The Philadelphia Orchestra: Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3

Have you made it to Verizon Hall yet to hear the Philidelphia Orchestra? If you are anywhere near Philadelphia, and a lover of classical music, missing this opportunity would be like skipping the opportunity to watch the Bulls during their championship run with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippin. This orchestra is experiencing an over-abundance of talent and precision this season. To the delight of attendees, the venue enhances their sound in a way that cannot be reproduced without spending thousands of dollars in audiophile-level equipment. 

This evening’s lineup* included Perry’s Study for Orchestra, Mozart’s Piano Concerto 24 in C minor, and Beethoven’s Symphony #3. I am curious what led Yannick to pair one of Mozart’s two minor key concertos with Beethoven’s heroic symphony. Mozart paired brilliantly with Perry’s work and would have been enough as it was for an evening.

This evening’s guest conductor was the Finnish clarinetist and composer-director Osmo Vänskä. A true veteran in the classical scene, he began his professional career 52 years ago. His active, emotional approach mesmerized the audience. It was almost as though we were watching him paint a portrait of what the orchestra would play. This was particularly impressive during the slower contemplative movements. Such conducting enhances the thoughtful and moody movements for the audience. 

The evening started out with a suspenseful, almost eerie and haunting piece by Perry. This Study for Orchestra sounded a bit similar to the soundtrack of a horror movie in a forest. The timpani and strings really shined in this piece, the one as the heartbeat and the other in complete unison both in time and dynamic presentation. 

After this pleasing start, Inon Barnatan provided the most enjoyable part of the concert. His intense performance of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 24 merged with the orchestra with absolute smoothness. The transition of play and echo between the orchestra and the piano was a perfection in balance. The respect that Osmo Vänskä demonstrated for the soloist was touching and seemed quite sincere, following and leading to meet his style and needs. When the audience demanded an Encore, Barnatan announced he would play Mendelssohn. There was an audible gasp from the audience (one has to love how knowledgeable the Philidelphia patrons are concerning the music). As he played, it was almost as if we held our collective breath, not wanting to miss a moment of the Rondo Capriccio. 

Beethoven’s 3rd Symphony is well known, wonderful, and long. Coming after the concerto and the encore made it for a long night for both the performers and the audience. I would have moved one of the other pieces to another night if I were planning the programming. Fortunately, the orchestra was more up to the task than expected and they seemed to improve as the evening went on. 

This piece marked the beginning of Beethoven’s second compositional period. The symphony seems to center around the fourth movement. In this piece, known as Eroica, or heroic, Beethoven builds to a fantastic climax. Unlike other compositions where the first movement introduces the theme and the others provide detail, thematic development, and variations. Under the baton of Vänskä, the orchestra channeled more of the Beethovenian intensity and ferver that separates mediocre performances of the symphony from those that are truly great. 

As always, readers can hear these performances at home by tuning into Philidelphia Orchestra concerts broadcasts on WRTI 90.1 FM on Sunday Afternoons at 1 p.m. and are repeated on Monday evenings at 7 p.m. on WRTI HD 2. Visit to listen.

Be sure to visit The Philadelphia Orchestra online to see upcoming events in the 2022-2023 season, as well as the newly announced 2023-2024 season!

*we were invited to facilitate a feature, all opinions are our own*

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