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BWW Reviews: Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia Celebrates the Fall of the Berlin Wall at PIFA

On April 7, 2013, at Verizon Hall at the Kimmel Center, the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, with the Menelssohn Club of Philadelphia, and the Center For Emerging Visual Artists, presented their part of the festivities for the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts as the three organizations celebrated November 9. 1989, the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Under the baton of Conductor Laureate Ignat Solzhenitsyn, the Orchestra performed "Wind of Change", the international hit by Klaus Meine of German band The Scorpions, with lyrics sung by tenor soloist Adam Frandsen. Behind Frandsen and the orchestra were screens of visuals by photographer James Abbott of the Berlin Wall and areas around Berlin. The photographic arrangements and their movement, scored perfectly to the music, provided an intensely dramatic backdrop to the song, with an equally stunning intensity of the music behind Frandsen's powerful vocals.

The second work, which followed the first in theme as well as in the program, was the completely instrumental "Epitaph for the Victims of Communism" by Mikhail Dmitrievich Smirnov, which also came with riveting visuals by Abbott that contrasted body counts of those trying to cross the Berlin Wall each year with Berlin's statuary of angels that stood there in stark contrast to their grim surroundings. With gloomily expressive percussion and a melancholy string melody, the effect of the entirety of art and music moved many in the audience to wipe their eyes as the piece progressed.

The concert concluded with Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125, known more familiarly as the Choral Symphony, with Schiller's Ode to Joy performed in the fourth movement by the Mendelssohn Club and soloists Katie Van Kooten, Marietta Simpson, Adam Frandsen, and Luis Ledesma. The performance, with not only its choral fourth movement but its legendary molto vivace second movement (first heard and memorized by those of a certain age as the theme to NBC's Huntley/Brinkley Report, which used the famous Toscanini/NBC Symphony recording), featured Maestro Solzhenitsyn's kinetic conducting of the orchestra leading to a dynamic interpretation of the entire work. If Beethoven felt that words were inadequate to convey the message of the first three movements, it is astonishing that, given such performances as this, more dance companies have not felt the need to set more works to it, as the second movement in particular all but demands bodily expression.

It was Wagner who theorized that Beethoven resorted to singers in the fourth movement as music had become inadequate; it is more likely that Beethoven recognized that the full expression of joy requires all possible voices; just as the Psalms record all the instruments and voices required to praise the Lord, so did Beethoven use all at his disposal to celebrate joy, or, as originally intended to be the theme, freedom. These are concepts for which anything less than everything is inadequate.

Inadequate, however, could not be applied to the performance, which the audience embraced enthusiastically, calling Solzhenitsyn back to the stage repeatedly. The program, put together by Solzhenitsyn to commemorate the fall of the Berlin Wall, was perfectly selected to move from prayers for change after Glasnost to recognition of the destruction wrought by the Wall, to classical music's greatest ode to the taste of freedom celebrating the end of the modern era's greatest symbol of repression.

Photo Credit: Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia

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From This Author Marakay Rogers