Originally, I was going to title this post “Viva Beethoven.” I went to hear the Philadelphia Orchestra this afternoon in the first live musical performance I’ve seen in almost two years. The program called for two Beethoven symphonies, no. 8 and no. 2.
What I wasn’t expecting was the “Sermon” in between the two symphonies. Davone Tines orated and sang selections from James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, and Maya Angelou. As well as an aria with the title I’ve given this post. It comes from Anthony Davis’ opera “X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X.” Before concluding with that aria, he performed a song dedicated to Breonna Taylor. He calls the orchestral arrangement of this song “an exercise in empathy.” When he spoke directly to his almost all white audience, after Maya Angelou’s “We saw beyond our seeming,” he asked for empathy, but mostly he asked us to please stop pretending “we get it.” I’m not sure that all the people frantically applauding at the end of his “Sermon” really listened to that part. Be that as it may, like all good preachers, he made us stop and reflect.
When I got home, I had to listen to bits of the London Symphony playing the same two symphonies I heard this afternoon. Beethoven rouses the soul, but there was something about the way the Philadelphia Orchestra played, particularly Symphony No. 8, that distracted me a bit. At time the dips and rises in the music had an “oompa oompa” quality, more “beat” than rhythm. I wanted to see if I had lost my taste for Beethoven, or at least these symphonies, or if that was the way the conductor Yannick Nezet-Sequin interpreted the scores. The London Symphony performances had less “beat.” This is why we go see live music. As it was said about the Texas blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughn, he never played it the same way twice.