Sir Roger Norrington leads BSO in Beethoven’s Ninth at Tanglewood
August 25, 2002 performance, reviewed by Dave Conlin Read
Under the exuberant direction of Sir Roger Norrington, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Tanglewood Festival Chorus, and a quartet of vocal soloists closed the orchestra’s 2002 Tanglewood season with a truly joyful performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Opus 125.
This most familiar composition, so often used to commemorate solemn occasions around the world, today was given a mirthful reading appropriate to the true nature of the event – the culminating high point of an annual festival. It has been the Tanglewood finale each August since 1997, but made amazingly new by Norrington, including a re-ordering of the orchestra’s seating arrangement.
The setting outside was as splendid and brilliant as the sound coming from inside the Koussevitsky Shed, the opening of which in 1938 was memorialized with this same symphony. Over the bluegreen hills surrounding the Tanglewood campus, cumulous clouds slowly drifted along, moved by a generous breeze that was a boon to frisbee flingers but a bother to paper plate picnickers among the nearly 13,000 attendees.
Adding to the enjoyment of the performance was the fact that Norrington’s rendition clocked a mere 66 minutes, including an extra minute or two between the first and second movements to allow for the seating of scores of tardy people, way less than the usual 74 minutes, a standard that was used to set the maximum capacity of the compact disc when it was introduced twenty years ago.
(Phillips and Sony each name Beethoven’s Ninth as the ideal)
During that betwen-movements interval, the conductor gave an early indication that he had a special treat in store for us, when turning to face the audience, he leaned playfully for a moment against the podium with an expression of mock exasperation, looking more like a patient parent than an interrupted artist. There were more glances into the audience during the performance, even while his baton waved at the orchestra, and then a big wink just before a loud honking of the contrabassoon. A moment later, bass baritone Nathan Berg intoned Beethoven’s introduction to Schiller’s ode:
O friends, not these tones;
Rather, let us tune our voices
In more pleasant and more joyful song.
What followed was 17 minutes of the most exhilirating and powerful melding of voice and orchestra imaginable. Each of the soloist sang beautifully, (Christine Brewer, Jill Grove, Stanfod Olson, and Berg), but the most beautiful sound was that made by the 120 voices of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus.
Beethoven’s Ninth is a great sonic gift, bequeathed to mankind by a deaf man, the creation of which represents his refusal to yield to gloom. Instead of despairing, he returned to a passion from his youth, Schiller’s ecstatic folk song, and in defiance of the conventions of his art, made this new thing, a symphony wherein the voice is the crucial instrument, extolling sentiments that translate well to all people of good will. Hearty thanks to Maestro Norrington and all the musicians under his direction today, and all the others throughout the memorable Tanglewood 2002 season.