The Beethoven Bash

Last night was my first time at the symphony. And appropriately enough, it was the “Beethoven Bash” program.

Beethoven is probably my favorite composer. It helps that he’s who I’m most familiar with, but I do believe he’s my favorite. And I’m a music glutton; my taste ranges from the so-called cultural highs to the truly questionable. Ke$ha, anyone? Love her.

The only classical composer who has really ever held my interest (other than Gershwin the Great), is Beethoven. “Be-te-toe” as my little sister would pronounce it after the ignominious films debuted, enchanted me. As a teenager I would sit and listen to his piano sonatas for hours. It was a musical  rollercoaster of emotions. I was partial to the sonatas over all else simply because I could relate to them, try to pluck melodies and passages that grabbed me out of specific movements. Using up my Barnes & Noble giftcards I managed to purchase the complete collections of his piano sonatas, in two volumes, now much dog eared and with absolutely shattered bindings. I could probably count on my fingers the number of times I’ve actually managed to play one of his pieces all the way through, but I’d still try. Impatient was the best way to categorize my playing; I wanted all the juice from his most thrilling moments without having to plod through all the pastoral crap, as I thought of it at the time.

So last night, taking up the text message invitation from my mom, I headed to the Stockton Symphony. For all its poor reputation, Stockton has a pretty impressive musical scene. Our symphony is the oldest in California outside of SF and LA. And I was absolutely impressed.

The guest pianist was from Germany, and played the 2nd piece of the evening with a furious gusto and flurries of fingers so fast I could hardly track them. His skill was astonishing, and I found myself marveling when I tried to step into the mindset he must be playing from. To have a piece so elaborate so totally memorized, to be working off sheer muscle memory but at the same time being incredibly present and mentally engaged, is amazing to me.

After a time, I had to close my eyes and just listen. As much as I enjoyed watching everyone perform, I was almost distracted from the music. When my eyes closed, it was like I was back in my bedroom as a teenager again, playing my cherished cd’s of Vladimir Ashkenazy performing Beethoven’s sonatas. The music is so intense, so emotive, and most of all so immense. I marvel at the people who perform it, and even more so at the man who wrote it.

While the symphony last night ranks high on my list of Beethoven belt notches, another moment is actually my favorite. My grandma Della, sitting down at my mom’s piano, and seeing my old Beethoven books there. Browsing through, until she landed on Pathétique. Tossing aside some phrases about how oh, she used to play this one, and rather liked it, and so on. Then proceeding to absolutely RIP through it in the most phenomenal way. And boy she nailed it.

So, thank you, Beethoven, for having written music that over 200 years later still inspires me and the people around me. Music that still makes memories for me, astounds me, and takes me to a place I can’t get to very often.

(And please forgive me for the Ke$ha thing.)

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