Conductor: Ivan Fischer
Beethoven: Symphony No. 8 in F Major
Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 in D Minor
Laura Aikin: Soprano
Kelley O'Connor: Mezzo-Soprano
Matthew Rose: Bass
Robert Dean Smith: Tenor
Concert Chorale of New York
Being a classical music ambassador certainly has its own rewards, and my mission has been paying off handsomely lately as last week I successfully introduced my friend Vy An to major Russian composer Tchaikovsky, and last night I expectantly took my friend Christine to a mini-Beethoven marathon consisting of his symphonies No. 8 and No. 9, the latter being the goal of the expedition to the David Geffen Hall because I think that everybody should hear it at least once in their lives.
A seemingly required musical accompaniment to many landmark events in the world, whether the Berlin Wall is falling or Chinese citizens are protesting in Tiananmen Square, just to name a couple, Beethoven’s transcendental take on Schiller's “Ode to Joy”, the Ninth's universal claim to fame, never fails to rise and unite us all, if only for a fleeting moment.
And of course, we were happy to take the Eighth as well, especially since the performing ensemble would be the fabulous Budapest Festival Orchestra and his no less fabulous founder, music director and conductor Ivan Fischer, whose magic everybody should get to experience at least once in their lives. A lot of people obviously agreed and we all packed up the concert hall on this pleasantly mild Monday evening.
Among Beethoven's peerless set of symphonies, the Eighth does not particularly stand out, except, I guess, for the fact that it does not particularly stand out. But then again, when performed by outstanding musicians like the Budapest Festival Orchestra, it was a much welcome breath of fresh air and light-heartedness as well as an excellent prelude to the imposing grandeur of the Ninth.
As intermission was getting close to an end and people we getting back to their seats, I could not help but notice that there were no bleachers on the stage for the indispensable chorus. Now, Ivan Fischer is known – and beloved – not only for his prodigious talent as a music man, but also for his adventurous spirit when it comes to live performances. And sure enough, as the fourth movement got underway, inconspicuous-looking chorus members scattered among the audience sprang up from their seats according to the parts they had been assigned to in the irresistibly uplifting “Ode to Joy”. This ingenious idea physically unified performers and audience members for one of the most powerful hymns to freedom and brotherhood ever composed, and was an unarguable symbolic and musical success.
That said, the rest of the symphony was just as flawlessly executed, with an extremely tight and readily responsive orchestra, including some timpani downstage, a highly involved conductor and four assertive soloists. From the opening low chords to the triumphant finale, the tempo was kept at a rigorous, urgent pace, which the musicians has no trouble whatsoever keeping up with, never mind the treacherousness of the musical territory. Most importantly, all this potent energy did not prevent the pure beauty of the composition from gloriously coming through. Monday nights do not get any better than this.