Jeffrey Kahane talks about upcoming 'Eroica' concert
There’s a running celebration in 2020 around the classical music world commemorating the 250th birthday of Ludwig van Beethoven. The Sarasota Orchestra is paying its respects with a three-part series called “Discover Beethoven.” The second installment, Feb. 6, is called, “Beethoven’s Eroica,” a simple title for what many consider one one of the most important symphonies ever written.
Beethoven’s 3rd Symphony, which he dubbed “Eroica,” not only marks the start of Beethoven’s innovative “middle period,” but also is seen as a revolutionary composition that had a tremendous, lasting impact on symphonic music.
Sarasota Orchestra Artistic Advisor Jeffrey Kahane will lead this concert in an unusual format designed to allow the audience to fully appreciate the significance of “Eroica,” a topic for which Kahane has strong conviction.
In this concert, you’re going to be acting as conductor and commenter.
Can you give us an idea of how this concert will be set up?
This is something that, as far as I know, is going to be new to Sarasota Orchestra. The evening is devoted to one piece, basically. It’s an evening dedicated to exploring the significance of Beethoven’s “Eroica” symphony, which is, of course, one of the monuments of Western classical music.The entire first half of the program I will be on stage with the orchestra playing examples and conducting the orchestra in various excerpts and giving a talk about the piece. It will be an exploration of the piece, of its historical significance, its significance in Beethoven’s life and also its greater significance in the history of music. Then we’ll play the entire piece.
This sounds like a subject that could easy get very heady.
I’ve been doing this for 25 years, and I’ve made it a point when I develop these talks to speak about the music in such a way that it will be interesting and entirely comprehensible for someone who has no experience, but also there'll be plenty to offer for those who have heard the piece many times and may know a great deal about Beethoven and about classical music.
I heard you were looking forward to doing this concert. Are you a big Beethoven fan?
Oh, I certainly am. Beethoven’s been at the heart of my musical life as long as I’ve been making music. He is one of the towering figures in Western music. He's also personally very important to me because of the depth of his humanity. It’s hard to say who’s the most popular composer in history, but certainly Beethoven is among the most popular composers who has ever lived. And for good reason. His music is so human, it communicates to us even after 200 years.
Even a person with no interest in classical music knows the name Beethoven. Why do you think that is?
I think his music has such extraordinarily direct emotional appeal. One of the things that I'm going to talk about, that a big part of who Beethoven was, was his concern for the common man. He was capable of writing music of incredible sophistication and complexity. But he also wrote music very clearly intended to speak to a very broad range of humanity, and I think his love for humanity comes through in his music.
The orchestra website describes "Eroica" as “the symphony that changed the course of music.” Without giving away too much of the program, can you explain that?
This piece shatters many conventions, both in the sense of how it is constructed, how it is built, but also in terms of what it is Beethoven’s trying to convey. That also has to do with why he wrote the piece, what it is that inspired him, and that is not giving away anything because it's in the title itself. The word “eroica’”means “heroic.” The piece clearly has something to do with the concept of heroism, and I’m just going to let that be the teaser.
I read that as highly regarded as this symphony is today, when it came out it actually got mixed reviews.
That was true very often for Beethoven, because he was constantly pushing the envelope, constantly experimenting. The paradox about Beethoven is he never abandoned tradition even as he did things that were incredibly revolutionary. I think that’s what makes Beethoven wonderful and thrilling to listen to, the tension between the part of him that believed in tradition and the part of him that was a revolutionary, It’s absolutely true that some of the first people that heard the Eroica thought it was the greatest thing they’d ever heard, and others were completely baffled. But that’s true of so much of the history of music, but with Beethoven, even if reactions were mixed at the beginning, the music endured and became beloved very quickly.
Is there anything you want to say to people who may be on the fence about whether they want to come to this concert?
As I said, this is going to be an unprecedented event for the Sarasota Orchestra. I can almost guarantee that even those that know the piece very well will learn things from the first half of the concert that they did not know before. And if you’ve never heard the Eroica symphony before, it’s one of the most thrilling pieces of music ever composed and it would be a thrilling way to experience it for the first time.