The Boston Philharmonic Orchestra (BPO), led by founder and conductor Benjamin Zander, presents an all-Beethoven program with three performances on Thursday, February 14, 2019 at 7:00pm and Sunday, February 17, 2019 at 3:00pm at Sanders Theatre at Harvard University, and on Saturday, February 16, 2019 at 8:00pm at Jordan Hall at New England Conservatory, as part of the orchestra’s 40th anniversary season and in honor of Mr. Zander’s 80th birthday year.
The BPO performs three contrasting works from the middle, “heroic” period of Beethoven’s musical output, including the darkly dramatic Coriolan Overture, one of the composer’s most unusual orchestral works and the only genuinely tragic piece of music that Beethoven ever composed; the jubilant Piano Concerto No. 5, “Emperor,” featuring internationally acclaimed pianist Robert Levin; and the iconic Fifth Symphony, a piece Maestro Zander revolutionized in a memorable performance with the Civic Symphony in 1972.
The all-Beethoven program serves as a retrospective and celebration of Zander’s 50+ years of interpreting Beethoven, beginning with the very first piece he ever conducted- the Coriolan Overture. Now the world’s longest standing conductor of one orchestra (an honor held by Zubin Mehta until his recent retirement), Benjamin Zander became an international sensation in 1972 when he became the first modern conductor to lead the Fifth Symphony in Beethoven’s original tempi. Since then, Zander’s interpretations of Beethoven have been widely followed and praised, including by Andrew Porter, writer for The New Yorker from 1972 to 1992, who wrote, “If Mr. Zander is right, we have been listening to the music of the greatest composer only in misrepresentation.” In 1973, Michael Steinberg, then Chief Critic of The Boston Globe, raved, “Zander… gave a performance almost totally divorced from tradition, but profoundly in touch with what is clearly to be read in Beethoven’s score… It was an event that left me with very much to think about, concerning specifically the Beethoven Fifth but also more generally about how to think about music.'”
Classical Source recently wrote, “In tech terms, Zander would be considered a disruptor, uprooting and changing the conventional thinking about what is arguably the most influential piece of music ever written. It is a role Zander, now approaching 80, has heartily embraced his entire career… In large part, what makes Zander’s interpretation so radical is his faithful adherence to Beethoven’s indicated tempi. Like Beethoven, Zander believes tempo is ‘absolutely the central part of a musical interpretation.’ And, thanks to a bit of disruptive 19th century technology-the metronome-we know exactly the pace at which the composer wanted passages played.”
Zander’s recordings of Beethoven with London’s Philharmonia Orchestra have been widely praised and the tempi replicated by conductors and orchestras around the world. To hear Zander speak about Beethoven interpretations, watch his interpretation class on Beethoven’s Op. 95 String Quartet here.
The Thursday evening concert at Sanders Theatre is part of the orchestra’s Discovery Series. Mr. Zander speaks from the stage prior to each piece, introducing and explaining each of the works that will be performed, often with musical examples played by the orchestra. The Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon concerts are preceded by Mr. Zander’s Guide to the Music, an hour and fifteen minutes prior to concert start time. These talks offer an in-depth preview of the music on each program, which allows audience members to gain a deeper understanding of and appreciation for the pieces.
Click here to listen to Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture.
Click here to listen to Beethoven’s Symphony no. 5.