Conductor: Daniel Barenboim
Schoenberg: Five Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 16 (1909; arr. for orchestra 1949)
Boulez: Notations (1945; versions for orchestra 1978)
Beethoven: Symphony No 5 in C Minor, Op. 67
What an incredible weekend! After attending a fabulous Carmen at the Met on Saturday afternoon, I was finally back at Carnegie Hall yesterday for a very Viennese afternoon with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra performing Beethoven's ground-breaking 5th symphony with eminent conductor (among other distinguished talents) Daniel Barenboim. Only in New York! This symphony among symphonies was to be preceded by Schoenberg's Five Pieces for Orchestra and Boulez's Notations, but there was little doubt that the sold-out audience was there for the second part of the program. (Here again, the sign-holding unlucky souls outside the hall may have inspired pity, but not generosity, as everybody walked right past them into Carnegie Hall's lobby.)
Holding another very precious ticket for another very special event, not to mention finally being back at the hall for the first time this season, I had to treat myself. In lieu of my beloved Viennese pastries I had a beloved apricot pinwheel from my beloved Petrossian and did not let the pouring rain dampen my spirits. I was going to hear one of the world's most prestigious orchestras and conductors perform a truly timeless masterpiece at Carnegie Freaking Hall, so life was good...
The concert was wisely programmed so we had to go through the modern, challenging works before revelling into the grand tried-and-true symphony, a bit like having to eat our so-good-for-us vegetables before the luscious dessert. Not that I minded Schoenberg's smart exercice, I even enjoyed its wide range of sounds and rhythms. The pieces were very short, therefore hard to get into, but on the other hand, it also meant that the whole thing was over pretty quickly, which was not entirely bad.
I guess that at that point in the program, it actually made kind of sense to feature somebody who had written a essay entitled "Schoenberg is dead" with the open goal to shake things up a bit... or a lot. The guilty party, Pierre Boulez, did go on and composed progressive music, among many other music-related activities, and the Notations we heard yesterday for sure were complex (his love for mathematics may have had something to do with it) but kept pretty short as well. So all of it was very much bearable.
After all the theories, we finally got our reward when, after taking his place on the podium, maestro Barenboim immediately dove right into a ravishing interpretation of what may be Beethoven's most popular composition. The famed opening notes proudly resounded in all their dark glory, and it just went right uphill from there. The clarity of the sounds, the fluidity of the playing and the stunning unity of the whole orchestra gave the much often heard score yet a new life. This was no doubt a familiar territory trodden on many times by everybody on that stage, but they still expressed the sheer power and intrinsic beauty of the music as if they were on a holy mission. Mission accomplished: heaven was indeed reached.