“Don’t only practice your art. But force your way into its secrets. For it and knowledge can raise Man to the Divine.”—Ludwig van Beethoven
Launching a new blog the same week as conducting Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is either a grand idea or a really nutty. But, once the conductor gives the preparatory beat what follows is music (well, hopefully…)
I’ve been thinking a lot about Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 lately. Good thing, since I am conducting it on Saturday. Performing masterpieces often does that to me. Also makes me grumpy at times—just ask my family. Beethoven’s Ninth is every bit the overwhelming monumental work it is reported to be. It has not gotten any less daunting since the first time I conducted it (this is my second outing–I’ve also played it a few times). But what makes it such an unrivaled masterpiece? And why is it approached and programmed with more care than almost any other work?
The answer lies in the entire package. It’s not the meaning of the text, the difficulty of the score or any esoteric agenda in the notes that make it any more challenging than any other piece. It’s the combination of all those, and more: a case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. Beethoven wrote the perfect piece. His message is clear. And it is a test to express it.
So, this new blog is an attempt to elucidate the “Space Between the Notes.” (Thanks to Claude Debussy for that quote). In Beethoven, and especially the Ninth, that space is very personal, yet also universal within all of us. There is not a single wasted marking or extra note in the score. Every indication has meaning and needs to be played with care and purpose. And when we do this we discover what resides between those notes—our true self, the essence of our humanity. We are laid bare by this music. Every emotion, fear, memory, and hope is embodied and transformed in this work. Beethoven, living a very personal life of suffering, chose hope over despair, possibility over resignation. The music demands the musician to do the same. The music invites both the audience and musician to imagine the possibilities, to join the boundless future for all mankind. Together we realize it is our own destiny as well.
Too deep for you? Well, it’s also one hell of a ride if you like soaring melody, intimate expression, engaging rhythms and inspired counterpoint. So whatever floats your boat about the piece, come check it out. Libby Gardner Hall, 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 17th with the Salt Lake Symphony and the Utah Voices. Some great soloists, too: Jennifer Larsen, soprano; Kirsten Gunlogson, mezzo; Robert Breault, tenor; and Steve Meredith, bass.
And if that weren’t enough, we open the program with the Gloria from the Missa Solemnis. But that is another story…
Copyright, 2012. Robert Baldwin