by Daniel Hathaway
On this date in 1808 in Vienna’s Theater an der Wien, Ludwig van Beethoven presented one of the most talked-about concerts of the 19th century. Over the course of four hours in an unheated hall, the audience heard the premieres of his Fifth and Sixth Symphonies, Fourth Piano Concerto, Choral Fantasy, mass movements, and an aria, performed by a hostile and under-rehearsed orchestra and a teen-aged replacement soprano, with Beethoven himself at the piano.
That musical marathon has inspired a number of re-creations — but well-rehearsed and with heat — most recently by Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Philharmonia Orchestra in March of 2020, just before concerts were shut down by the pandemic. Salonen talks about the event here.
The Choral Fantasy was among the works Oberlin had planned to perform in celebration of the composer’s 250th birthday, but the novel coronavirus upended plans for a performance in October by piano professor Peter Takács and the college’s Arts and Sciences Orchestra. Instead, conductor Tiffany Chang gave herself a crash course in video editing and assembled over 200 performers from all over the globe to create a virtual performance of the work. Four hundred hours later, the results premiered in an online concert on December 15. In an interview to be posted later today, Chang tells me how she decided to go down that path and what she learned from the experience.
In other news, Italian opera composer Giacomo Puccini was born on this date in 1858 in Lucca. His popular verismo operas need little introduction, except to note that they cast a wide geographical net from Italy to Asia and the American West. Because its opening takes place on that evening, Christmas Eve is a particularly appropriate time to watch La Bohème, and the MET Opera has obliged by scheduling a December 24th encore performance of its January, 1982 production featuring Teresa Stratas, Renata Scotto, José Carreras, Richard Stilwell, and James Morris. It starts at 7:30 pm.
On November, 29, 1924, news of Puccini’s death in Brussels following treatment for throat cancer reached a theater in Rome where Bohème was in mid-performance. The opera was halted and Chopin’s Funeral March was played to what was described as a stunned audience.
There’s a recent Cleveland connection to the Austrian avant-garde composer Ernest Krenek, who died in Palm Springs, California on this date in 1991. Krenek first made a splash in Europe with his 1926, jazz-influenced score, Jonny spielt auf, but wrote in a variety of styles. He abandoned Europe for North America in 1938, teaching first at Vassar.
In his review of a recent Cleveland Orchestra recording, Jarrett Hoffman writes, “Franz Schubert’s spirited and expansive “Great” Symphony in C (1826) sits alongside the ten miniatures that make up Ernst Křenek’s atonal and highly atmospheric Static and Ecstatic (1972). In brilliant performances captured live at Severance Hall just before the coronavirus shutdown in March, each work packs quite an artistic punch, though they both require a measure of patience from the listener.”
LOOKING BEYOND THE PANDEMIC:
The new music festival June in Buffalo is making plans for the summer of 2021. The Center for 21st Century Music at SUNY Buffalo has announced that June in Buffalo will run from June 7-13, and applications from future participant composers are now being accepted until the Monday, February 8 deadline. Apply here.
MUSIC FOR CHRISTMAS OR THE HOLIDAY YOU CELEBRATE:
Online performances by our local organizations include The Cleveland Orchestra’s free 1984 “Symphony in Celebration” led by Robert Page, Les Délices (“Noel, Noel” on-demand has been extended through December 27), Apollo’s Fire (“Christmas on Sugarloaf Mountain” available on demand for 30 days), and Quire Cleveland (a selection of individual carols). And Cleveland Opera Theater’s Amahl and the Night Visitors can be watched on demand through January 6.
WCLV’s Ovations on Wednesday at 8:00 pm will present “Holiday Treasures with Cleveland Chamber Choir,” including music for Advent, Hanukkah, and Christmas drawn from their 2018 and 2019 holiday concerts. Tune in at 104.9 FM or online.
Oberlin’s a cappella group, the Obertones, have produced a special five-song holiday video. Watch here.
And here are three events from Boston: The Handel & Haydn Society have come up with a way of continuing their 167-year run of Handel’s Messiah, the Harvard University Choir presents a virtual version of what may be America’s oldest carol service on Christmas Eve, and the American Repertory Theater offers younger viewers a musical production of Jack in the Beanstalk from the Harvard campus.)
Many other Christmas programs are available through Musical America’s Guide to Streams. Scan the possibilities and enjoy!
WE’LL SEE YOU IN 2021:
After today’s entries, the Diary and the Tuesday Newsletter will take a holiday break until Tuesday, January 4. Best wishes for a restful and restorative holiday season!