What do you think of when you
hear the name of Beethoven?

1)      The jolting opening notes of the Symphony No. 5?

2) The epic, groundbreaking choral finale of the Symphony
No. 9?

3)      Schroeder playing “Für Elise” on a toy piano?

If you thought of them all, you are doubly blessed as a fan of both Beethoven and Peanuts.

The Las Vegas Philharmonic treated its guests to a concert exclusively of works by this musical genius (Beethoven, not Schroeder). Ludwig von Beethoven wrote some truly heroic music in his time, and his talent made the composer’s contemporaries forgive his dour nature. As Schroeder indignantly corrected Lucy in the Peanuts comic strip, “Beethoven was NOT cute!”

The Corinthian Trio.

Looks aren’t everything, but they can make performers fun to watch. After opening the concert with Beethoven’s lively King Stepan Overture, the Philharmonic was joined onstage by the Corinthian Trio for the Triple Concerto in C Major.  This unusual work features a trio in place of a single soloist, adding texture to what might otherwise be brilliant but one-dimensional solos.  Stefan Milenkovich was a statue, calmly making the trickiest violin solos look easy.  Ani Aznavoorian would finish every vigorous cello passage with a dramatic flourish of the bow, her brilliant red gown glimmering  and wavy hair flying.  Adam Neiman looked like an ultra-hip jazz pianist as he coolly tied the other soloists’ overlapping parts together.  What fun!

From the intense, grave opening notes of King Stepan, you can picture Beethoven’s famous scowl. However, both the overture and the following Triple Concerto offer a good balance of levity and drama.  The concerto’s opening allegro movement saw the Corinthians coordinating their parts, often with split-second timing, with quick glances at one another, reminiscent of the Ahn Trio’s performance in this hall.

Conductor Hal Weller watched them over his shoulder while keeping the orchestra in sync with the soloists.  The largo movement featured wonderful, sweet solos from Ani’s cello, backed by the Philharmonic’s string section.  The final rondo alla polacca movement had some unusual piano passages combining very high and very low notes.  Adam’s otherwise cool demeanor cracked into a few smiles in this playful movement.  The concerto ended with sharp notes separated by long pauses, and you could even imagine Beethoven’s frown softening a bit.

Napoleon Bonaparte on
his favorite steed, Morango.

The epic Symphony No. 3 was to be named the “Napoleon Symphony” in honor of the French general who appeared to be saving his country from chaos and oppression by overthrowing the corrupt government.  Later, upon learning that Napoleon had declared himself emperor, a furious Beethoven reportedly scratched out the name of his new symphony so hard that he ripped the paper.  It was later renamed the “Eroica Symphony” in honor of the memory of what Napoleon had once been.  Given the length of the work, maybe he should have gotten his revenge on the pint-sized dictator by excising one movement and naming the remainder “the short symphony.”

The Eroica Symphony is just that: heroic. 

Visit Webbandstand.comIts opening movement, allegro con brio, starts with tremendous energy, and even the lighter woodwind passages carry great urgency. There is also much use of gracefully flowing 3/4 time, and the composer has us all in an upbeat mood just as the second movement begins.  The marcia funebre is dark and despondent but sweet, with a beautiful section of soft, halting notes from the violins.  Beethoven wrote the third movement as a lively scherzo (Italian for “joke”) instead of the usual, well-worn minuet (probably Italian for “waltz lite”). It is a welcome change of mood after the funeral march, and things get even better in the final movement, allegro molto, wherein Beethoven cranks up the intensity for a grand finale of huge chords that you can almost hear coming from 12 bars away. Napoleon could have had this historic musical masterpiece named for him.  No doubt claiming the title of emperor was an historic mistake.  That and the whole Waterloo thing.

Ludwig von Beethoven:

Beethoven had his own history with titles.  Years earlier, he changed the “van Beethoven” of his Belgian ancestry to “von Beethoven” to sound more like German nobility.  Cute – but at least he didn’t declare himself an emperor.  The Las Vegas Philharmonic, with Harold von Weller in his final year as full-time conductor, will cap its 2005-06 season in heroic style on May 6 and 7 with Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony and then go into exile until the Star-spangled Spectacular on July 4.  Then they’ll rise again in the fall.

By Robert LaGrone, Jetsetters Magazine Entertainment Editor.

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