I was fortunate enough to attend “Beethoven: the Power of Three” by the National Philharmonic, under the expert baton of Piotr Gajewski, at the Music Center at Strathmore.
The night began with the “Leonore Overture No. 3 Op. 72b.” Combining themes and musical elements from Beethoven’s opera Fidelio, “No. 3″ is widely regarded as the most popular and strongest. The National Philharmonic certainly did it justice, with their lyrical yet powerful interpretation, under Gajewski’s able baton. The emotion of the piece shone through and kept the audience in rapt attention.
The real highlight of the night however was the “Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 37,” with soloist Orli Shaham on piano. I have seen several concerto soloists perform similar pieces and they find themselves wrapped up so much in the music – and specifically their part – that there seemed to be no connect between the soloist and the orchestra, as if the orchestra is merely back-up music for the soloist. Not so with Shaham. Shaham clearly enjoys this piece – her engagement with the concerto was obvious from the first as she swayed to the music. Once she began playing with the orchestra, the interplay between Shaham, the conductor, and even soloing members of the Philharmonic was entertaining and very enriching. The sheer joy they felt in this piece was palpable. These musicians are consummate professionals and were technically brilliant, but it was the joy and playfulness they communicated to each other and the audience that made this piece the highlight of the night.
However, despite the sheer charisma of Shaham and her playing, the last piece of the night was also lovely and engaging. Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major Op. 55,” also known as the “Eroica Symphony,” was originally named after Napoleon, but when Napoleon named himself emperor of France, an enraged Beethoven renamed the piece “Heroic Symphony”. While many early listeners found the symphony unreasonably long or “strange and violent”, tonight’s audience was enthralled by the Philharmonic’s performance. The Philharmonic produced a lovely rich and full sound in the intense moments but was equally capable of the delicacy needed in the quieter moments. Gajewski’s animation as a conductor certainly contributed to that – his grand gestures inspired grand performances in the members of the Philharmonic, to the benefit of all.
While the concert is titled “Beethoven: The Power of Three.” referring to the three pieces composed by Beethoven, it might just as easily refer to conductor Piotr Gajewski, pianist Orli Shaham, and the Philharmonic itself, for they were truly as much the stars tonight as Beethoven. It is truly a concert not to be missed.