The first week of Carmel Bach Festival 2017 ended not with a whimper, but with a bang, and quite a big bang at that. With three masterpieces on the program and seemingly a cast of thousands on stage, we were hearing the Carmel Bach Festival at its best.
In the pre-concert lecture David Gordon described the circumstances of the premier of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony on May 7, 1824. It was by any standard a near disaster — hastily thrown together, under rehearsed and a bitter experience for Beethoven, not only because of his deafness, but also as a drain on his finances at a time in his life when he was most vulnerable.
If we miraculously could have brought him back to life (and restored his hearing), he certainly would have enjoyed last night’s performance at Sunset Center under the direction of conductor Paul Goodwin (augmented by the skills of associate conductor of the chorale Andrew Megill and assistant conductor of the chorus John Koza). Just about every vocal and instrumental performer associated with the festival was on stage last night. We were hearing the Festival Orchestra, Chorale, Chorus and the four soloists soprano Mhairi Lawson, mezzo Mindy Ella Chu, tenor Thomas Cooley and baritone Dashon Burton.
Experiencing a live performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is a confirmation that this work is a moving testament to the human spirit at its best. Its emotional power and pent up energy stirs up feelings and internal energy in all of us. The culmination of this work with its exultant setting of the hymn, “Ode to Joy,” has become one of the most iconic and most recognizable melodies in the entire domain of classical music, and it certainly exerted its magic on us all last night.
The evening’s program began with a work we don’t hear often enough, Beethoven’s Overture to the Ballet, The Creatures of Prometheus, Op. 43. Goodwin’s direction maintained brisk tempos and brought out all the charm and excitement of which this work is capable.
The other major work on this program was Brahms Variations on a theme by Haydn, Op. 56a, a pioneering work in the genre of symphonic variations. In this orchestral arrangement of a work originally composed for two pianos, the festival musicians gave us a performance full of expressive devices and lots of opportunities to hear various sections of the orchestra.
At the end of this concert it was a happy and cheering audience that gave the performers rousing bravos and a standing ovation.