Yesterday, on a perfect day – sunny, absolutely blue sky, and pleasantly cool – I did another trip up to Tanglewood to listen to the Philadelphia Orchestra under its music director Christoph Eschenbach playing Beethoven (The Creatures of Prometheus, Op. 43, Ballet Music and Symphony No. 8 in F major); and Tchaikovsky's Symphony. No. 5 in E minor.
It was loud! I'm kidding … It was a great performance. After a nice and briskly played Prometheus, we got to the meat with Beethoven's Symphony No. 8, which is somewhat of a tour de force of exuberance, jests and jokes. I found some online program notes.
Tchaikovsky's No. 5 was an absolute contrast in its dark beauty. There were lengthy program notes by Michael Steinberg, the author (with Larry Rothe) of For the Love of Music: Invitations to Listening, which allowed one to follow the music very closely and truly understand it. Here is a similar but shorter annotation. Both writers refer to the composer's outlining of a scenario for the first movement:
Introduction. Complete resignation before Fate, or, which is the same, before the inscrutable predestination of Providence. Allegro. (I) Murmurs, doubts, plains, reproaches against XXX . . . (II) Shall I throw myself in the embrace of faith?
This may or may not refer to Tchaikovsky's struggle with his homosexuality. Steinberg calls it the “Fate” theme, which indeed as a theme runs through the entire symphony. It was a powerful performance by the Philadelphia whom I have never seen and heard live. I found, however, at times the mannerism of the conductor distracting and ignored him and just listened to the music. It reminded me of Hans Graf 's recent talk during which he commented that the older a conductor gets, the more he learns to gesture sparsely. Graf maintains that the main thing that controls the players are the eyes, and – slightly sarcastic: “…there are conductors who conduct for the audience, and then there are conductors who conduct for the orchestra.” Despite the extensive gestures of Mr. Eschenbach, the strings in the first movement of the Beethoven symphony were at times not totally clean. But that's quibbling, I thoroughly enjoyed the concert!
Also, I just got a Google alert: The New Yorker on Levine at Tanglewood and on the Carter opera (scroll down to last section). See my earlier post.