Beethoven, Brahms and Benedetti vs Barbarians

Lindsay Perigo's picture
Submitted by Lindsay Perigo on Mon, 2016-04-18 02:28

If there were any flaws in the performances on Saturday night (April 16, 2016) by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra—with conductor Edo de Waart, violinist Nicola Benedetti and cellist Leonard Elschenbroich—of Beethoven (Eroica Symphony) and Brahms (Double Concerto) then this reviewer couldn't hear them, and it would be churlish to mention them anyway, so sublime was the grandeur attained. (The obligatory token touch of Kiwiana—the Lilburn Festival Overture—at the beginning of the evening was a non-event of which no further mention need be made.) The Michael Fowler Centre was packed to the rafters for this orgy of Romanticism—just as it was conspicuously uncrowded for the outbreak of Mahleria two weeks before—and the large audience was sumptuously rewarded.

It helped that the two soloists are in love, and have been for many years. The difficulty of finding two equally proficient and simpatico performers has been an impediment to the frequency with which the Double Concerto has been played since it was written. Here is a match seemingly made in Heaven. Benedetti and Elschenbroich are a preposterously glamourous-looking pair who both could have careers on the catwalk were it not for their equally exceptional music-making. Leonard makes love to the score with a hair-flopping intensity that makes even Mischa Maisky seem subdued; Nicola likewise; both are exquisitely delicate when required, as in the second movement.

It helps, too, that Benedetti in particular is a passionate crusader for the Romantic genre itself. The Beethoven she and her boyfriend, having rendered that glorious Brahms, sat down with the orchestra to help out with, is the very work that launched Romanticism in music, the milieu that represents music's apogee. Benedetti wishes that children could be given the opportunity to bypass the horrors of contemporary filth by being exposed to real and decent joys when their receptors are open:

The benefits of regularly listening to, say, a 15-minute Beethoven movement are immeasurable. As you’re listening you’re developing patience, opening a creative channel in your brain, and being exposed to one of the best, most complex works that a human being has ever created. To me, sending a child through their education without asking them to do that is the same as not asking them to read the great novels. Children have commercial pop culture drummed into their brains every day. All I’m saying is please show them the other side of the coin too. Quality music will make any child’s life much, much better. I haven’t met a single teacher—and I’ve been into more schools than I can count—who can tell me that their students are immune to the benefits.

I hear so much negativity, all the time. Words like elitist, stuffy, posh. But to a five-year-old child, music is music. It just sounds how it sounds. They don’t have any preconceptions about it. If we can get to them while they are young, I genuinely believe that we can immeasurably improve the quality of their lives. To me, it feels like a bit of a race against time. ...

What classical music gives me is almost impossible to put into words. When I’m playing it’s like a spiritual sense of wellbeing comes over me. I’m absolutely convinced—and I want the world to know what I know—that there is something in the music itself that can bring you to a place of substance. And from that place, I truly believe that anything is possible.

What is possible, if enough human beings go to that place of substance, is nothing less than humanity's salvation from barbarism ... but it is a race against time, and in the current culture the odds undoubtedly favour barbarism. The primitive, retarded, adenoidal mewlings that have universally usurped human speech, let alone music, are a sure sign that the receptors for real and decent joys I referred to above have, in today's moronnials, been destroyed. In ten years the majority of the vast but elderly audience at the Fowler Centre will be dead, as will their kin in other hitherto-civilised cities and nations; the moronnials will then have it all their own detestable, nihilistic way—in which case civilisation will end, without any terrorist having to unleash a single weapon of mass destruction. Moronnials are WMDs.

Beethoven and Brahms, via Edo de Waart, Nicola Benedetti, Leonard Elschenbroich and the ladies and gentlemen of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra afforded a rapturous reminder of what's at stake.