November 07, 2010
If there was ever a concert specifically designed for a classical music Newbie like me, than tonight’s was it. Discover Beethoven 7 was a lovely, enriching, and beautiful evening, and I ended up contracting a serious case of the ‘If Onlys.’ As I was driving away, I couldn’t help but think things like: ‘If Only LACO did more Discover concerts like this one’ and ‘If Only I was this informed about every piece that LACO performs.’ You see, Discover Beethoven 7 changed the way I listen to classical music, which is no easy feat. Take my hand – I’ll walk you through what the evening was like.
Discover Beethoven 7 was built around a single piece of music – Beethoven’s 7th symphony. The night began with conductor Carl St. Clair giving an introduction to the piece, in which he provided a back story on Beethoven himself, and how he wrote this symphony during a particularly tumultuous time in his life. There was some cultural back story as well – prior to this piece’s premiere in Vienna in 1813, Beethoven hadn’t been performed there in 5 years, ever since a disastrous-sounding concert that involved Beethoven yelling at the musicians and making them start a piece over from the beginning.
What was really informative was when St. Clair brought the audience into the world of the symphony, pointing out themes and melodies, effectively providing a road map on what to listen for in the piece. He highlighted Beethoven’s use of silence in the first movement, and his use of the same meter that Homer used in The Odyssey in the second movement. St. Clair called upon the LACO orchestra many times to preview these moments and motifs, with the musicians playing a few bars here and there to illustrate his points. My favorite demonstration involved the third movement, the scherzo: First, the Orchestra played the main theme in the style of the other composers of the day. Then, they played it as Beethoven had written it, showing exactly how ground-breaking Beethoven was.
When St. Clair finished his introduction, which lasted maybe 35 minutes, he conducted the Orchestra as they played the entire symphony from start to finish. The piece, by itself, is transfixing: it’s rich, layered, buoyant, and complex. What I loved most is that I felt like I understood it. I felt like I ‘got’ it. St. Clair effectively flicked a light switch in my head during the introduction, and now, I was hearing themes and instrumentation that I probably would have missed otherwise. I tell ya, classical music is beautiful on its own – but when you know the context and the details, it opens right up like a flower.
The evening didn’t end after the symphony was over. There was a Q&A session with St. Clair, concertmaster Margaret Batjer, and principal oboist Allan Vogel. They further shed light on Beethoven and this symphony, and were willing to discuss anything the audience was curious about.
Then there was a reception in honor of the new LACO Executive Director, Rachel Fine. I got to meet Rachel, chat with my LACO friends, and spend a little more time in the Ambassador Auditorium – a magnificent, stunning venue that I had never been to before, or even heard of, actually.
I’ll end by imploring LACO to do another Discover concert next season. Do it! I’m already counting down the days.