The Pastoral, Beethoven's Sixth Symphony, is a favorite. It is unique among Beethoven Symphonies as it depicts a lyrical walk through the Viennese countryside on a lovely day. Birds are singing, the local band is playing; a (famous) thunderstorm intrudes but quickly gives way to peace and calm. John Tanzer, the Portland Symphony Orchestra's principal timpanist, recently told me that, though he loves this music, it has little work for the timpani, except during the thunderstorm. Most of the other eight Beethoven Symphonies , of course, have plenty to keep a timpanist on his toes.
All of this reflection is prompted by the wonderful performance of the Sixth that was the finale of the recent PSO Classical Series Concert. As explained by Maestro Robert Moody, Beethoven's Sixth was the first of a PSO 90th anniversary celebration that will see the orchestra perform all nine of the great man's symphonies.
It was an inspired way to begin the Beethoven cycle because the 6th is such a warm, open and accessible piece of music. If you haven't heard much symphonic music, the 6th is an excellent place to start. Many composers talk about what their music represents: the restless sea, the anger of the Gods, or even a quiet conversation. Often this non-music major struggles to find the messages in the music. Not so with the 6th. Beethoven's day in the country is so clear and so joyful, just as Mark Rohr, an orchestra member who does the PSO's excellent program notes, describes it. A quick trip to YouTube for a good version of the 6th, and you will be well on your way.
YouTube is a start, but nothing beats hearing a beautiful symphonic piece like this done by a live orchestra. And last week the PSO, under the baton of Maestro Moody, was on the top of its game. It was magical. At the end of the concert I said to my wife Sally, a PSO Trustee, we should take this piece to Washington to perform for a joint session of Congress. It is truly music to soothe the soul, to bridge divides, to uplift spirits.
We are fortunate to have such a quality orchestra right here in Portland, Maine. Robert Moody is the best I have seen at connecting with the audience and, as it seems, with the orchestra. Robert attributes this gift to his father, an engineer, who suggested early in his conducting career that it would be helpful to his audiences to have a better sense of what he was doing up there on stage.
On most nights the PSO is excellent. On some nights, like last Sunday, it dazzles. If you haven't yet seen a performance in this 90th season, don't miss it!