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Arts Blast: ‘Beethoven 5’ promises strength in numbers this weekend

Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. It likely contains the best known musical phrase on the planet. The mere mention rings with “da-da-da DAAH.” This weekend, the Phoenix Symphony has built a selling-out concert around the piece. Principal Guest Conductor JoAnn Falletta and guest harpist extraordinaire Yolanda Kondonassis provided a teasing snapshot in pre-show interviews that help reveal why the shows’ remaining evening seats are numbered.

“The planning began with Beethoven as the centerpiece” said Maestro Falletta of the 1804 symphony for which this weekend’s program,Beethoven No. 5, is named. “With such unrelenting power, we can get swept away by the propulsion of it.”

Falletta radiated enthusiasm, describing the infamous opening four notes. “It’s this kernel of energy from such a small, brilliant germ of an idea. There’s such glorious tension and momentum. In some semi-conscious way, I think it influences our voyage through the piece.”

Defining her own role, she said, “I hope to help people hear that famous motif, how Beethoven uses it throughout the entire symphony.”

She offered some specifics, noting the phrase is inverted and much slower in tempo during the second movement. “It’s obvious again in the third movement, and then he embedded it in the fourth. We hear it there in the non-melodic, supporting instruments.”

With Beethoven in place, the creative team added two pieces from different continents and different eras, Ginastera’s Harp Concerto (1956) and Enesco’s first Romanian Rhapsody (1901).

“It’s like the three are having a conversation with one other. Each has such an incredibly strong personality. These are not shy pieces,” she emphasized.

The robust, transcontinental, time-travel discussion no doubt focuses on historic, cultural touchstones. “Enesco wrote the quintessential gypsy music. This is a Romanian tone poem that immerses us in what feels like a thrilling campfire challenge between hard-living violinists,” Falletta noted.

Speaking of the harp concerto, she described a “dancelike optimism,” saying 20th Century Argentine composer Ginastera used the “folk music of the people and their landscape” to create his music.

“That’s fabulous programming, the best kind, really!” said a delighted featured soloist Kondonassis when she heard what music was paired with her harp concerto in the program. “Those three are like a great meal…such variety, enough contrast to stay riveted and ready for more.”

Though promotional material for the concert hales the Ginastera concerto as “rare,” Kondonassis clarified. “It’s not rare for me,” she said with a warm chuckle. “I love playing it! It’s one of the most sparkly pieces in the repertoire.”

“It’s a great piece for audiences because it showcases so much that a harp can do,” she said. Beyond the epitomized feathery glissandos and angelic arpeggios, the elegant, 47-stringed colossus can give so much more.

“Ginastera features special percussive effects, wonderful Latin rhythms. It’s as lyrical as it is melodic. It will sound like a different instrument sometimes.”

The breadth in numbers and years and styles equals thousands of sold tickets. Your best, last bet at a seat is the Friday late morning performance at Symphony Hall. It’s followed by a Meet the Artist Luncheonwhere attendees can talk to Falletta and Kondanassis personally.

The pair may reveal more about the mathematical equation that suggests the concert will be even greater than the sum of its arts. As Kondonassis concluded, the program “stretches the boundaries of technique, and still makes utterly beautiful symphonic music.”


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