Beethoven and Beyond 

NSO's 2004 Beethoven Festival offers wide-ranging program of works by the master and other composers in his orbit

NSO's 2004 Beethoven Festival offers wide-ranging program of works by the master and other composers in his orbit

Nashville Symphony Orchestra

Performing June 12, 13, 19, 20, 26 and 27 at War Memorial Auditorium

Predictably, the music of Beethoven takes center stage in the NSO's third annual Beethoven Festival. This year, though, works by other composers have been included to demonstrate how Beethoven's formidable legacy drove his successors to keep pushing themselves. There are plenty of reasons to come to one of these matinee or evening concerts, not least of which being the opportunity to enjoy a pre-concert picnic in the War Memorial Auditorium plaza while being serenaded by strolling entertainers. Pay a little more and you can eat inside the auditorium at specially installed dining tables and continue to sip your drink as the concert begins.

The first concert (there are three in the series, all of them conducted by Maestro Kenneth Schermerhorn) sandwiches the Gallic energies of Berlioz in between two helpings of Beethoven. The program kicks off with Beethoven's Egmont Overture, part of the incidental music Beethoven wrote for Goethe's play of the same name. Next comes Berlioz's "Harold in Italy." Berlioz's masterpiece also had a literary inspiration—Byron's Childe Harold's Pilgrimage. There's much to delight in here as Harold (represented by a solo viola) takes a kaleidoscopic spin around Italy. Beethoven's Symphony No. 4 closes the program. It's an underrated work and, despite its ominous opening, is actually full of many good-humored and joyful passages.

Concert two is split three ways between Schubert, Mendelssohn and Beethoven. Schubert's infrequently heard incidental music for the play Rosamunde is a welcome inclusion. The utterly ludicrous text for the play ensured that it quickly bombed but Schubert's music survives and is full of flowing melodies and charm. Next, with its unforgettable and beautiful opening theme, comes Mendelssohn's Concerto for Violin, one of the most enduing and popular concertos for the instrument. Beethoven's Symphony No. 8 wraps things up. It's an elegant and courtly affair, a sort of fond farewell to the classical formalities that characterized the symphonies of Beethoven's teacher, Haydn.

Concert three pits Beethoven against Brahms. The Beethoven contributions include the overture from the Fidelio, followed by vocal excerpts for soprano and tenor from the opera. Fidelio is powerful and beautiful operatic fare—accessible, too, so operaphobes needn't be put off. If Brahms' Symphony No. 1 was all about the composer's attempt to free himself from the ghost of Beethoven, Symphony No. 2 (featured in this concert) finds Brahms in a much more relaxed mood. It's still pretty dark in places, but much more lyrical. Ironically, the many musical allusions to the natural world in the symphony led some to dub the work Brahms' "Pastoral," a direct reference to the composer's symphonic nemesis.

There's a lot of good music here. Family fun has been made the first order of the day, although it's probably wise to consider whether your kids can digest hefty portions of Beethoven as well as several hot dogs before bringing them to these summer picnic-cum-concert experiences.

The schedule is as follows: Concert 1: 7:30 p.m. June 12 and 2:30 p.m. June 13; Concert 2: 7:30 p.m. June 19 and 2:30 p.m. June 20; Concert 3: 7:30 p.m. June 26 and 2:30 p.m. June 27. n

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