BSO's Summerfest opens with Beethoven's ninth


Nothing is sacred in music, including sacred music or music that seems spiritual. Even Beethoven's inspiring Symphony No. 9 (Choral), opening the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's Summerfest season tonight, was once rapped for its unorthodox choral ending.

Was Beethoven's vocal climax set to Schiller's poem "Ode to Joy" a mistake, a bad accident, a revolutionary gimmick or a stroke of genius? One Boston writer earlier in the century called the end "vocal hurry-scurry and shouting . . . assailing ears and nerves . . . (making the chorus) an irritated kennel." Though the 1824 Vienna premiere was a success, the writer was not alone.

But Wagner's verdict praising its "pure and lasting humanity" proved the popular and enduring one, not the least because the piece was revolutionary. The lengthy period of 11 years between the Symphony No. 8 and the choral symphony showed a changed Beethoven -- much in the way Verdi matured with "Otello" and "Falstaff," profiting from the 16 years since the opera "Aida."

Beethoven thought for years about No. 9. Just as the sophisticated "Falstaff" had no bang-bang arias of old, so Beethoven's symphony in D major showed subtleties unseen before. The music came some time before discernable melodies appeared and developed fully in the great choral finale. Other big instrumental/choral pieces followed Beethoven. An example is Mahler's Symphony No. 8, which the BSO performed last month.

Singing the song of gladness in tonight's 7:30 finale besides the BSO chorus are soprano Dominique Labelle, mezzo-soprano Victoria Livengood, tenor Jeffrey Thomas and baritone David Arnold. Pianist Jeffrey Kahane will perform Beethoven's Choral Fantasy for piano, chorus and orchestra.

The Summerfest schedule includes five concerts, all at 7:30 p.m., with outside dancing to live bands after the inside performance. Tickets are $12; box seats are $20. Call 783-8000. Samuel Barber's music is on all programs. The BSO records his music this fall.

Saturday: Soprano Karen Clift sings songs from Strauss' "Die Fledermaus" and Voices of Spring." David Zinman plays the violin. The BSO recalls Strauss waltzes and polkas and Zim Zemarel's band plays.

Tuesday: Pianist Claude Frank, his daughter, violinist Pamela Frank, and the BSO play Barber's Essay No. 2, and Beethoven's Romance No. 1 and 2 for violin and orchestra, Rondo in B Flat for Piano and Orchestra and Symphony No. 5. The Swing Central band plays outside.

July 18: Violinist Joshua Bell plays Beethoven's Violin Concerto and the BSO plays Symphony No. 1 and No. 8. Zim Zemarel's band accompanies dancers later.

July 24: Russian pianist Vladimir Feltsman plays Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4. Other selections are Beethoven's Symphony No. 3 and Barber's Essay No. 1. The Peabody Ragtime Ensemble performs outside. This program is repeated at Wolf Trap Farm Park in Vienna, Va., the next night at 8:15.

July 27: Pianist Nelson Freire plays Beethoven's Emperor Concerto (No. 5). Also set are Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 and Barber's "Music for a Scene From Shelley."

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