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From the 2018/19 season, Nya Kammarorkestern i Uppsala (NyKo), a relatively brand-new orchestra, embarks on an artistically monumental challenge of performing all nine symphonies of Beethoven by 2020, not only to commemorate the 250th anniversary of Beethoven's existence, but also to firmly establish the calibre of the orchestra within Sweden.  This standard classic repertoire has never been performed in such a manner in this city, and there exists a crowd that is intellectually and spiritually hungry and curious in this old university town. 

So far, we have performed the following symphonies.

 

14 October 2018 - Symphony No. 5

2-3 February 2019 - Symphony No. 1

12 May 2020 - Symphony No. 2

Future performances are currently scheduled as follows.

13 October 2019 - Symphony No. 3

2 February 2020 - Symphony No. 4

May 2020 - Symphony No. 6

October 2020 - Symphony No. 7

February 2021 - Symphony No. 8

May 2021 - Symphony No. 9

Ludwig van Beethoven and His Symphonies by Duk-Kyung Chang

Why again Beethoven?  Why now?

Beethoven is a house-hold name, almost a common noun.  Boys and girls around the world learn to tinkle away Für Elise at family dinner parties, and even the most musically ignorant immediately recognizes "da da da, da---".  The music of Beethoven has never ceased to fascinate us, but also it can easily become a boring expression of cliché and chores.  Is it because his music has been perhaps the most exposed in the last 200 years and more, and therefore taken for granted?  Even if it is so, there is still a certain grain of truth in why generations of people in every corner of the globe continue to seek refuge and experience catharsis in and through the music of Beethoven.  

Countless conductors of the past and the present have already performed and recorded all nine symphonies of Beethoven with orchestras of various calibre and nationality.  Recordings by Wilhelm Fürtwängler and Arturo Toscanini in each of their own parallel universes, offer a glimpse of their great minds and understading of the symphonies.  Carlos Kleiber's recordings, especially those of the 5th and the 7th symphonies, are regarded as the milestones of its kind.  However, I find myself going back and again to his father, Erich Kleiber's recordings, especially that of the 3rd symphony.  Other canonical recordings include John Eliot Gardiner and his orchestre révolutionnaire et romantique, and Claudio Abbado/Herbert von Karajan with Berliner Philharmoniker.  Most recently, Gustavo Dudamel and Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra, have produced recordings, especially those of the 5th and the 7th, with refreshingly youthful energy.  Most notable is Seoul Philharmonic under the baton of Myung-Whun Chung for their mature and spirited performance.

Even after generations and generations of concerts and recordings, the scores of the Beethoven symphonies continue to provide questions upon questions.  

1.  The infamous metronome markings.  Roger Norrington and his London Classical Players have produced recordings which are brave and interesting. Scholars have written about Beethoven's intentions, and conductors such as Gunther Schuller, Max Rudolf, Erich Leinsdorf have shared their insights.  I have read as much as I could with both curiosity and confusion which sometimes results in near despair. 

I would like to share my humble experience as an aspring composer in my early twenties.  For me, the metronome markings I write in my music feel much faster than the tempo at which they are played, especially in slow music.   

 

2.  

  • forte, piu forte, fortissimo 

  • fp (forte followed by immediate piano?  or forte followed by diminuendo towards piano), sf (sforzando ... is it forte piano subito, or an accent within the context?), rf (rinforzando as in sforzando with rubato quality with structural importance).  Some argue that the concept of forte, followed by immediate piano, did not exist back then.  Mannheim orchestra was renowned particularly for their thunderous crescendo and breath-taking diminuendo.  

  • What does allegro mean?   What does andante mean?   What do they all mean for different composers?

  • What is minuet?  What is scherzo?  The scherzo of the fifth symphony is not a scherzo because there is no development.  But its first movement is written like a scherzo.  

  • The fourth bar in the fifth symphony does not exist in the manuscript. 

  • The meaning of staccato - staccato as in tenuto

  • the length of each fermata 

  • the length of pause between the movements within a symphony

3.  Performance practice issues:

  • period instruments? 

  • vibrato?  how much vibrato?  speed and size of vibrato?  

  • doubling the wind/brass sections?

  • orchestra seating