Those first four notes. Three short, one long. Instantly, classical music was atomised, the symphonic form stripped down and readied for an upgrade and a fresh install. Music from a little over 200 years ago doesn’t get any more primal than this. No wonder it’s the most famous single moment in Western classical music. The point of ‘arrival’ for every aspiring orchestral player. You haven’t really done the repertoire in earnest until you’ve played Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.
The second Sydney Youth Orchestra concert for 2019 sees the organisation’s flagship band take on this major artwork in Western culture in a revelatory performance under chief conductor Alexander Briger. For many in the orchestra, this will be a moment of first exposure to the Fifth in its complex entirety, the music being as new to them as it was to a bewildered audience in a Viennese theatre back in 1808.
“There’s nothing more exciting for an audience than to be present at a pivotal moment of discovery like this,” says Briger. “It’s real shock and awe. The players’ responses to the music become those of all of us. Everything becomes new. I’m tempted to call this the world premiere performance of Beethoven’s Fifth!”
Before Beethoven’s groundbreaking arc of psychodrama, the SYO brings us the portrait of a simpler, more serene world in the orchestral suite from Aaron Copland’s ballet from 1944, Appalachian Spring. A return to diatonicism at a time when the world and Western art music was shredding apart. The work is memorable for its treatment of the old Shaker song Simple Gifts, setting a sonic model for an ‘American’ musical voice – an evocation of open fields, wide skies and endless possibilities.