th and 7th Symphonies last night at Alice Tully Hall played by the Budapest Festival Orchestra on modern instruments. Apparently, and this is confusing, the Beethoven Symphony Cycle we are attending is being done by two different orchestras, one group playing on period instruments (1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th, and 8th) and the other on modern instruments (4th, 6th, 7th, and 9th), but both conducted by the same man - Ivan Fisher. Anyway, it was very good. Not quite as transcendent as the 5th Symphony performed on period instruments that we heard the night before but still excellent.

Of all the Beethoven symphonies, I have a special affection for the 7th. First, it is a wonderful, life-affirming, consistently glorious work. Sometimes referred to as the Dance, it truly does move and skitter and sway and cavort like an elaborate, highly complex dance. Second, I have a vivid and very fond recollection of seeing the 7th Symphony performed by the Harvard University Orchestra back in around 1981, about the time my brother John was receiving his Ph.D. in physics from Harvard. We went to an evening performance of this symphony and the Harvard students played it beautifully. There was one young woman playing violin near the front of the orchestra who was particularly noteworthy however. Her visible enjoyment of the symphony was striking, and when the very fast and very vigorous 4th movement was reached and she, along with all the other violinists, had to play her instrument with tremendous speed and volume, her face broke into an incredibly broad and infectious smile that continued throughout the whole movement, even as the hairs on her bow began to shred and fray as if being slowly severed. I will never forget her face and her sheer love of playing. What an inspiration! And what a poignant reminder about the power of joy.

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