Com­ing up in Philly Music: Bal­anc­ing Beethoven with Vox Amadeus

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Sometimes less is more—even with Beethoven. (Painting by Joseph Karl Stieler)
Sometimes less is more—even with Beethoven. (Painting by Joseph Karl Stieler)

This Friday, Valentin Radu’s Vox Amadeus will repeat one of Radu’s most successful experiments. They will perform Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with a chamber orchestra and chorus that are about half the size of the orchestras and choral groups that normally perform Beethoven’s last symphony. They did that in 2012 and the result was one of the most memorable performances of the Ninth I’ve heard.

Shifting the winds

As I noted in my review of that concert, modern orchestras use the number of winds Beethoven employed but they increase the size of the string sections. Radu’s chamber orchestra version used smaller string sections and created a balance that put more emphasis on the brightness of the winds. In the final choral movement, for example, the high-speed piccolo solo became more prominent and the climax sounded like an exuberant street festival, with the piccolo leading the band.

Radu is pairing the Ninth with The Ruins of Athens, a theatrical work composed when Napoleon was at his peak. Both pieces were created in dark times. The Ruins of Athens reflects Beethoven’s reaction to Napoleon’s occupation of Vienna. The Ninth Symphony is an ode to equality and universal amity composed under the repressive regimes that followed Napoleon’s downfall.

If this performance affects you the way the 2012 edition affected me, it will give you one of the more noteworthy experiences of your musical life.

What, Where, When:

Vox Amadeus will present The Ruins of Athens and Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony on Friday, November 8 at 8pm at the Perelman Theater, Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, 300 South Broad Street. Tickets are $15-80, with student tickets starting at $15 and they’re available online and at the door.

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