One of the best ways to get to know an individual artist is to see a really well curated retrospective of his or her work. Whether its organized thematically or chronologically doesn't really matter, the benefit is in the bulk.
There's something about seeing a lifetime's worth of work in one space that is extremely intimate. You walk out of the museum or gallery with a deeper, more personal connection to the artist than you had before and, ideally, every encounter you have with that artists' work in the future is changed -- there's a more complete understanding, an instant recognition of personality.
On Monday, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra is kicking off a retrospective of sorts, a three-week-long Beethoven Festival that includes performances of all 10 of the composer's violin sonatas, three of his nine symphonies (Nos. 5, 7 and 9), a monster of a piano concerto (No. 5, "The Emperor"), and a smattering of some half a dozen of his other works for orchestra, piano solo and strings. Basically, it's an all-out Beethoven binge sesh, and a really great way to get to know this important musical artist better.
Below are three pretty solid reasons to check out at least one of the DSO's upcoming Beethoven Fest concerts. If any of them are true for you, get on the DSO's website and start snagging tickets because some of these concerts will likely sell out.
1. You've Never Heard Beethoven's 5th or 9th Symphonies Live Must. See. Or perhaps more accurately: Must. Hear. In fact, this goes for Beethoven's 5th Piano Concerto as well (performed at the Meyerson May 8-11 by Yefim Bronfman). This is iconic music that you need to experience at least once in your life.
Two of the world's most recognizable melodies are contained in Beethoven's 5th and 9th symphonies. They are as ubiquitous in modern culture as Mona Lisa's smize or Van Gogh's swirling skyscapes. But, as anyone who's had the opportunity to stand in front of the real "Starry Night" knows, there's a world of difference between the vibrant, 3-dimensional globs of gold and blue paint that Van Gogh smeared on a canvas over a century ago and the sad, 1-dimensional reproduction that hung in your poorly decorated college dorm.
Hearing a recording of each of these symphonies is fine, but it is vastly different from the visceral, bone-vibrating experience of hearing them performed live by a professional orchestra in a concert hall. There's also a lot more to both of these symphonies than "Ode to Joy" and "duh-duh-duh-DUUUUH," whole movements in fact that might be completely new to you.
Just like any great artist, Beethoven was a creative, complex human being with something to say. These pieces are masterfully composed, technically sophisticated and emotionally compelling. If you let yourself be immersed in them, they will take you on an emotional, psychological and physical artistic journey you won't soon forget.
2. You Are a Fan of Live Music You know those guys who are always going to see a show? No matter the genre -- funk, hip-hop, metal, jazz, folk or pop -- they're addicted to the energy, the adrenaline of hearing musicians create music live, instantaneously, right in front of their faces. Maybe you're one of them.
Hearing a great orchestra in a great hall is something every fan of live music should experience. We are so accustomed to amplified, electronically produced sounds, that sometimes the sheer power of an acoustic orchestra can be surprising to our ears. There are no microphones, no amps and no special effects, but this is not subtle music. When bows hit strings and breath is pushed through brass in a perfectly choreographed, synchronized effort by a group of highly skilled musicians, the effect can take your breath away. It matters where you sit, too. Like any other concert, spending a few extra bucks on good seats makes a difference.
The great thing about the DSO's festival this year is that it gives you the chance to experience live music in two very different but equally compelling ways. If you go to the Meyerson to hear, say, Beethoven's 9th Symphony, you'll likely be blown away by the power, volume and scope of the sounds coming from the stage. If you go to Dallas City Performance Hall to hear DSO co-concertmaster Alex Kerr play one of Beethoven's violin sonatas, you'll be amazed by the sheer virtuosity and skill you'll see.
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3. You Have Heard This Music Before, But Not Exactly Like This One of the many things that makes live music such a compelling medium is that every single time a piece of music is performed, something is different. The notes on the page don't change, but the musicians on stage, their inflection and tone, the conductors ideas in terms of phrasing and tempo, and even the energy in the room can vary greatly from one night to the next.
In a video previewing the Beethoven Festival, Music Director Jaap van Zweden explains:
"If I hear our recording of the 5th Symphony [from 2007], I already [hear] about 10-15 moments that .. .I will do a little bit different now. That is not because I am [inconsistent], it's because we are alive and we are changing every day and [everyday] we are looking and finding new things. I don't say I disagree with what I did then, it's just that we are in a different moment in history."
So yes, you are going to hear Beethoven's 5th again, but you are also going to hear Jaap van Zweden and the Dallas Symphony's 2014 Beethoven's 5th for the very first time. And that is a once in a lifetime opportunity.