I have been looking forward to this concert. Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 8, Nos. 1-4, and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 in F major, Op. 68, “Pastoral”… two of my all time favorite pieces of classical music.
I’ve never heard Vivaldi performed live before. I can still remember the first time I remember hearing any part of it. It was a lightning-fast bit of violin played over, of all things, a jewelry commercial I saw on TV back in the 80s. 30 seconds was apparently all I needed to fall in love with this piece. If you’re curious, it’s from the 3rd movement of “Summer.” I think this might be where I discovered what a violin was, because I remember I could I identify it the first time I listened to Peter and the Wolf. To hear the Dallas Symphony Orchestra perform the entirety of The Four Seasons… priceless. You can hear the rain, the barking dog, the ice, the sun… magnificent!
Stravinsky once famously said that Vivaldi did not write 500 concerti; he wrote one concerto and rewrote it 499 times. Ouch. All respect to Stravinsky, but the man was either bitter, tone deaf, or just being a prima donna. I suspect the latter. To hear Vivaldi’s Four Seasons played by a master is to experience the full, sublime virtuosity of this music. That’s what we got from soloist Nathan Olson: sublime virtuosity. Indeed, that’s what we got from the entire orchestra. I don’t have any recording of this that’ll stand up to what I heard on that stage.
What was really cool, and I did not expect, was that our conductor for the evening, Matthew Halls, performed with the ensemble on the harpsichord. This is the very first time I’ve ever been up close to a harpsichord or have even seen one in action. Maybe that doesn’t impress you, but it’s not something I’ve ever thought about before. That’s one of the things about a live performance, that you can experience all of the instruments in their full glory, even better than you can in the best recordings, especially if you tune your ears to hear them as I do.
Beethoven’s 6th is where I fell in love with all things Beethoven. I remember first hearing his 5th, heavily mangled on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack that my mom had on 8-track cassette. To this day I still hate disco and the Bee Gees. But the tune transcended the format and stuck with me because… well, Beethoven. Even disco can’t kill the maestro. Beethoven’s 6th… I first heard this one in my youth thanks to Disney’s Fantasia. (Note: That’s also where I first heard Stravinsky, and it took a lot of years to appreciate his work.) I got to hear movements 3-5 of Beethoven’s 6th performed by the DSO late last year. Phenomenal concert, but sadly abridged. As I said in that post, it’s a far cry between the 1940 recording, no matter how much they re-master it due to the limitations of the original recording, and a live performance by a modern world class orchestra. This time… the full power of Beethoven, the full power of the DSO… what more can anyone ask?
It’s interesting to hear these pieces played back to back. On first glance, they’re completely different styles. But if you look closer, the pieces are nature based. We have the same expressions of birds, wind, sun, rain, etc., but from two very different composers working in two very different idioms. Ironically, both are known for their tempers, and yet the music says so much more about them. What’s truly interesting for me is that Beethoven is credited with the birth of musical heroism, and much of what I hear in Beethoven’s work can be heard in Vivaldi’s a hundred years before. It makes me think about how lucky we are to have it too. Vivaldi went into obscurity after his death, and it wasn’t until the 20th century when Bach scholarship took off that Vivaldi was rediscovered. Bach championed in the red priest and hand-copied much of his work, which is how we know it today. Thank you, Bach. From Vivaldi we get the concerto form as we best understand it, which was heavily influential in Bach and everyone that came after him.
With Beethoven… I know the story behind his first concert performance of the 6th (which opened the show!), which also included the 5th and a varied handful of other pieces. They scheduled the concert opposite some great yearly to-do that already dedicated the very best musicians in the area to that cause, so Beethoven’s orchestra was filled with the lessers and amateurs. And those musicians refused to rehearse with him. By all accounts, the evening was less than stellar in its performance. But… it was also the very last time Beethoven himself performed for the public, and it debuted two of the greatest symphonies ever written. I get chills thinking about it. Having now heard both the 5th and the 6th in the capable hands of the DSO, I use that as a reference, and I can’t comprehend anything less than the best, especially with Beethoven on that stage. It boggles the mind. All I know is that, having grown up in the country and appreciating the natural soundscape, I feel like Beethoven and I understand one another very well with his 6th, and if I were ever afforded the chance to time travel, that’s what I would tell him.
Sadly, the concert season comes to a close, and I have only one set of tickets remaining. But that’s in June for the music of John Williams. Because if anyone on this planet has earned my respect as much or maybe more than Beethoven, it’s Williams. The wait will be harsh, but the memories of these concerts will not fade for me, such is my love of the music. It’s been a wonderful experience. Thank you, DSO.