Nine Beethoven symphonies in four days

This June the NZ Symphony Orchestra takes on all nine Beethoven symphonies, in order, providing an opportunity to hear the composer's entire symphonic output.

Over four days (Wellington June 12-15, Auckland June 19-22), the NZSO will embark on an exploration of these popular symphonies, each offering a different portrait of the composer, from his classical beginnings to the heroism of his middle period and the complexity of his last works. Conducting the performances will be the orchestra’s music director, Pietari Inkinen, who received rave reviews for conducting Wagner’s 15-hour opera epic Der Ring des Nibelungen in Melbourne for Opera Australia late last year.

“Performing Beethoven’s symphonies in order is a truly unique experience for New Zealanders,” NZSO music director Pietari Inkinen says. “Momentum builds with each symphony, allowing the listener to experience these remarkable works in an entirely new way, all within four days. This is a modern symphony orchestra performing all 346 minutes of Beethoven’s symphonies at full-strength – an unmissable event,” he says.

Regarded as one of the greatest symphonists, Beethoven began his revolutionary career by looking back to past masters Mozart and Haydn. His Symphony No 1, first performed in 1800, is filled with the grace and balance of the 18th century. His second symphony, first performed three years later, is a step forward – self-assured and confident, with an infectious energy. By this stage, Beethoven was in his 30s and was facing the reality of his increasing deafness.

Devoting his life to art, he carved out a new, heroic path that inspired one of the most magnificent symphonies in the repertoire. The triumphant Symphony No 3 – known as the Eroica – is a revolutionary work that set forth a new credo for instrumental music.

“The significance of Beethoven is insurmountable,” says Inkinen. “He reinvented the symphony, redefined piano sonatas and reshaped string quartets. Combining the full-strength of the NZSO with the brilliance of Beethoven’s symphonies is a memory I have wanted to create for some time. This is Beethoven at its best.”

Beethoven’s fourth and fifth symphonies were composed simultaneously and they are ideal companions. The breezy joyfulness of Symphony No 4 heightens the drama of his Symphony No 5. Opening with four of the most famous fateful notes in music history, this symphony occupies a special place in the orchestral repertoire. Wild, uncompromising and bold, it is little wonder that the fifth symphony is perhaps Beethoven’s most famous work. Nothing beats hearing this iconic piece performed live in concert.

Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6, The Pastorale, recreates the comfort and calm of being immersed in nature with its chattering birdcalls and storms. His seventh symphony is something different again. Completed four years later, it features Beethoven’s beloved ‘Allegretto’ second movement, which famously features in the 2010 blockbuster, The King’s Speech, as George VI makes his address to the nation.

The fourth and final concert features Beethoven’s last two symphonies. The eighth is a sophisticated work that takes us on a dazzling journey from elegant dances to a witty finale before the genius of Beethoven’s Symphony No 9.

Making use of Friedrich Schiller’s famous Ode to Joy, the Ninth emerges from darkness to light and brings the orchestra and vocalists together in an impressive chorale finale that continues to influence composers world-wide. The performance features soprano Tiffany Speight, mezzo-soprano Annely Peebo, bass Peter Coleman-Wright, New Zealand’s own tenor superstar Simon O’Neill and the vocal power of Orpheus Choir (Wellington) and Auckland Choral (Auckland), this finale to our Beethoven cycle will be a definitive, once-in-a-lifetime event.

BEETHOVEN: THE SYMPHONIES: Pietari Inkinen, conductor; Tiffany Speight, soprano; Annely Peebo, mezzo-soprano; Simon O’Neill, tenor; Peter Coleman-Wright, bass; Orpheus Choir of Wellington (Wellington only) Auckland Choral (Auckland only)

BEETHOVEN Symphonies No 1 - 9

DAY ONE: Symphony No. 1, 2 & 3 WELLINGTON Michael Fowler Centre June 12, 6.30 pm AUCKLAND Town Hall June 19, 7.00 pm

DAY TWO: Symphony No. 4 & 5 WELLINGTON Michael Fowler Centre June 13, 6.30 pm AUCKLAND Town Hall June 20, 7.00 pm

DAY THREE: Symphony No. 6 & 7 WELLINGTON Michael Fowler Centre June 14 7.30 pm AUCKLAND Town Hall June 21 7.30 pm

DAY FOUR: Symphony No. 8 & 9 WELLINGTON Michael Fowler Centre June 15, 3.00 pm AUCKLAND Town Hall June 22, 3.00 pm

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