The last classical concert of the PSO’s season ended with Beethoven’s ‘Symphony No.9’ Intuitively I feel that this symphony can only be performed at the start or the completion of a classical concerts program. I never could avoid the thought that there is a "before" and an "after" the ‘9th Symphony’. Somehow, I would feel odd listening to it any time during the season.
Prior to Beethoven, it does not matter to me that Haydn composed 104 symphonies and Mozart
composed 41. All (if I did hear them all…) are pleasing to me. Still,
they sound as a continuum without any noticeable "peaks". Not so with Beethoven. His ‘3rd Symphony (Eroica)’ was a clear departure from the symphonic music of his time, his ‘5th Symphony’ a giant leap to greater " heights" and his ‘9th Symphony’, the culmination to all orchestral music which was ever composed before.
Of course, these are my own perceptions. They are reinforced by knowing how much Mahler struggled when composing his ‘9th Symphony’, having the superstitious notion that it would be his last (and sure enough, he never finished his ’10th’…) while Shostakovich, being expected to compose his ‘9 Symphony’
as a glory to Stalin, "the savior" of the Russian people from WWII,
instead composed a short, ironic, almost "circus like" music, which
(again…) put him in trouble with the authorities. And these are just
two examples "of the curse of the ninth" which come to mind. I am sure there are many more.
So one way or the other, I perceive No.9
as a magic number in music, not just a "yard stick" in the annals of
orchestral music. The analyses, the biographical notes, are out there
for anyone to find out.
I almost forgot that the concert started with Mendelssohn’s ‘Concerto for Violin and Orchestra’. It was not because I did not care. I love Mendelsson and I cherish his ‘Violin Concerto’. Even Sarah Chang did not disappoint me. But any composer, any music when performed in the same program with ‘Beethoven’s ‘9th’, somhow "shrinks" in comperison.
Originally, Sarah Chang was supposed to play Theofanidis’ ‘concerto for Violin’,
composed for her. It did not happen. It could have been interesting to
have the very new with the most known music side by side. On the other
hand, why risk? I can’t imagine that any contemporary composer can "handle" the comparison.