Ahhhh, Bach . . . "And Outro We Go!"

  • Jun 8, 2011

A Slightly Askew View of the Oregon Bach Festival.

OUTRO WE GO! In this the final installment of our "Ahhhh, Bach . . ." blog, we take a parting glance at Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" (July 9, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, and July 10, Silva Concert Hall), the final movement of the maestro's Ninth Symphony. An OBF writer who is clearly not us describes the piece as "A grand summation of [Beethoven's] passion, humor, despair, and triumph . . . a world-changing masterpiece of winding suspense, epic themes, and pounding revolutionary fervor." That certainly sounds like an earful, but truth is, the ninth symphony is Beethoven's most deeply revered composition, and one that is deeply embedded in popular culture. Based on German poet Friedrich Schiller's "Ode an die Freude," a celebration of the brotherhood and unity of all humankind, Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" was adopted as the Anthem of Europe by the Council of Europe and, subsequently, the European Union. It's been performed by everyone from Leonard Bernstein to The Muppets, and been featured in such humanist triumphs as "Die Hard" and "Ace Ventura, Pet Detective."

Hair apparent?

This year's performances will be conducted by internationally acclaimed conductor Helmuth Rilling, OBF's co-founder and long-time artistic director, a gentleman and a scholar who really knows how to rock a Brian Jones hairdo. OVER TOUR. When we first started this blog, we would have seen "Symphony No. Nine" and immediately assumed it was that really long song at the end of The Beatles' "White Album." But we would have been wrong. Back then, we attempted to justify our decidedly unqualified authorship of this blog by pointing out that knowledge can sometimes interfere with experience. But, as it turns out, we were a little off base with that comment, too. Because despite our best efforts, we've managed to learn a few things about classical music over the past six weeks: * Richard Einhorn, who composed the "Voices of Light" score for Carl Dreyer's 1928 silent masterpiece, "The Passion of Joan of Arc," also wrote scores for a number of D-grade slasher movies. * Conductor Marin Alsop narrated a series of podcasts titled "Clueless About Classical Music!" which are "dedicated to erasing classical music's elitist stigma." * Benjamin Britten, who composed "Hymn to St. Cecilia," also wrote an operetta about Paul Bunyan. * Brahms played piano in brothels, frequented a local tavern and enjoyed his greatest successes with compositions written "with popular intent." * Yo-Yo Ma has collaborated with Carlos Santana; Alban Gerhardt has performed in a supermarket; and the Portland Cello Project has played killer versions of compositions by Led Zeppelin and Kanye West. * Beethoven embroiled himself in a nasty, tabloid-worthy custody battle with his brother's widow; was said to be something of sloppy eater, a prickly performer and a snot at soirees; and was generally inattentive to social niceties, so much so that his patron, the Archduke Rudolph, decreed that the usual rules of court etiquette should not apply to him. OVER EXPOSED? So, does any of that "knowledge" in any way enhance the experience of attending an OBF performance? No. At best, they amount to mildly amusing marginalia. But the point we think we're trying to make is this: they don't interfere with the experience either. In fact, they serve to demonstrate that the margins between "high art" and "popular culture" are actually pretty narrow. That great art is not some fragile teacup intended to be adored from afar by a cultured few, but a vital, constantly evolving thing meant to be taken down from the shelf and manhandled by mitts of whatever roughness. In the end, we've come to realize that it is the portion of our own notions we slosh into the cup, and not the cup itself, that accounts for art's vitality, resonance and, well, enduring kittenishness. Even if, in the end, the best we can come up with to describe the experience is,

"Ahhhh, Bach . . . ."

OVER EASY. Last week we asked our loyal reader what it was that caused Beethoven to experience a complete change of direction during the premier performance of his Ninth Symphony. It's another easy question, so without missing a beat, let's have the answer: Despite being deaf, Beethoven insisted on conducting the piece himself. The maestro is said to be unaware that he was a few measures behind the performers and was still conducting while the audience had already begun to applaud. At that point, the contralto walked over and turned Beethoven around so that he could witness the enthusiastic response,  which included the waving of handkerchiefs in the air, a tradition eventually supplanted by the invention of the Bic disposable lighter.


And now, as a final gesture, we leave you with this lovely parting gift, a masterful performance of true heart and soul. Read All