Reviews – Beethoven: A Legacy Of Dedication
Benjamin Zander is known by all musicians for his dedication to bringing Beethoven’s truest musical intentions back into focus. The process of understanding what Beethoven wanted, and breaking barriers to perform these desires with orchestras, has been a lifetime in the making. Below are a handful of reviews of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra’s 1983 performance of the Ninth Symphony:
Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (1983 – Symphony Hall, Boston)
Benjamin Zander / Boston Philharmonic Orchestra
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!!!
– The Jewish Advocate
Expressivity without violence to the text, indeed, a fresh searching look at the text and a consequent abhorrence of unsanctioned ritards and rubatos; clarity of texture; and a kind of lean, kinetic intensity in getting all this across – these were features predictably in keeping with the Zander credo and modus operandi: but so was the sense of connectedness brought to structural events large and small, and how controlled a performance it was!…
…it was a big sounding Ninth, but not a particularly easy, demagogic one. At any given point it gave you something to hear freshly and think about…without being iconoclastic in tone, this Ninth was disturbing – in all the right ways – as well as satisfying, and quite an event.
– Richard Dyer, Boston Globe
‘A Mighty Luminous Ninth’
…The thunderous response of 2,625 concertgoers who simply poured out their appreciation – in a standing, stamping, cheering ovation – for a performance the likes of which they seldom hear anyplace. It was a night to remember!…
The musicians played with an intensity, fervor and skill that was unmatched in my concert-going experience. And the power of communication in the performance was evident from the way the audience leapt to its feet in jubilant, occasionally tearful, appreciation.
– Christian Science Monitor
(March 10, 1983)
Boston has spun off a few genuine classics in music and opera over the years: Peter Sellers’ Handel Opera “Orlando” was one. Sarah Caldwell has contributed a couple. Benjamin Zander’s performance of the Beethoven Ninth Symphony certainly measured up to this standard.
– Christian Science Monitor
(June 4th, 1983)