Monday 18 December 2017

Doing the twist to Beethoven's little number

A disco on the Reeperbahn, the street at the heart of Hamburg's night life, is the last place you'd expect to find a Beethoven symphony as the main attraction. But if, on the first Sunday in October, you head for Docks, which deems itself the most famous dance venue in the north German port, Beethoven is what you'll get.

Spira Mirabilis, the orchestral group behind this unusual promotion, will be performing the shortest of the Beethoven symphonies, the eighth. They're a small ensemble, made up of some of the finest young musicians in Europe, with an average age of 26.

The players are all active in mainstream professional orchestras, but team up as Spira Mirabilis (the name refers to the miracle spiral, the exemplification of mathematical consistency) to perform away from regular venues where they'll often face "a non-traditional audience". The crowd on the Reeperbahn certainly fit that bill.

Spira Mirabilis perform like an extended chamber group, without a conductor. If there is a first among equals, it's the Italian violinist Lorenza Borrani, whose day job is as leader of the renowned Chamber Orchestra of Europe.

They put the onus of interpretation on the collective, rather than a maestro out front. This approach to presenting a Beethoven symphony is certainly unusual.

The eighth is the shortest of the composer's nine. Beethoven himself would refer to it as "my little symphony in F" to distinguish it from the more expansive, and indeed more popular 'Pastoral' symphony (the sixth), with which it shares a key. It was an acknowledgement, too, that this one is different.

You hear it from the very start. There's no introduction. The symphony simply surges into life, and goes off on its merry melodic way. It's all light, and bright. Where you'd expect the second movement to be slow, for instance, you get something that could almost pass for a Mendelssohn opening.

On the face of it, the structure is conventional, yet Beethoven leads the listener up a succession of garden paths to a final, extended expression of delight -- an Allegro vivace that ends with a sparkling exuberant coda.

Looked at in this way, it's probably perfectly suited to the Spira Mirabilis treatment. And given its liveliness and good humour, the eighth is probably the one Beethoven creation that'll be most at home in a disco, delivered beside a dance floor.

George Hamilton presents The Hamilton Scores on RTÉ lyric fm from 9.30 each Saturday morning.

Irish Independent

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