Boston Philharmonic Orchestra will perform Beethoven’s Ninth at Carnegie Hall on Sunday, February 26. Tickets Go On Sale December 13, 2022.
In this age of influencers, consider Ben Zander. Having just celebrated his 50th year as a conductor, the octogenarian founder of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra and its youth counterpart may not fit the typical profile but when it comes to classical music-and life-a consummate influencer is precisely what he is. Zander’s TED Talk on the art of possibility is now the most watched TED lecture on music with a combined 21 million views on various platforms, his music interpretation classes have become YouTube sensations, and a snippet of a recent orchestra rehearsal went viral.
Now, in leading the BPO Beethoven’s Ninth at Carnegie Hall on Sunday, February 26, Zander seeks to yes, influence how others think about, approach and perform this masterwork, the ultimate affirmation of the indomitable human spirit.
Throughout his career, as Yo-Yo Ma puts it, “Ben Zander has been an engine of inspiration,” with the ability to transform lives beyond the concert hall. His students are not just talented young musicians, virtuoso performers and the audience members who attend his preconcert talks, they’re CEOs at NASA, IBM, and Pfizer and world leaders impressed by his out-of-the box perspective on leadership. A four-time keynote speaker at the Davos World Economic Forum, Zander has never been bound by tradition. His life revolves around creating new ventures, breaking through barriers and overcoming the insurmountable.
Zander again defied convention in recording the Ninth with the The Philharmonia Orchestra in 2018. Having spent nearly half a century researching and obsessed by the monumental work, he finally fulfilled a quest to give the world the version that, by all written indications, Beethoven appears to have heard in his mind. What made Zander’s interpretation revolutionary was its faithful adherence to Beethoven’s designated tempi, relying on the metronome markings from the composer to indicate the exact pace at which he wanted passages played. By following Beethoven’s explicit tempo markings, Zander believes the music reveals even greater beauty, power and excitement.
“This account of the Ninth is unprecedented in using all 14 of Beethoven’s late-added metronome marks. [It] heaps revelation on revelation,” The Sunday Times wrote.
With the Carnegie Hall concert-postponed from October 2020 because of the pandemic-Zander intends to take this all one step further. “Having absorbed and internalized these tempi, I can now be free to give a performance that comes out of my own soul, my own heart, my own sense of Beethoven’s spirit,” Zander says.
As he turns his attention to the Beethoven’s Ninth performance, Zander harbors a grand ambition: to unite the two central and often opposing strands of Beethoven interpretation. While each school professes the desire to be faithful in the conducted work, each understands this fidelity differently.
“In the wake of Wagner and Bruckner, the great Romantic conductors like Furtwaengler, down to prominent conductors of our day like Barenboim, approach Beethoven’s Ninth as the Word of God, ignoring his stated and fervently advocated tempo indications,” Zander says. “On the other side, the conductors descending from the more classical Mendelssohn, as exemplified by Rene Leibowitz and me in the early 1970’s under the influence of the legendary Rudolf Kolisch, and, more recently the historically informed conductors, treat Beethoven’s text, including the tempos, as Holy Writ, to be argued over and followed religiously.”
What Zander is proposing in this new approach–Zander 2.0–is that the two camps can be joined in a single powerful and moving vision. “I have discovered that if you approach Beethoven, and particularly the Ninth Symphony, with the metronome marks in the background, in your DNA and your way of breathing and thinking the music but then allow flexibility of time to express the spiritual freedom and daring and, romantic quality that this music requires, you can bring these two worlds together,” he explains. “It’s a very beautiful idea, and if we can pull it off on the world stage of Carnegie Hall, I think that’s a valuable contribution to musicians and audiences alike.”
Known for his enlightening pre-concert talks, the always engaging maestro will discuss Beethoven’s Ninth and his interpretation in depth prior to the Carnegie Hall performance. “No other work delivers this particular, powerful message in the music of the richest complexity that is still understandable by everyone, everywhere,” he says.
Joining the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra for the performance are critically acclaimed soloists Liv Redpath (soprano), Ashley Dixon (mezzo-soprano), Nicholas Phan (tenor), Alfred Walker (baritone) and the Chorus Pro Musica.
Zander’s odyssey with Beethoven’s Ninth is also part of a documentary chronicling the conductor’s activities and discoveries over the past nine years. It tracks Zander’s deep dive into Beethoven’s intentions and the recording sessions in London. The final chapter of the film will cover the preparations, rehearsals, and February concerts, both at Carnegie Hall and Boston’s Symphony Hall.
One of the foremost interpreters of Mahler as well as Beethoven, Zander founded the Boston Philharmonic in 1979 and the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra in 2012. Through the Benjamin Zander Center visitors–guided by the maestro like a docent in a museum–have the opportunity to explore and benefit from his life-time experience as a musician, speaker, communicator, and most importantly as a teacher. The website includes his two-and-a-half-hour lecture on the issues facing the interpreter of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9.
“Conducting is all about teaching and leadership,” Zander notes. “Whether I’m talking to a group of businesspeople from Merrill Lynch or IBM or working with the youth orchestra, I’m teaching.”
His commitment to teaching and the BPYO remained undeterred by the pandemic. Zander worked to keep his young students engaged and involved by creating a curriculum inviting them to take on the role of conductor, to think outside their individual instruments and pay attention to the larger concerns of the orchestra. He encouraged this talented group to come with him on a journey into the unknown at a time when the world was living each day in the unknown.
“My philosophy and the work that I’ve done, whether it’s in the Art of Possibility or in my lectures to corporations, or the way I run the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, or the Boston Philharmonic itself, is an attempt to bring the concept of possibility thinking to every aspect of life,” Zander says.
Click here to view the Beethoven Symphony no. 9 Collection.
Click here to listen to Beethoven’s Symphony no. 9.
Click here to listen to Ben’s lecture Beethoven’s Symphony no. 9.