On the question of forming an interpretation: Let’s agree that one achieves this from an in-depth study of the score, but also from a broader understanding of a composer’s total opus, in this case Beethoven’s eight other symphonies as well as his sonatas. (I am grateful that I was forced to learn his final sonata Opus 111 when I was 16, otherwise I would not have the experience to draw upon as I now approach the gargantuan Adagio…!) Additionally, an examination of a composer’s life through letters and biographies is crucial. We forget that these giants among men were in fact mortal, each with their own set of complexities.
Then there are performance practices and ‘traditions,’ which cannot be ignored and should be examined closely for merit (or lack thereof) in the form of recordings and live performances. Too much ‘interpretation,’ certainly without intellectual and emotional context, can be misconstrued as interpolation. The art is the balance.
What has struck me more than ever during this period of my own study of what ultimately will be my interpretation is the question of ability. OCYSO is comprised of talented adolescents who do not have both the benefit (and the burden) of a long history with this work. How is a young player to navigate 70 plus minutes of music? The infamous 4th horn part has given enough ‘professional’ horn players centuries of panic. How is a young player to handle its pressures? How can a string section, as sensitive as they are but young nonetheless, effortlessly spin out the seemingly endless lines of the slow movement while maintaining both beauty and tension? Will I be forced to move faster (or slower) through certain passages due to inherent challenges, read ability? If so, is it truly then my ‘interpretation’ or one borne of necessity, reality? The great George Hurst used to say that out of challenge comes great art. That being said, just how different is my not achieving my ‘ideal’ any different from any other conductor with a professional orchestra at his/her disposal?
To take a stab at these questions; I suppose that one can count on a certain level of proficiency and ability with more mature orchestras, which then makes one’s choices more possible. Yet, as I witnessed with Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic back in October, his own ideal of the piece was very different from the ‘institutionalized’ memory of what the New York Philharmonic (who incidentally gave the United States premiere of the work) have in their collective conscience. (For the record, I found Maestro Gilbert’s interpretation interesting.) This, at least, is something that I don’t have to ‘fight’ for with OCYSO; they are a clean slate.
For now, the process for me is about exploration and frankly trial and error. OCYSO informs my idea of the piece just as my study, intuition and experience guides them. In that respect, I will be just as curious come May 15 as you all to see what comes of it all.
Happy 243, Ludwig (and fellow Sag)!