Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Orpheus Chamber Orchestra plays Beethoven's Fifth

I tuned in by chance to the live broadcast of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra's Carnegie Hall concert opening their 40th season.  It was the middle of a modern vocal work, new to me and very original.  It turned out to be a world premiere of a compelling vocal work on Chinese texts by Augusta Reed.  After intermission they were to play Beethoven's Fifth for the very first time in their 40 years.  Did I really want to chance what would surely be an infinitely more dangerous challenge than any modern work?

Knowing the symphony fairly well I knew the answer would be revealed in the opening 3 notes.  They came, I heard, Orpheus conquered.

The performance lived up to the full  rhythmic integrity of those notes, not treated as perfunctory, though problematic, upbeats, but rather as signaling a vitality counter to the prevailing duple meter.  I was impressed by the playing and, in retrospect, reminded of the technical problem faced by conductors who must communicate an internal pulse to players of so many different instruments all at once--each player with her own internal pulse as well as each instrument family inviting a different formulation of rhythm, whether with bow or breath.  

In this conductor-less orchestra each player really played.  The tension was palpable, the drive infectious.  I'm so glad I stayed tuned.