Professional musicians, who know this symphony better than the rest of us, can often remember particular performances of the Fifth. Richmond Symphony French horn player Thomas J”stlein recalls that as a young musician he had always wanted to play this symphony, but he never got the chance until his first professional job with the Hawaii Symphony. And who should the guest conductor be but the renowned Seiji Ozawa of the Boston Symphony. "It was a very musical performance. Ozawa was amazing," says J”stlein.
At the very first staging of the symphony in December 1808 it was performed with five other Beethoven premieres, including his Sixth Symphony. (Beethoven habitually worked on several pieces at the same time.) After the four-hour concert, one listener is reported to have said, "One can have too much of a good thing and still more of a loud." Although the Fifth Symphony was perhaps buried among all the other music at its first performance, it soon came to be recognized as one of the great symphonies of all time for its thematic cohesiveness and its sheer drama.
Apparently simple musical drama is not always sufficient, however. Richmond Symphony principal cellist Neal Cary remembers his first performance: "It was with the San Antonio Symphony and a troupe of flamenco dancers with castanets. Picture this: 'Ta-Ta-Ta- Daah ' followed by stomping, castanets, and the dancers striking a haughty flamenco pose. Then, 'Ta-Ta-Ta- Daah ' followed by more stomping, castanets, and again the haughty flamenco dance pose," he says. "Each movement was choreographed except for the slow movement. Strange, but it was actually quite artistic."
Sharing the program with Beethoven's Fifth this weekend are "Summer" from Vivaldi's work "The Four Seasons," featuring Concertmaster Karen Johnson, and the hauntingly beautiful "Les Nuits d'été" by Berlioz with Mary Phillips, mezzo-soprano. Virginia audiences heard Phillips as Dorabella in Virginia Opera's 1999 production of "Cos� fan tutte." She has previously sung under the direction of Mark Russell Smith with the Atlanta Symphony in a performance of Mahler's Symphony No. 2. Last year, Mahler's Third Symphony, which is scored for extra instrumentalists and full chorus in addition to a mezzo-soprano soloist, had been scheduled by the Richmond Symphony for performance this weekend. However, earlier this concert season the symphony board decided to replace the Mahler with the current line-up.
After this performance, the Richmond Symphony winds down the season May 31 at Pocahontas State Park with a free concert of popular highlights from the year. S
The Richmond Symphony performs their Masterworks Season Finale with mezzo-soprano Mary Philips on May 18, 20 at 8 p.m. at the Carpenter Center. Tickets cost $13-$60. Call 262-8003.