Boston Symphony Orchestra’s schedule of the complete cycle of Beethoven Symphonies at Symphony Hall has been updated to reflect conductor changes resulting from BSO Music Director James Levine’s recent surgery.
Maestro Levine will return to the BSO podium to lead the orchestra in a program of Beethoven’s Sixth and Seventh symphonies, October 30 and 31, 2009, followed by performances of Beethoven’s Eighth and Ninth symphonies, November 5-7, 2009. Mr. Levine, who was previously scheduled to lead the BSO in the complete cycle of Beethoven symphonies, October 22 – November 7, will be unable to lead the orchestra in the first two programs of the cycle due to the recuperation time needed following his surgery earlier this month for a herniated disc.
Filling in during Mr. Levine’s absence, Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos will lead the Boston Symphony Orchestra in the first program of the cycle, Oct. 22-24, 2009, which includes Symphonies Nos. 1 and 2 along with the ever-popular Symphony No. 5. BSO Assistant Conductor Julian Kuerti will lead the orchestra in the second program, Oct. 27 and 29, 2009, which includes the Symphony No. 3, Eroica, and Symphony No. 4. Music Director James Levine will also lead the orchestra in performances of Beethoven’s Sixth and Seventh symphonies at Carnegie Hall on Monday, November 2, 2009, as originally scheduled, repeating his Symphony Hall program of October 30 and 31, 2009.
With the Symphony Hall programs, October 22-November 7, the Boston Symphony Orchestra embarks on a history-making endeavor performing a concentrated cycle of the complete symphonies of Beethoven. This marks the first time the orchestra has scheduled such a project in back-to-back Symphony Hall subscription programs and offers Boston audiences a rare opportunity to experience the composer’s symphonic development.
Program 1 (Oct. 27 and 29) opens with Beethoven’s First Symphony, which seems to sum up the Classical symphonic style he learned from the music of Haydn and Mozart. Symphony No. 2, written just two years later, is one of the composer’s warmest and brightest works, and it departs from the earlier Classical style in a number of intriguing ways. The composer’s powerful Symphony No. 5, written over the space of four years and premiered in 1808, is deservedly one of the most recognizable works in all of classical music. From its unmistakable opening four-note motif, often attributed as “Fate knocking at the door,” the work reflects not only Beethoven’s torments and triumphs, but his indisputable genius.
Program 2 (Oct. 27 and 29) features Beethoven’s ground-breaking Symphony No. 3, Eroica, which marks the beginning of the composer’s “heroic” period as well as a turning point in music history. Inspired by Napoleon’s rise to power, it was originally titled “Bonaparte,” but Beethoven reportedly tore the title page in half and retitled the work upon learning Napoleon had arrogantly declared himself Emperor. In contrast to the dramatic tension of the Eroica, the Symphony No. 4 unfurls with a graceful exuberance.
Program 3 (Oct. 30 and 31) pairs two of the composer’s most lyrical symphonies. Nowhere is Beethoven’s abiding love of nature more vivid than in his Symphony No. 6, Pastoral, completed in 1808 around the same time he completed the tempestuous Symphony No. 5. One of the composer’s most popular works, unusually structured in five movements, the Pastoral remains enduringly fresh, with its vivid evocation of a day in the countryside. By the time Beethoven finished his popular Symphony No. 7 in 1812, he was in ill health and growing increasingly hard of hearing.
Yet according to reports, the work’s premiere under his baton in 1813 was one of his greatest triumphs. An audience favorite, the work evokes both stately elegance and sweeping exuberance. Wagner called it “the apotheosis of the dance.” James Levine and the BSO repeat this program at Carnegie Hall on November 2, 2009.
The final program of this historic overview features Beethoven’s final two symphonies, though written more than ten years apart. Program 4 (Nov. 5, 6, and 7) opens with the composer’s jovial, superbly crafted Symphony No. 8. Though Beethoven’s shortest symphony, the composer considered it one of his finest, and it was premiered in 1814. The titanic Symphony No. 9, one of the last pieces Beethoven wrote, was his longest and most ambitious work in the genre. It premiered in 1824, featuring a boldly unprecedented and imaginative use of chorus and vocal soloists in the work’s final movement, a thrilling setting of Schiller’s “Ode to Joy.” These performances feature the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, John Oliver, conductor, and soloists soprano Christine Brewer, contralto Meredith Arwady, tenor Matthew Polenzani, and bass-baritone Eike Wilm Schulte.