Saturday, October 16, 2021

Salonen's Beethoven 7

Davies Symphony Hall
Photo by Lisa Hirsch

Last week, I tweeted that Esa-Pekka Salonen's Beethoven 7th Symphony was the best I'd ever heard, and also that I'd blog about the two reasons for this. I guess there might be more than two reasons, now that I think of it. Here they are:

1. Judicious tempo choices. That last movement can be completely exhausting when it's taken at a manic pace, which I've heard at least once. But each of Salonen's tempo choices made sense for that movement and in relation to the tempos of the other movements.

2. Dynamics within phrases. This was particularly apparent in how Salonen shaped the second movement. I took a look at the score, and there were a ton of small dynamic inflections in the performance that aren't in, but might be implied by, the score.

3. A concept of the structure of each movement that made sense at some deep level. I know that this is very very handwavy, but without hearing the performance again, preferably a couple of times and maybe with a score open, I can't get very much more specific about this. I will say that somehow every phrase made sense within the structure of each movement; there was something organic about his conception of the piece and each movement as a whole. I'm reminded of how Herbert Blomstedt took the Schubert Great C Major and made me love it. That's an hour-long piece that other conductors turn into a 90-minute piece, but Blomstedt turned it into a half-hour piece. Time: it's relative!

I should also note that there were some moments during this piece when from my seat in Row S the orchestra sounded too darned loud. I'm not sure why this was. Are my ears more sensitive after lockdown? Is Salonen still taking the measure of the hall and its weirdnesses? Did anyone else notice this?

[Context: the 7th is...oh, my next-to-least-fav of the symphonies.]


Geo. said...

At the risk of asking a silly question: how full was Davies Hall at the performance that you attended? Or in other words, is the SFS going for full capacity for concerts, or limited seating? If Davies Hall was considerably less occupied for this concert than in pre-pandemic times, that definitely has an impact on the sound, since people in a hall help 'absorb' the sound compared to an empty hall. This point hit me with chamber concerts a few months ago in an STL hall which seats 700, but which capped the audience at 50 at the time. The sound was so much louder with only 50 people in the hall. I would that the same idea would apply here in a hall many times larger.

Lisa Hirsch said...

SFS is allowing full capacity. Audience members are required to provide evidence of vaccination and photo ID, and wear masks.

Of the three concerts that I have been to, I think the best-attended was Exotic Birds last week. This week, last night (Friday), the hall looked at most half-full and probably more like 1/3 full. There were more people for the 7th (plus Chin and Kendall) two weeks ago.

You're right that the lack of audience could account for the loudness.