The Beethoven 250 Festival opens this week at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance with all nine symphonies and other important orchestral works in five concerts spread over six days in the venue at Millennium Park. To accomplish this feat, they are bringing in Sir John Eliot Gardiner and his Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique, which together have brought to the stage and recording studio historically accurate and informed interpretations of music by baroque, classical, and romantic composers. Harris Theater is one of several venues around Chicago celebrating the 250th anniversary of Ludwig van Beethoven’s birth.
Like string quartets, piano sonatas, and cello sonatas, Beethoven’s nine symphonies run the entire range of his career, starting with two early works patterned after Mozart and Haydn, six middle works in Beethoven’s own revolutionary style, and a final work breaking all previously established bounds. They also thoroughly explore and capture the widely varied moods and feelings that Beethoven’s new composition techniques unlocked. As a single body of work, Beethoven’s nine symphonies have impacted classical music audiences more than any other.
In a rather odd performance choice, the opening concert this Thursday starts at the end. It includes the granddaddy of all symphonies, Symphony No. 9 in d-minor, Op. 125. Among its many noteworthy achievements, the 9th symphony is the first to include vocals. Gardiner and the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique will be joined by another ensemble he founded, the Monteverdi Choir. The soloists will be soprano Lucy Crowe, contralto Jess Dandy, tenor Ed Lyon, and bass Tareq Nazmi. Thursday’s concert also includes Beethoven’s final middle period symphony, Symphony No. 8 in F-major, Op. 93, a work that actually represents a look back to the way things once were.
Normal order is restored the following night with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1 in C-major, Op. 21. That program includes the earliest rendition of his Lenore Overture, No. 1, excerpts from his music for the ballet Creatures of Prometheus, and the aria Ah Perfido! Saturday night offers another early work, Symphony No. 2 in D-major, Op. 36, and one of the works that truly set Beethoven apart from all of his predecessors, Symphony No. 3 in E-flat-Major, Op. 55, Eroica.
Following a day-long break, the festival continues on Monday with Symphony No. 4 in B-flat Major, Op. 60, and the most well-known of the nine, Symphony No. 5 in c-minor, Op. 67. The festival concludes next Tuesday with the first symphony ever to follow a program and deviate from the traditional four-movement structure used by Haydn and Mozart, Symphony No. 6, Op. 68, Pastoral. The final work is this reviewer’s personal favorite, Symphony No. 7 in A-Major, Op. 92.
The festival runs this Thursday, February 27, through the following Tuesday, March 3. All performances take place at Harris Theater of Music and Dance at Millennium Park, 205 E. Randolph Drive, at 7:30 pm. Ticket prices range from $35 to $150. Click here for more information.