Beethoven’s symphonies have been an essential part of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra’s core repertoire from the very beginning. As the 2016/17 season comes to a close, this article looks back on how this season in particular was shaped and framed by these symphonies, which provided unforgettable moments on several occasions.
Beethoven is not new for the MCO. This repertoire has been part of the orchestra’s DNA since its formative years: memorable performances of Beethoven symphonies with its founding mentor Claudio Abbado and its Conductor Laureate Daniel Harding, who took the first steps in shaping the orchestra’s approach to this music, immediately come to mind.
From January 2015 until May 2016, the Mahler Chamber Orchestra worked intensively with Artistic Advisor Daniele Gatti on a complete cycle of Beethoven’s symphonies. Together, they presented these works in four tours, primarily in Italy. The MCO’s extensive experience with this repertoire served as a prelude to three special projects featuring various Beethoven symphonies in the 2016/17 season, each of which highlights different facets of the MCO’s identity: flexibility, openness, willingness to take risks, and the orchestra’s founding principle, its chamber music style of music-making.
Shortly before the first concert of this tour, the Mahler Chamber Orchestra received news that the conductor’s podium would unexpectedly stand empty for performances at the Merano Music Festival and Beethovenfest Bonn.
Violinist Pekka Kuusisto graciously agreed to lead the orchestra in a breathtaking interpretation of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, and MCO concertmaster Matthew Truscott jumped in to lead the orchestra in performances of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony that kept the audience spellbound from the beginning chords to the very end.
Drawing on its experiences with different conductors offering different interpretations of this symphony, the orchestra was excited and challenged by this opportunity to offer its own collective and personal interpretation created through active dialogue among the musicians. The high level of concentration and energy on stage was picked up by audiences at both concerts.
Before embarking on its next symphonic cycle with Artistic Advisor Daniele Gatti, the Mahler Chamber Orchestra returned to Beethoven’s symphonies on this tour for first time since the conclusion of its Beethoven cycle with Daniele Gatti in May 2016. The MCO performed at the Dresden Music Festival and the Festival de Saint-Denis, where it was this year’s orchestra in residence.
The programme on this tour featured Beethoven’s second and sixth symphonies in addition to Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto, performed by Christian Tetzlaff. The MCO’s interpretation of the Beethoven symphonies received special mention in the press, underlining the strength of its collaboration with Daniele Gatti and its chosen focus on symphonic works and cycles.
It is only fitting that the Mahler Chamber Orchestra’s 2016/17 season concluded with another performance of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony – this time, with conductor Gustavo Dudamel in Evian. This was a reunion between conductor and orchestra that had been many years in the making, and the chance to work together on Beethoven brought energy and joy to all involved.
Yet again, Beethoven brought audiences to their feet. In this performance as part of the festival Rencontres Musicales d’Évian at the beautiful Grange au Lac, the energy that went through the orchestra was visible and palpable to those listening. This final concert of the season was the culmination of the work of the past months.
The MCO looks forward to more Beethoven in the coming seasons, leading up to the Beethoven anniversary celebrations in the year 2020!
Photos: Michael Sondermann / Geoffroy Schied / Festival de Saint-Denis / Matthieu Joffres