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Gerald Carpenter: Chamber Orchestra to Play Two ‘Thirds’ of Beethoven

Pianist Tong Il Han will be a guest soloist for part of Tuesday's concert at the Lobero Theatre

The Santa Barbara Chamber Orchestra, under maestro Heiichiro Ohyama, is about to prove that size does not matter, in performing two of the most powerful works in the concert repertory with a band that would fit comfortably into the orchestra pit of a provincial opera house. I’ll put money on them being equal to the challenge.

Ludwig van Beethoven composing in his study.
Ludwig van Beethoven composing in his study.

On the program are two works by Ludwig van Beethoven: the Concerto No. 3 in C-Minor for Piano and Orchestra, Opus 37 and the Symphony No. 3 in Eb-Major, Opus 55, “Eroica”. The revered master pianist Tong Il Han will be the guest soloist in the concerto.

The concert, called for obvious reasons “Beethoven’s Thirds,” will take place at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Lobero Theatre.

The reason the Chamber Orchestra will make a triumph of this program is not far to seek: The power of Beethoven’s music does not come from his doubling the size of his orchestra. He took the orchestra bequeathed to him by his 18th-century masters — the orchestra of Joseph Haydn’s Salomen Symphonies and Wolfgang Mozart’s “Jupiter” — and employed it with what Robert Craft has called “unimprovable art.” And there are probably no two of his works better suited to illustrate this than the two on this program. The amazing thing is that they were written only three years apart, and less than two years separated their respective premieres.

The Third Piano Concerto was composed in 1800. Except for the fact that it is scored for two flues instead of one, it uses exactly the same instrumental forces, including timpani, as Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 24 in C-Minor, K. 491 and has the same key signature.

The opening themes of the two concertos are almost identical. I think it is Beethoven’s version of the Mozart concerto. It is a “state-of-the-art” 18th-century piano concerto, summing up perfectly the exact degree of power and fluid expressiveness to which Mozart had brought it in K.491. It is mainly backward-looking, except for the first movement cadenza, where we are given a glimpse of the future.

In the cadenza, titan that he was, Beethoven builds an imposing mountain range, hurls thunderbolts from the summit, then plays himself completely out of energy, exhausted scrolls of notes falling from the keyboard, until, with a two-note motive that is like a tap on the shoulder, he signals his return, his resurrection and comes roaring back with greater energy than before. In all his works, there is no moment quite so thrilling.

The Third Symphony, on the other hand, isn’t like anything that came before. It breaks open the elegant cabinets of the 18th century and sets in motion a new musical philosophy — which we might as well call Romanticism. Just about all of the musical 19th century comes from Beethoven’s symphonies 3-9. There is no end to the legitimate ways to play this symphony. When I was a boy, I was mad for Arturo Toscanini. Then I went 180 degrees the other way, with Otto Klemperer. And between the almost hysterical fury and excitement of Toscanini and the majestic, deliberate grandeur of Klemperer, there is a pace and energy for every taste. As long as you play all the notes as marked, you’ll get it right. Any performance of the “Eroica” is an important event.

Tickets to this concert are $47 and $42 (both including a $3 facility fee), and are available through the Lobero box office at 33 E. Canon Perdido St. or 805.963.0761. Click here to order online.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews.

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