(Note: A correction has been made to this article, which also affected the comments).
Hola a todos. What a marvelous and thoroughly enjoyable performance. You may have heard Franz Schubert’s Symphony No. 9 in C, D 944, (known as the Great Symphony) but I suspect you’ve not seen it played by being inside the Orchestra which takes a performance to a whole new level, which you can do by watching this HD video from my favourite, the hr-Sinfonieorchester/Frankfurt Radio Symphony.
This is the Symphony Orchestra of the Hessischer Rundfunk, German Public Radio of Hesse, one of the states of Deutschland/Germany, centrally located within Deutschland with Frankfurt being Hesse’s largest city. We have nothing like this in the States. There is no npr or PBS Orchestra, and I doubt there ever will be!
When watching this performance, if at one point near the end you think you’re hearing part of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, you are correct. Schubert briefly “quoted” from part of the Beethoven (one occurrence of that you can hear beginning at 45.28 in the video. It appears at two different places in the score). I don’t know that Schubert could get away with that today due to copyright nonsense.
The hr-Sinfonieorchester have an excellent camera crew and record in HD. Their stage in the Alte Oper Frankfurt — if this building could think, I imagine it appreciates not being an opera house anymore and not having to listen to screaming, heavy-vibrato opera divas — is a recording set with microphones all over the place and with the winds, brass and percussion sections of the Orchestra elevated for camera views. It’s extremely well done. And these musicians are consistently stellar. I wish most Orchestra Choruses would produce such consistently splendid results, starting with singing with a straight-tone — no noticeable vibrato — guaranteeing perfect intonation in all sections (SATB). And notice the young age (he’s currently 35; I thought he was in his 20s until I researched him) of the Second Concertmaster, Florin Silviu Iliescu. Perhaps he was a child prodigy. Well, he did start studying the violin at the age of 5. (I started playing the piano at the age of 5 but didn’t start formal piano instruction until the age of 8). In one performance I watched, Florin was First Concertmaster and Maximilian Junghanns had been moved to Second Concertmaster. He usually plays in either third or fifth chair in the performances we’ve watch, if I’m remembering correctly. They have at least two principal flautists: Clara Andrada de la Calle and Sebastian Wittiber. They alternate as principals. Although in this performance, the principal flautist is a woman I’ve not seen before. When she stood to take her bow with the wind section, she looked very humble and modest with a nice smile, like the other splendid musicians of this Orchestra.
Mi amigo/My friend and I have watched this performance a few times so far. One of our favourite parts of this work is the last movement especially at the gallops. The violas (they’re over on the right side of the stage when you’re facing the stage) play the galloping figure initially. The violas ultimately accompany the oboist who plays one of those lovely melodies of the last movement. That whole section we found most interesting to watch with the bowing action from the violas, basses and violins especially when they play the groups of 4 octaves in a row. Also, there for a couple of measures it took some rather super-human arm/hand movements to play that part on the viola that the camera showed up. I suspect they drilled that rather well to play it so flawlessly.
I think the competition is rather fierce to be in this Orchestra. The first year is a trial year and one does not become a regular member of the Orchestra until one’s second year. I read that they’re particularly known for their wind section (which is superb), but as far as I’m concerned they should be known for the perfection of every section, including their absolutely gorgeous string section. It doesn’t get any better than this.
Final movement begins: after 41.17 in the video
Quite showy Bowing: at 52.00 with the violas, then the double basses, then the violins
Sometimes after listening to a hr-Sinfonieorchester performance, I’ll be curious to hear how another Orchestra plays the same work, so I’ll check out another Orchestra, usually in the EU. Even though I will enjoy other performances by other orchestras, we always end up coming back to the first performance we heard which was with the hr-Sinfonieorchester. There’s just something about them. It’s hard to put into words, other than to say their sound, consistently high quality level and also I’m very familiar with many of their musicians from seeing them so many times. It’s also interesting to see how their musicians move around within the Orchestra, particularly in the string section.
And as usual, Andrés Orozco-Estrada, the conductor, whom I like very much remains as humble and modest as always, the sign of a true artist not stuck on oneself — not even a hint of arrogance despite all of his accomplishments — giving the credit for this superb performance not to himself but to these outstanding musicians who played the work. These are among the finest musicians on the planet. Perfection. I really can’t say enough superlatives about them. It’s almost as if Andrés is thinking, “I’m just the conductor; I didn’t play a note,” which is true. Conductors don’t play a note unless they’re conducting from a keyboard, something that the Classical Music Snots (those self-appointed, know-it-all, nit-picking armchair critics often with no musical training at all probably) seem to have never considered as they engage in their conductor worshipping routine with their silly and juvenile arguing over who is the best. (Related: Dudamel does it best! No, Bernstein! No, Solti! No, Karajan!). In some pieces, the conductor is rather critical to the overall interpretation of the performance one just heard. In other pieces, conductors really don’t make that much difference. Brahms’s Ein Deutsches Requiem (one of my favourite symphonic choral works and that’s a superb performance at that link) is an example of that. That pretty much sounds the same no matter who conducts it, assuming the Symphony Chorus is superb, well-trained and singing with a lovely straight tone. It really depends upon what it is. And unlike some of the Classical Music Snots, I’m not into conductor-worshipping and dropping the names of internationally-known/celebrity conductors.
Andrés seems to have a very special rapport with the hr-Sinfonieorchester and they all seem to like him, as I do. Like some of the finest orchestras, I think this Orchestra could easily play perfectly without a conductor. I’ve seen several performances like that with other orchestras. By the way, Andrés is originally from Colombia but trained in Vienna and lives there. And for those who don’t know, his last name (Orozco-Estrada) is a combination of his father’s last name (Orozco) hyphenated with his mother’s last name (Estrada) which is common in Latin culture. Unlike other cultures where only the father’s name is used. Andrés is also conductor of the Houston Symphony Orchestra. That’s quite a commute from Vienna/Frankfurt to Houston. Enjoy this absolutely splendid performance. It doesn’t get any better than this. Chau.—el barrio rosa