“I realized that my job is to awaken possibility in others.”

Boston Philharmonic - Beethoven 9

Daniel Farber - The Jewish Advocate
Concert Reviews — March 24, 1983

Two weeks ago in this space, I predicted that the Boston Philharmonic performance of the Beethoven Ninth would not likely resemble any other known interpretation. Even assuming this beforehand, however, did not leave me prepared for assimilating what must, in fairness to everyone, be considered a brand new work.

By stubbornly adhering to all of Beethoven’s indicated metronome markings, including those which, for generations, have been considered by all “reasonable” musicians to be “wrong,” conductor Benjamin Zander and his superbly coached ensemble managed at least to suggest that all of their brilliant predecessors – names like Szell, Klemperer, Furtwaengler, Toscanini and Horenstein – might merely have been producing incredible performances of some other piece, “Opus 125A perhaps…”

…some concepts, like this one, so provocatively turn the world on its head that it is impossible to respond right away. Suffice it to say that I was kept too busy thinking to be moved by very much of what I heard, though maybe, with a structure as complex as Beethoven’s Ninth heard, as I’ve said, practically as a new work, this is the only reasonable response.

Overall, though the performance in no way sounded “small,” one had the sense of a work which comes out of the musical ambience of the late eighteenth century, perhaps because the forms were made to stand out and sound more “traditional.” At the same time, Zander managed to show us more fully than I have heretofore encountered the way in which Beethoven had begun, as it were, to “argue” with those forms by working with material that could not remain comfortable within them…

The “traditional” performing practices, Wagnerian glasses, if you will, tend to compromise this particular tension and paradox in the work by making it, in fact, more “beautiful” and even “awesome,” though in a manner characteristic of the late nineteenth century – various modifications of tempi and even re-orchestration. Zander avoided, with but one exception, all the latter temptations!…

…Finally, this concert…was a paradigm of what musical performance is all about. In all respects, it was one of the most important musical events of recent years. Were there justice, funds would be available for a recording. Failing that, there was a standing ovation in Symphony Hall and now, three exclamation marks worth of appreciation from this critic!!!

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