George Manahan conducts the Columbus Symphony Orchestra tonight and tomorrow, May 29 and 30, in an all Beethoven program which includes the infamous 5th symphony and the lyrical 3rd piano concerto with Orli Shaham as soloist.
Working with George Manahan this week has been a pleasure for me. I have enjoyed his detailed yet efficient rehearsal technique. He is quite specific about articulations in Beethoven, reminding us to take close notice of Beethoven's markings. He conducts what the score says, which is not always the case with such a famous piece as Beethoven's 5th symphony. His tempos are also authentic, which translates into brisk, since Beethoven's tempo markings are quite fast. (Beethoven was one of the first composers to put metronomic tempo markings, using the newly invented metronome to stipulate them accurately)
I am particularly impressed with Maestro Manahan's "stick technique", his skill with the baton and all his gestures. (You may remember I mentioned that he conducted in both 3 and 4 during one part of Stravinsky's Petrouchka during his last appearance with us 5 years ago). Of course, in Beethoven he doesn't have anything like that to do. But he is vividly clear about every beat, every entrance, every cut-off. And within that clarity he also indicates his musical intentions.
As a performer, I couldn't ask for more from a conductor.
There is an interesting interview with Maestro Manahan with Christopher Purdy's blog on WOSU. You can listen to it HERE.
The program opens with Beethoven's Leonora #3, the most often played of the 4 versions. The following is part of a detailed description of all 4 versions from a website called Music with Ease.
Beethoven's only opera, "Fidelio," was first produced in Vienna, November 20, 1805, under the title of "Leonora," with the overture now known as "Leonora No. 2." Subsequently the opera was shortened and produced with a new overture, the "Leonora No. 3." After a few performances it was withdrawn, but in 1806, anticipating its production the name of "Fidelio," he wrote a third overture, usually called "Leonora No. 1." The performance did not take place however, but in 1814 a revision of the opera was given in its present form as "Fidelio," with an entirely new overture. The chronological sequence of these overtures is as follows: Leonora No. 2 in C, op. 72, 1805; Leonora No. 3 in C, op. 72, 1806; Leonora No. 1 in C, op. 138, 1807; Fidelio in E, op. 72, 1814.
The clarinet part for the overture and part of the symphony is written for C clarinet. Most clarinetists do not owns Cs, and transpose those parts to play on their Bb instruments. Since I own a C instrument (which I bought for the occasional extremely difficult C parts, such as in Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier), I will use it. C clarinets are notoriously bright, which is why they fell out of use. I recently found a sweet Backun barrel for mine, which mellows the sound nicely.
Our piano soloist this weekend is Orli Shaham, who offers a spirited and lyrical rendition of Beethoven's 3rd concerto. She's also quite fun to work with. When she came on the nearly empty stage during our lunch break to practice, I was there with my colleague Woody. She said in an exaggeratedly loud tone, "Now that's what I like to see, musicians on stage practicing!" During the rehearsal, she made one small request through the conductor about note length, and said something like, "Yeah, I'm the culprit messing with details again."
At one point in the concerto's heartbreakingly lyrical slow movement, the pianist holds down the "sustain" pedal through a long passage, blurring all the notes together. I later asked her if Beethoven had indicated this, and she said he had, that he was always experimenting with different sounds and colors. The effect is such that the music sounds as if it's floating, hovering suspended as each note swirls around the next.
It's amazing how fresh and new even such well known music can sound. Of course, Beethoven was the ultimate modernist. But don't tell anyone. They might decide they don't like his music anymore.