BEETHOVEN: Symphony No 9 – introduced by Riccardo Chailly

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Gramophone magazine: The Italian conductor believes that, in his final symphony, Beethoven reached beyond humanity.

My connection with this symphony goes back to my time at the Milan Conservatory, but I never dared to conduct such a masterpiece until 1990, when I was the Music Director at the Musicale Communale in Bologna. I started conducting Beethoven with the First Symphony when I was not even 20 years old, but I postponed the Eroica, the Fifth and the Ninth for as long as I could. The ones that gave me courage to start were the Fourth and the Eighth. I still remember like it was yesterday the feeling almost of being guilty, to have had the courage to get close to such a piece as the Ninth – and, at the same time, the joy of being inflamed by the power of that music. Unforgettable.

Since then I have conducted the piece regularly. First with the Verdi orchestra in Turin in the late 1990s I imported the tradition (which started in Leipzig) to play the symphony at the end of every year. Now it is the Beethoven symphony I have conducted the most. Then my destiny of life brought me to Leipzig where that tradition started under Arthur Nikisch in 1918, continuing even during the war years. The Leipzig connection is strong. Schiller was living in Leipzig when he composed the text ‘An die Freude’. You can even visit a museum now and see the corner where he sat and wrote. The Gewandhaus Orchestra was the first to premiere the entire cycle.

I am proud of the way in which the orchestra showed flexibility and a willingness to change gear in terms of pacing the Ninth. I have always sought to respect the aesthetics and the roots of the past, never to ignore or neglect them, but still to find a new frame of interpretation.

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Thank you

Neil McCauley / editor in chief

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