“Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra’s Beethoven’s Symphony The 5th for RM15 on Sept 19! Gonna be fast as this is student ticket” Zeno exclaimed. My heart skipped. Knowing that I should be free on that day I accept his invitation with alacrity and was added to the Whatsapp group. As student cards were needed, we went to the Petronas Philharmonic Office at KLCC, only to know that this perk was only offered for the performance on Sept 18. Who cares even if the taxi fare and the meal at Chilli’s there threw us into bankruptcy? To our delight, the student tickets were available upon our purchase. We then started our countdown: 29 days.
4 of us departed at six, well donned as to comply with the dress code for audience (thankfully at six and not anything earlier because at 4:50pm I received an emergency message that needed me to rush to college to submit document for UK applications). Coincidentally, we were 2 pairs of housemates and 2 pairs of classmates simultaneously (don’t get it? Think again!) As expected, it was too early to enter directly after our dinner. We therefore rejoiced ourselves in taking photographs outside the edifice, which is decorated with fountain illuminated with several colours. It turned out that my pose could never satisfy ‘Her Photography Highness’ Jean Lee, but what could I do besides being natural?
Time’s up. We took our seat and waited for the show.
- Haydn’s Symphony No. 93 in D major
- Giorgio Battistelli’s Mystery Play
- Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C minor
Our sensation began upon hearing a forceful D (in unison if not mistaken) of the first movement of Haydn and the deliberate tempo serves as a ‘formal’ introduction before the main theme came in: the minuet. Gracefully presented through, but at times it can be highly punctuated via the rhythm of the percussion employed (and can go mischievous by the repeated five-note-arpeggio phrase by some woodwind/brass instrument). The second movement, starting at G major, was gentle, but upon modulation into G minor I was surprised by the sudden increase in dynamics! Knowing the style of classical music and deducing from the first movement of this symphony I never expected it.
The third movement (minuet) again portrayed the graceful dance nature, albeit at greater intensity. And at one point I felt the music familiar: some phrase of the first movement was reiterated. The fourth movement was amusing with its playful and light beginning, sounding like a scherzo. It was fascinating to see this piece, marked ‘presto ma non troppo’, sounded like allegro to me (maybe due to the non troppo?) This led me to recall how one examiner told me in the exam that in the past, “Allegro” was not as fast as “Allegro” now “because bull cart was considered fast those days but slow for today!”
Following the symphony was “The Mystery Play”, which I thought that it was literally mystery: the title remains confidential until the performance! Only before playing this piece did I realize that it is indeed a title. 20th century piece, beginning with some cryptic string playing near the bridge, then interjected with some loud note. The whole 16-minute performance made me think of “Sinister 2” watched 11 days ago: a somewhat horror movie that delineates how children are brainwashed to kill their entire families. Believe me, I was mentally lost after this performance.
20 minutes break, and here comes the crux of the programme. As expected, it started with the defining phrase of this symphony, but at first I was underwhelmed because I expected louder hit on that four notes-I would have used all my energy for that four notes if I were to play on piano! I gone into analytical musings: is it because of the capability of instruments in terms of dynamics, or because the hall was too big that the sound dispersed a lot? In the middle of my thoughts, here came the slow and gentle second movement.
Gentle? Well yes, but there few (repeated) sections in C major that saw the great waves battling the shore in a usually windless environment. But that’s the section that touched me the most, because that’s the only thing I remembered when I first listened to this movement. This selective memory again underscores Beethoven’s revolution in music: sudden change of dynamics resulting in rocketing and plummeting of intensities, and frequent modulation of piece. This brings out the zeal of the conductor, Roberto Abbado in the performance, having full control of the music comprising different dynamic level. Waving gently and forcefully during different passages seemed to be done at ease.
Third movement, like its “Scehrzo: Allegro” marking, was somewhat mischievous like some background music of ‘trolling’ comedies. But its connection into the fourth movement was so seamless that I never notice the boundary until the forceful introduction of the latter. Now my doubts in the beginning disappeared: the ‘lost’ of intensity in the beginning served to make subtle difference in energy level so that a more subtle spectrum of dynamic level can bestowed for this trademark symphony. Especially fascinating was the enthusiasm of the conductor during this movement, when he jumped a few times with his conducting stick, and forcefully pointed at a violinist during a phrase. Couldn’t get over the astonishment, I left my mouth open when this symphony ends.
The conductor received rounds of applause, walking in and out with claps thundering, until I was puzzled whether this can stop at all. But he deserved it: his emotional devotion to this piece contributed a lot to this successful performance.
And this opened my eye of the works of Beethoven-something I had never learned even when I enrolled for my diploma exam. Different layers of intensity nuances were the essence of his composition, not just “banging” or “whispering”. This led to the self-realization of my mistake of playing Beethoven’s piece, which pulled me from achieving anything higher than mere pass.
To close my thoughts, I love this performance, especially with good friends who shared this interest with me. “My mind was still in the concert!” Zeno exclaimed during the return journey. We should have discovered this in semester one, a period when the schedule was the most relaxing.