Flirting with Beethoven

The seductive German is everywhere
By BEN MEIKLEJOHN  |  December 27, 2006

BRASSY HORNS PSO: and others wrestle with a master.

It is said that Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) “got around.” Even today, the old dog arouses the interests of performers and seduces listeners. Getting some of his late-Classical pre-Romantic brilliance is easy: he tops the 2007 classical program lists statewide.

The PORTLAND SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA kick off their classical year on January 30 with Beethoven’s last piano concerto — No. 5, the Emperor concerto (1809). Its heroic nature demonstrates a battle between orchestra and piano. KIRILL GERSTEIN, a 27-year-old rising piano star, will ultimately win the war (sorry PSO!). The orchestra however, shine last with Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev’s 1944 war-inspired Fifth Symphony.

The DAPONTE STRING QUARTET on February 2 perform in Portland Beethoven’s last substantial work — String Quartet in F Major No. 16 (1826). Alban Berg’s 1910 String Quartet, a freely atonal work, starts the program. This concert includes Italian Serenade by Viennese Romantic Hugo Wolf and Lullaby by American George Gershwin.

Portland Community Arts’s Great Performances series is in on the Beethoven lust. The internationally acclaimed LEIPZIG STRING QUARTET will perform an all-Beethoven concert on February 22 at Merrill Auditorium. The program contains three complete string quartets, including the Harp quartet, named for its harp-like pizzicatos, and the Serioso quartet.

The PSO do Beethoven’s 1802 Symphony No. 2 on March 4, with Antonio Vivaldi’s 1725 The Four Seasons (spring is on the way!). At the Rockport Opera House on April 22 (spring is here!), Bay Chamber Concerts presents a mother-and-son duo — world-renowned violinist MIRIAM FRIED and award-winning pianist JONATHAN FRIED in — yes — an all-Beethoven concert.

Life beyond Beethoven? Johannes Brahms. With the PSO on February 20, violinist MIKHAIL KOPELMAN and cellist STEVEN DOANE will perform Brahms’s final orchestral work, the 1887 Double Concerto for Violin and Cello. Early Romantic composer Hector Berlioz’s 1841 orchestration of his contemporary, Carl Maria von Weber’s Invitation to the Dances starts the concert. Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff’s last work, 1940 Symphonic Dances, based on the Latin Dies Irae (Day of Wrath) theme, appropriately ends it.

On April 22, the PSO perform "Interludes" from Benjamin Britten’s 1945 Peter Grimes opera, Mozart’s Flute Concerto No. 1 in G Major featuring principal flutist LISA HENNESSEY, and Igor Stravinsky’s 1945 Firebird Suite. Luckily for Hennessey, Beethoven won’t be there. The PSO play other concerts sans Beethoven on March 20 (Mozart, Bernstein) and May 1 (Higden, Barber, Respighi).

Like Beethoven, 14-year-old KIT ARMSTRONG was recognized early for his musical talents. He performs an unspecified program — probably Beethoven — at the Rockport Opera House on March 4. On April 27, the UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN MAINE’S SCHOOL OF MUSIC celebrates its 50th year anniversary with a “greatest hits” concert at Merrill Auditorium, featuring the school’s major ensembles, and, likely, some Beethoven.

Vocalists aren’t hot for Beethoven, because he didn’t compose much for them. PCA brings soprano CHRISTINE BREWER to Merrill on February 1. The CHORAL ARTS SOCIETY perform Maurice Duruflé’s 1947 Requiem and Benjamin Britten’s 1943 Rejoice in the Lamb on March 3. CAS also perform Carl Orff’s 1936 Carmina Burana, with ballet and orchestra, on March 31 and April 1. The MAINE MUSIC SOCIETY presents a citywide collaboration of chorales and orchestras performing Brahms’s Requiem in Lewiston, March 31.

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