Monday, September 28, 2009

Freude, freude!

Last night I attended a performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony by the Symphony Orchestra of India at the Jamshed Bhabha theatre in Bombay (it's notable that both brothers, Homi and Jamshed, have theatres named after them). Frankly I had not expected the performance would be great - but it was awesome. On this occasion the SOI (including all the extra members recruited for this demanding piece) came to 170 members, the large majority of whom are from Kazakhstan. I read somewhere that only 17 members are from India! That's globalisation for you.

The performance gave me goosebumps (and tears, I'm embarrassed to admit, during the intensely lyrical Adagio). The first movement was powerful and dramatic as expected, but not a complete triumph - the wind instruments were too subdued, for one thing. But in the second movement (the Scherzo) the winds got their wind back and the rendition was brilliant - by turns humorous, lyrical and just plain rock-'n-rolling! And the final "choral" movement was a life-changing experience even though I'd previously always winced at people shouting "Freude, freude" in public.

I don't know what it is about choral singing, it's always reminded me of my school in a depressing way. As of last night I think I'm over that. Better late than never!

I've recently befriended the SOI conductor Zane Dalal, who'll be conducting the Bhabha Centenary Symposium concert at TIFR in early December - of course, for us it will be a smaller SOI and a somewhat "lighter" concert. Yesterday he didn't conduct, that was done by a guest conductor (from, surprise surprise, Kazakhstan), but he did deliver an excellent and informative intro to the piece, talking over the din of people who couldn't find their seats or perhaps just enjoyed arguing with ushers.

Zane stressed the breaking of barriers that was a hallmark of the composition and of the period in which it was written. Schiller's "Ode to Joy", which is the text for the choral movement, stresses the universal nature of joy and the right of each individual to have it - an enlightening and at the time probably a revolutionary idea. To illustrate his point, Zane recited the following lines:

Wollust ward dem Wurm gegeben,
Und der Cherub steht vor Gott.

which means

Pleasure was to the worm given,
And the cherub stands before God.

My take is that if worms have a right to be happy, I too can go around yelling "Freude, Freude" on Colaba Causeway if I get the urge, and one day this may really happen.

P.S. The most incredible recording of Beethoven's Ninth I've heard is the one conducted by Ferenc Fricsay in 1958. It was the first ever stereo recording of the piece. The clarity of sound is superb and the performance... dazzling.

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