The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Why is Beethoven so popular? And why do all-Beethoven concerts work so well? Conductor Andrew Sewell answers these questions even as he prepares to perform the all-Beethoven concert tonight by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra. | May 1, 2015

By Jacob Stockinger

Tonight at 8 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center, conductor Andrew Sewell (below top) will lead the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below bottom) and guest pianist Bryan Wallick, who won the Vladimir Horowitz Prize and is returning to Madison, in an all-Beethoven concert to wrap up this season of the WCO indoors Masterworks programs.

AndrewSewellnew

WCO lobby

The program includes the “Leonore” Overture No. 1, the Piano Concerto No. 5 “Emperor” and the Symphony No. 7.

Tickets are $15-$62. For more information, visit: http://www.wcoconcerts.org/performances/masterworks-v

The Ear asked the guest pianist Bryan Wallick and WCO’s longtime music director and conductor Andrew Sewell to explain why all-Beethoven concerts work so well and why Beethoven remains so popular with the general public. (Coincidentally, the Madison Symphony Orchestra will also close its season with Beethoven, specifically the Symphony No. 9 (“Choral” or “Ode to Joy”) on May 8, 9 and 10.

Wallick’s answers appeared here on Wednesday and offered the perspective of an instrumentalist. Here is a link to his answers:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/04/29/classical-music-why-is-beethoven-so-popular-and-why-do-all-beethoven-concerts-works-pianist-bryan-wallick-explains-these-questions-even-as-he-prepares-to-play-the-emperor-concerto/

And here are the answers by conductor Andrew Sewell (below), who kindly responded to an email Q&A:

andrewsewell

Beethoven (below), along with a handful of other composers, including Mozart and Tchaikovsky, is one of the few composers who can make up a single-composer concert that also attracts the public. What accounts for that, do you think?

I think his name is synonymous with classical music. His music defines it — the working out of themes, melody and development — from his overtures, symphonies, concertos, piano sonatas and string quartets.

Beethoven big

What role has Beethoven played in your career? Are there works in particular that you were drawn to as a student or a performing professional?

As a young concertgoer, at the age of 8, I heard his Symphony No. 9 “Choral” and fell in love with the “Ode to Joy.” I was captivated by his life and biography, about his deafness overtaking him, and stories of his inner personal struggles. I remember reading all about his life as a youngster, and I loved playing his music.

As a violinist, I loved getting to know his violin sonatas and symphonies. One of my first significant orchestral experiences at age 16 was playing his “Leonore” Overture No. 3 with the New Zealand Youth Orchestra, and a year later, the Fifth Symphony. Beethoven’s overtures and symphonies are the bread and butter of any orchestra.

Andrew Sewell BW

Beethoven consistently ranks as the general public’s favorite classical composer. Why is that, do you think? The consistently high quality of the music? The diversity of works and forms that his creativity expressed itself in? The sense of overcoming struggle and personal hardship you find in his works?

All of the above. You said it in the wide variety of forms he used –- symphonies, overtures, sonatas, chamber music. The string quartets alone, like Mozart’s Piano Concertos, are a lifetime testament in which we see his development as a composer and inner struggles.

His personal life is intertwined with the complexities of his later works, as he stretched the boundaries of form and development. His Ninth Symphony and the late string quartets testify to this. Overcoming struggle and personal hardship give the music its triumphal drive.

beethoven BW grim

Is there an aspect of Beethoven that you think the public needs to pay more attention to and that you intend to emphasize in your interpretations?

The “Leonore” Overture No. 1 is probably the least played of the four overtures related to his one and only opera, “Fidelio.” Inadvertently he created a new form, known as the Concert Overture, and which Mendelssohn later took up.

This overture, does not include the off-stage trumpet reverie, as in Nos. 2 and 3. For some reason, Beethoven was not satisfied, and continued to refine it in later compositions. What I find intriguing about this overture is the way he transitions from slow to fast sections and back again so seamlessly and how he experimented with a continuous form.

The Symphony No. 7  — below is a page of the work’s manuscript from Beethoven’s almost illegible notebooks — is among his most energetic symphonies. It never lets up and is physically demanding on all sections of the orchestra. One needs stamina for this music. It is also extremely exciting to play and to listen to, hence it is a very popular symphony. (At the bottom,  in a popular YouTube video with almost 8 million hits, you can hear the famous and well-known Allegretto movement from the Symphony No. 7 with an intriguing bar graph score.)

Beethoven Symphony no 7 MS

Is there anything you would like to say or add?

An all-Beethoven program is a great way to end the season, especially when you have pianist Bryan Wallick (below) returning to perform with us. We are most excited to hear and share his performance of the mighty “Emperor” Piano Concerto.

Bryan Wallick mug

 

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1 Comment »

  1. The string quartets are my very favorites.

    Wini

    Comment by Wini Bowen — May 1, 2015 @ 12:34 am


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