Beethoven & Tchaikovsky Performances: Review

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Beethoven: Introduction

The performance is of Beethoven’s ninth symphony in D Minor Op. 125. The symphony was performed at The Orchestra Hall at Symphony Center by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Chicago.  Riccardo Muti is the music director and the conductor of the symphony.  There are several choral soloists toward the end of the piece, but they are unnamed. This concert was performed only a few years ago, in 2015.

Description of Music

Beethoven’s ninth symphony is one of his most famous compositions.  It is broken up into four movements.  The Ode to Joy and a choral are near the end of the composition.  The music itself is very powerful and even mercurial.

One of the first things that an observer would notice is the very careful and also dramatic changes in volume.  The first movement is a very good example of this, and it prepares the listener for what is to come.  The first movement begins in virtual silence but eventually becomes very loud.  This disparity in volume happens in other parts of the concert as well, maybe most notably during the Ode to Joy, the theme of which begins in virtual silence followed by barely audible cellos, but as more and more strings join the volume increases steadily until it explodes.

The tempo is also something that sticks out.  For instance, the first two movements are up-tempo and the second movement has a sort of playfulness to it at times with different melodic lines between instruments augmented by rhythm.  But then in the third movement, everything is much slower.  This serves as a sort of bridge to the fourth movement where we find the Ode to Joy.  The Ode to Joy, aside from exploring a great range of volumes, also explores a range of tempos.

Description of Audience

One would find the audience to be very respectful and attentive.  Listening to the concert, one hears nothing but music when music is playing.  When the conductor is introduced (before the symphony begins) the crowd applauds, and they take their seats to listen.  There is not a noise from them for the next hour and a half, even between movements when there is silence while the musicians collect themselves and prepare for the next movement.  One might even expect applause at the end of movements since the music has resolved (for now) and it would be a “natural” time to applause, but the audience maintained strict attention.  At the end, however, there was boisterous applause from everyone.  The applause started with everyone sitting but it eventually became a standing ovation and it went on for at least three full minutes—the video ends before the applause does.  Clearly, the audience very much appreciated the skill, expertise, and practice that went into the arrangement and performance of this powerful symphony.

Description of Experience

I thought the performance was fantastic.  There was nothing about it that made it seem like “live” music.  That is how perfect everything was.  When there was silence, I had to re-check my monitor to make sure the video had not frozen or my browser had not crashed.  The attention to sound and to the ebbs and flows of the music was superb.  The symphony was powerful, emotional, thoughtful and thought provoking.  It was also a joy to watch, especially to watch the conductor who throughout the course of the performance matched his emotions to the music.  When he first took his position, his hair was very neatly combed and styled, but by the end, it was a happy mess.

Tchaikovsky: Introduction

This performance of Tchaikovsky's “The Nutcracker” was conducted by Yannick Nezet-Seguin.  It was performed by the Rotterdam Philharmonic orchestra at the De Doelen concert venue which is in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.  

Description of Music

The Nutcracker is structured somewhat differently from Beethoven’s ninth because it is actually the score to a ballet and was not initially intended to be a “standalone” piece of music.  It is broken into acts with scenes/tableaus within acts and numbers within the scenes.  The overall tone of the music fits with the Nutcracker story; it has a sort of fantastic and sometimes ethereal ambiance.  When listening to the music it is only natural to think of the ballet and the Nutcracker story.

During the first act, everything is very bright if not sometimes dramatic and even exhilarating.  There are simple melodies and the well-known Waltz of the snowflakes, with the tempo being usually fairly quick and upbeat.  Strings and horns during the first act seem to dominate. One of the more interesting parts of the first act is the wordless chorus which occurs toward the end and is sung by children.  This was something of an innovation and adds to the ethereal themes and drama of the whole piece as the act is coming to a close.

In the second act, there are a great many dance variations.  While themed together they each are distinguished nicely with different musical emphases and accompaniments.  They tend to instantiate different cultural expectations; the Chinese dance has more plucked strings and high pitched percussion compared to (for instance) the Arabian dance where there are mostly minor woodwinds and strings.  

Description of Audience

The audience is a little difficult to describe for this one since the videography tended to focus all but exclusively on the musicians.  The concert video begins when the concert begins as well, so there is no introduction where we can see the audience's reaction.  That said, the audience, on the whole, seems very attentive, respectful, and also excited.  Unlike the Beethoven symphony, the audience applauds between acts.  It is a little unclear why this is the case (when it wasn’t with the Beethoven symphony).  It could be an American/European difference, but it also could be a difference in the type of music being played.  Were the Nutcracker to be played in its full (ballet) form it is perfectly conceivable that between acts there would be applauses, while less conceivable for this to happen for a symphony.  At the end of the performance, the audience applauded as well, although the video cuts out fairly quickly after the end and we cannot tell if the ovation became standing, although it was certainly excited and enthusiastic.

Description of Experience

On the whole, I enjoyed the Beethoven symphony more, except for one thing.  The conductor of The Nutcracker was thoroughly infatuated with the whole performance and regularly grinning from ear to ear.  This was very enjoyable to watch, and it was clear that he could not be any happier if he tried.  The musicians also seemed to be somewhat more excited than the other performance.  All in all, it was a very joyful performance.

Works Cited

“Beethoven 9 - Chicago Symphony Orchestra - Riccardo Muti.” [video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rOjHhS5MtvA

“Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker - Rotterdams Philharmonisch Orkest - Complete concert in HD.” [video file].  Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tk5Uturacx8