Getting a jump on next year’s celebrations of the composer’s 250th anniversary, the California Symphony will be starting its season with a program called Iconic Beethoven this weekend. Music Director Donato Cabrera says the concert features perhaps the most famous of his works, a less frequently played overture, and other pieces by Mahler and Gabriela Lena Frank sung by mezzo soprano Rachel Calloway that deserve to be heard more.
There’s more information about the program at the California Symphony website.
“As we all know, and we will be made aware of time and again, next year is the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth. Beethoven 2020-hashtag, etc. etc. And I thought I’d just get a head start, before the Fifth Symphony is completely overplayed. We begin the concert with one of his lesser played overtures, The Creatures of Prometheus, but certainly a wonderful overture nevertheless. And we end the concert with his iconic Fifth Symphony.” For the works between, the orchestra will be joined by mezzo-soprano Rachel Calloway. There’s a song cycle by Gabriela Lena Frank called La Centinela y la Paloma, or ‘The Keeper and the Dove’, which she originally wrote for Dawn Upshaw, and has arranged for the lower mezzo range for these performances. And there are also selections by Gustav Mahler. “We know him mostly through his symphonies, big huge statements for orchestra. But these are his, I feel, like his little gems that should be performed a lot more than they are… We’re doing four pieces I’ve chosen to create almost a little song cycle but I’m calling them a mini-symphony of Mahler songs. Four pieces from Des Knabe Wunderhorn and the Rückertlieder.” The last piece will be the most difficult, despite its popularity. “It begins in silence. Any music where you have to give a strong gesture first, before the orchestra plays anything, is disconcerting. And this is the most famous example of that. You have to give a strong upbeat, and a strong downbeat, and THEN music happens. And… BUH BUH BUH BAH!” Cabrera says that although many people know the opening movement, there’s a lot of challenging music left to play when it’s done. “Because it’s so hard to play, you really have to be a great judge of the pacing of the entire piece. Because each movement is so inter-related and so connected. And it tells this narrative over the course of the four movements in a way that if you just don’t get it started right, or don’t quite do each movement just so, it doesn’t come across very well.”