And the Beethoven continues for South Bend Symphony Orchestra | Music
If things had gone as planned, the South Bend Symphony Orchestra would be close to completing its three-season cycle of Beethoven’s Nine Symphonies.
Instead, the pandemic struck in March 2020 and interrupted live performances for over a year.
Now the SBSO is preparing to resume the cycle two-thirds of the way with Saturday’s final concert of Symphony No. 8 in F major. The fifth follows two weeks later, while the ninth will have to wait for the 2022-23 season.
And just as this season of fast-paced, bi-weekly concerts represents a new start for the orchestra, the eighth brings SBSO Music Director Alastair Willis back to one of his debuts: it’s the first Beethoven symphony which he ever conducted, in 1992, when he was at university in England.
“For starters, it’s so cheerful and happy,” Willis says, “and that was at a point in his life when his life was anything but.”
The symphony comes “straight out the door with joy and energy,” he says, and rarely lets go – there is no slow movement, which was unprecedented at the time. “It is a mature and inspired masterpiece.”
With an average duration of around 26 minutes, it is perhaps one of Beethoven’s shortest symphonies, says Willis, but it is also one of the composer’s most fascinating.
Unfortunately, he’s sandwiched between the Seventh and Ninth Symphonies, which both eclipse him.
Willis therefore poses an intriguing hypothesis on the reputation of the Eighth: What if Beethoven had not composed the Ninth and it was his last symphony? How would the contemporary public see it then?
“It’s so inventive,” Willis says. “He’s trying so many cool things in this symphony.
In the fourth movement, in particular, “it plays with tones it didn’t have before and takes us on crazy tonal adventures,” Willis says. “The ending is bigger and more epic than anything we’ve seen before. It is as if he is reforming the symphony right in front of our ears. … If this was his last symphony, I think we would enjoy it more and play it more.
The concert, however, begins with “Reflections on a Memorial” by Quinn Mason, a 25-year-old American chosen by Willis as the concert’s “Living Beethoven”, a contemporary composer whose works, according to the conductor, could still be. interpreted. In 200 years.
The SBSO previously gave the world premiere of Mason’s “Passages of Joy” during his 2019 Martin Luther King Jr. Day concert and has a third work by him scheduled for the 2021-22 season.
“He’s very, very young but already remarkably mature,” Willis says. “I was struck by how he understands orchestral colors and how to reach a climax, which usually takes years. There is transparency. His music has a lightness and clarity that appeal to me and my ears. This please me a lot.
According to his website, Mason wrote “Thoughts on a Memorial” as a meditation that can be used to contemplate the death of any person or reflect on a tragic event.
“Of course, this is ‘Thoughts on a Memorial’, so there is a tragic element, but it’s not too sad,” Willis says. “It’s not like Barber’s Adagio. It is a piece of research. The highlight is enlightening. We can feel the light in the darkness. There is a lot of hope in this room, which we really need now.
Between Mason and Beethoven, the program features SBSO’s solo violin Brendan Shea as soloist in Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 3 in G major, which he wrote at the age of 19.
As with Beethoven for Willis, Mozart brings Shea back to his youth: it is the first concerto he has ever played throughout, at 7 or 8 years old.
“He’s a person who plays a lot younger and you guess it’s easy,” he said. “But then you go back to it, and like all Mozart, you find that it’s very difficult. You say, ‘I can’t believe I played this at 8.’ “
Mozart’s fourth and fifth violin concertos are perhaps his most famous, says Willis, but “the third has a charm,” especially the third movement, where Mozart “does some entertainment,” including to the beat of a song. gavotte dance.
“It’s as if Mozart said at 19 that I will always keep my listeners on their toes,” says the conductor. “It’s so much fun.”
A member of the Euclid Quartet, Shea also points out “an aside” in the third movement that Jameson whiskey used in its “Legend” TV commercial and in the movement’s rondo, which he says “looks like a minuet from 100 years ago. . . It feels like stepping back into another era. … You play Mozart, and all of a sudden we have wigs. How did we get here? “
When he and Willis discussed which concerto they should schedule for this concert, Shea said, he chose Mozart’s third as the most upbeat he could find.
“What would be the short concerto that I would like to hear for the first concert in a year?” he talks about his considerations. “The other would be Mendelssohn, but I think it’s Mozart. It’s spring. We hope we take a step forward as a country when it comes to live events. I thought there was no better concerto to return to live events.