On April 8, I attended the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony led by Marin Alsop, currently the orchestra’s music director as well as the chief conductor at the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra. It was an unusual performance in several respects. First, between the movements, first a group of drummers, then a small musical group performed briefly. And in place of the German text of Schiller’s “Ode to Joy,” which Beethoven set for soloists and chorus in the last movement of the symphony, was a modern rendering in English, less a translation than a rethinking of Schiller.
Both the added music and the English version of Schiller reduced my enjoyment and appreciation. Alsop’s explanation for her choices in how to present the Ninth (you can read them at https://slippedisc.com/2022/04/marin-alsop-explains-her-updates-to-beethovens-9th/) didn’t persuade me of their value. I prefer the original version which I have known since my days as a teen-aged music student at the University of California in Berkeley. Granted, my ability to read German allows me to understand the Schiller text, an advantage others might not share.
More important than Alsop’s additions was the performance itself. It was magnificent. I had forgotten the impact of listening to more than a hundred musicians and singers performing great music at full volume in a renowned concert hall. And while I might quibble with Alsop’s reshaping of the Ninth, she remains a superb conductor. It was a performance to remember.
I asked a while back if hearing the Ninth in person would make me appreciate it more. Answer: yes, it did. Seeing and hearing it as a live performance was a unique experience.