On July 18th, 2018 acclaimed Venezuelan conductor Gustavo Dudamel appeared with lauded Chinese classical pianist Yuja Wang for the first time together in Chicago with The Chicago Symphony Orchestra in the Pavilion at The Ravinia Festival in a perfectly curated all-Beethoven program. On this gorgeous summer evening, the great Orchestra and stellar guest pianist, under the firm baton of this fine conductor, sent waves of glorious sounds throughout the acoustically centered Pavilion and out over the lawns of the bucolic park.
– The Overture to Egmont, 1809-1810
This is a well-known and deeply emotional piece of music about a sixteenth century Dutch nobleman, Count Egmont, who resisted the inquisition and was executed for his efforts. Dudamel held fine command over this highly charged overture, in which one can imagine hearing the very arrest and prosecution of the courageous Count. The deep strings, the plaintive wind instruments, the staccato tones of the brass take your mind to a scene of accusation and judgment. One can hear the whole Orchestra uniting on a single note- is this the sentencing? Finally, building to a giant fortissimo, an arresting passage in the minor key can be seen as Beethoven’s transcendent passage into freedom.
After a forceful and distinctly measured opening, the surprisingly traditional pacing of the overture fell into place. The stellar CSO winds maintained their high standards throughout and the strings and brass were equally polished. Dudamel provided a controlled plunge into the drama of the piece, pushing the Orchestra into a dynamic and well-phrased conclusion.
– Piano Concerto No. 1 in C major, Op. 15, 1795
This concerto, filled with abrupt shifts in harmony, is scored for solo piano and large chamber orchestra. The first movement allegro’s main theme is repeated numerous times; there are several lesser themes and the coda is played sans piano. The second movement, a largo, opens with its several themes that are then developed slowly. The third movement rondo is in seven parts with the pianist stating the main theme, the Orchestra repeating it, the lesser themes beautifully subtle yet well defined.
Two short cadenzas are crafted by Beethoven into this movement, one just before the final return to the main theme, and another one immediately before the end of the movement, which finishes with a striking dynamic contrast; the piano plays a melody quietly, but the orchestra then ends the movement forcefully.
The CSO’s rhythmical playing in the opening fully captured the heroic feeling of the moment to good effect, continuing throughout the piece, with the boisterous horns registering a strong impact. The winds contributed a characteristic warm effect. The solo players were remarkably consistent.
Wang demonstrated a fierceness of concentration and seriousness of approach that ensured a captivating recreation of the first movement’s strength and propulsive energy, carrying on to multiple curtain calls of rousing ovation. At times, her face appeared in dreamy reverie while her hands, in vivid contrast, attacked the keys with consistently applied vigor. A vision in a long white gown, she produced a visionary’s wealth of nuanced melody.
–Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92, 1811-1812
At its première, Beethoven remarked that this was one of his best works. The second movement, allegretto, has remained the most popular movement and it is frequently performed separate from the complete symphony. The work as a whole is known for its suggestion of dance motifs through the use of rhythmic devices as well as its subtle tonality and use of contrasts.
This evening’s presentation was fabulous, the Orchestra sounding faultless and the solo contributions outstanding. Flute, oboe and horns are were the lead actors in the 7th with the CSO players bringing distinction to their solos. The transition from the intro to the height of the dance music sounded particularly beautiful, as did the horn calls ending the 1st and 4th movements. The CSO strings highlighted and focused in wonderful fashion in the slow movement.
Throughout the concert, Dudamel was fresh, enthusiastic, way out ahead while radiating an obvious joy. The audience felt it, too, clapping and calling out for Maestro and Orchestra long after the strains of Beethoven ended for the night.
For information and tickets to all the fine programs of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, go to the cso website
For information and tickets to the rest of the great concerts at Ravinia this season, go to the Ravinia website
All photos courtesy of The Ravinia Festival