What drives a composer to write music? A musician to perform? A conductor to lead? An audience to sit through two hours of music?
To be passionate about music is a beautiful thing.
As I sat through the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s concert this past weekend, I could not help but marvel at Emanuel Ax’s performance of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Concerto no. 4 in G Major. Though I was drawn to this famous musician’s skill, I was more captivated by his facial expression and body language. Ax seemed to be one with the music and the orchestra. His intensity, followed by his serene manner, brought life to the concerto.
Did he feel Beethoven’s emotions?
When Beethoven premiered the work himself in public on December 22, 1808 at the Vienna Theater-an-der-Wien, it was under less-than-ideal conditions. There was no heating system in the theater to combat the bitter cold; the orchestra was ill-rehearsed; and the concert lasted hours (four hours or more) since it also included the world premieres of his Fifth and Sixth Symphonies, Fantasia for Piano in C Minor (‘Choral Fantasia’), four movements from his Mass in C, and the soprano aria, Ah! Perfido. Yet, Beethoven was determined to push through these obstacles. Today, these particular works are well-known and adored.
Ax was indeed passionate about the piece. His ease with the piano and Beethoven, and clear love for the concerto, left the audience breathless. The audience was so moved, they applauded after the first movement!
Perhaps one of Mahler’s most popular pieces, this thrilling symphony is heavy at times, a little dark, with a bit of lyricism interwoven within its expressions. Think of a thunderstorm at night—the lightening is quick and distant, but the thunder slowly rolls in until it’s above you, then it finally moves away and you are left with an eerie quiet. Suddenly, without warning, the storm is above you again, more ferocious than before. A storm can be unpredictable and confusing, and “Titan” is a bit of that. The emotions of the symphony charge back and forth, and Spano awakened all of those feelings.
The third movement of the work is interesting because the familiar “Frère Jacques” (“Are you sleeping, Brother John?”) is highlighted throughout. Mahler chose this tune for the funeral march of the movement because he thought of the nursery rhyme as a rather tragic piece.
The brass (horns, trumpets, trombones, etc.), winds (flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, etc.) and percussion (timpani, bass drum, etc.) play a prominent roll in this symphony and always receive the loudest applause.
While Ax and Spano were a joy to watch, I realized it takes a certain kind of love not just to perform, but to share a musical experience with an audience. An audience that is passionate about the performance as the musicians themselves.
What about you? Was there a performer you admired or a performance that you found inspiring?
Next Emanuel Ax Performance:
Oct. 8 – 10, 2010
Beethoven’s Piano Concerto no. 4
Los Angeles Philharmonic