View From a Height
Commentary from the Mile High City
Sunday, March 02, 2003
Last night, we attended the Colorado Symphony with some friends of ours. The program consisted of a suprisingly unoffensive Richard Strauss serenade, an unsurprisngly grating Strauss tone-poem, and Beethoven's 5th. The Strauss tone-poem was his Don Quixote, and we all agreed that we would rather have heard selections from Man of La Mancha. But the real concert was Ludwig.

While I spend a lot of time listening to classical music, I'm not traditionally a big symphony goer, figuring that it's primarily a listening, rather than a visual, experience. But seeing a symphony performed really is a different experience from hearing it on a CD. For one thing, the sound from different sections attracts your attention. While on TV, the camera does the work for you, at the hall, you get to swing round, seeing a physical interplay among the sections. I hadn't realized how much time the cellos spend carrying the main theme, or how much it was batted back and forth between the violins and the cellos. The fact that the oboe, who interrupts the storm for a moment of calm solo work, is placed spot-between the two sections also seems symbolic.

The opening 4 notes are a cliche, but the whole movement is phenomenal, and that rhythm repeats through all four movements, something I hadn't noticed before. And the oboe gets a little solo cadenza in each of the four movements, something that is also more apparent in concert than on CD.

The guest conductor, a hyper man named En Shao, pushed the tempo along at a gallop, which was a little new to me. Tempos seem to vary not only from conductor to conductor, but also from era to era. There was a time when the last of the first four notes would have been allowed to decay away before starting up. Here, it barely got played before the piece was off an running. I've also heard recordings from the 30s and 50s where the tempo within a movement was related to the volume - louder parts got played faster. I don't know what any of this means, except that we're probably not hearing whatever it was that Beethoven debuted.

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