October 13, 2005 in Features

Musicians tune up for Beethoven bash

Travis Rivers Correspondent

Spokane has turned into Beethoventown.

A week of Beethoven-centered events will culminate in a Spokane Symphony performance of two of the legendary composer’s greatest hits Friday night at the Opera House.

Music Director Eckart Preu will conduct Beethoven’s Third (“Eroica”) and Fifth symphonies following a week of orchestral and chamber music performances by Gonzaga University students and faculty, and a Beethoven symposium at Gonzaga’s Jundt Gallery on Friday afternoon.

The symphony will be giving away free “Beethoven Bash” T-shirts to concertgoers under the age of 30. Those over 30 will be charged $5 for a shirt.

The two pieces on Friday’s program are not only the most frequently performed of Beethoven’s symphonies, they are the most often performed of anybody’s symphonies. The 1911 edition of the Encyclopedia Brittanica is still correct in declaring them “the best known and best loved type of classical music for most people.”

The praise for these two symphonies was not always unanimous. One early critic said of the Third, “It contains much to admire, but it is difficult to keep up such admiration for three-quarters of an hour.”

If Beethoven didn’t shorten it some way, the writer predicted, the symphony would soon be forgotten.

A Russian writer complained that a section of the Fifth Symphony contains such grating dissonances that it seem to produce “a sort of odious meowing that shatters even the least sensitive ear.”

(Those critics do have a way of hanging themselves.)

In spite of a few naysayers, Beethoven became an icon even in his own lifetime, Preu points out, and his fame has grown.

“Beethoven is a phenomenon who is popular with people of all kinds of backgrounds,” the conductor says, “the composer whom everyone can agree is cool.”

But there is a danger in that familiarity.

“We think we know this music too well,” Preu says. “Our challenge is to rediscover all the surprises, all the rough edges that are in this music and to recapture the powerful impression it made on the people who first heard it.”

Friday’s symposium at Gonzaga will address “The Genius and Originality of Ludwig van Beethoven.” The panel of GU faculty and Spokane musicians will be led by William Meredith. Meredith has been director of the Ira F. Brilliant Beethoven Research Center at San Jose State University in California since its opening in 1985, and is the editor of The Beethoven Journal and author of more than 40 articles and papers on the composer.

“Beethoven’s deafness probably was the demon that plagued him into writing the Fifth Symphony,” Meredith says, “and it – like Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony – shows how we as human beings move through tragedy and despair to some kind of human triumph.

“And the ‘Eroica’ dazzles us with the vision of a creative hero who reshapes society.”

Preu and Verne Windham of KPBX-FM will discuss Beethoven’s music in Classical Chats, the symphony’s pre-performance conversation, today at 12:15 p.m. in the council chambers at City Hall. The 30-minute program will be televised on City Channel 5.

Members of the Gonzaga symposium panel also will discuss the music on Friday’s concert as a part of the Gladys Brooks Pre-Concert Talks series in the Opera House auditorium that night at 7.

The popularity of these two favorite Beethoven symphonies is leading to the possibility of a sold-out house, according to Annie Matlow, the symphony’s marketing director.

“But we still want to encourage people to call us or come by our ticket office,” Matlow adds. “We still have some tickets available, and we often have returns and donated tickets, even at the last minute.”

The concert will be repeated at North Idaho College in Coeur d’Alene on Nov. 18.

Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email