Really, if you do it right, Beethoven can levitate an entire orchestra and full chorus, and after the timpani finishes ringing from its final beat, everyone slowly lowers back to the floor. But it was nice up in the air for a few minutes.
The philharmonic performed Consecration of the House and Beethoven's 9th symphony Saturday evening. We didn't sell out the house this time around, which is a shame, but to all those people who attended our concert in November but not this one, it's your loss. We did just fine without you. Still, it would have been nice if you'd come.
I had a sense from my spot on the stage that we weren't operating at 100 percent in the first two movements, but I can't hear everything from the right side. And there was a timpani set directly behind me that may have colored my perspective. The second movement is conducted in one (each measure gets one beat), and there's no room for drifting off. If you count accurately, you play accurately. But at one point, I started counting in two for no reason whatsoever, and I had to rely on the guy next to me to find my entrance.
Then, we had an intermission, and I stepped back stage for a big gulp of water because the third movement was going to have me chewing on cotton, I was sure. My part had a solo in that movement, and when I wasn't playing something featured, I was playing something exposed. I was nervous, but I discovered something delightful about playing in this new hall of ours—when we performed in the high school auditorium in years past, the house lights would go down, but you could still see the faces in the audience. In this new place that is professionally designed for performances, when the house lights go down, you can hardly tell there is an audience there at all. You sit on stage and look at the conductor in his tuxedo, and he appears to be against a black empty space. So, I put my trusty French horn in position and played to him as if he were the audience. You're supposed to keep an eye on him anyway, so it all works out. With that approach, I was able to play with confidence and count accurately without the pounding of my heartbeat interfering with the rhythm of things. And near the end when my part slips up to higher notes and holds them, I felt as though I were singing, sailing off into pianissimo.
I'm not saying I was brilliant, and there were a few faster measures I wouldn't mind having a second shot at, but you don't get second chances with things like that, so I'll take it and be proud as is. I have fought a life-robbing insecurity monster for years and have been slowly chipping away at it. This past weekend, I kicked its ass.
Directly after the third movement, we took dead aim at the fourth, starting loud and powerful and never let up. On the last page, the music begins fast and light and then heads off into this pounding tribute to the brotherhood of man, with the orchestra yelling about it and the chorus shouting full force—Be embraced. This kiss for the whole world! Joy, beautiful spark of divinity. Daughter of Elysium. Joy, beautiful spark of divinity. Divinity!
"Alle Menschen werden Brüder." All men become brothers!
When we hit the final notes and cut to dead silence, the residual timpani rang out into the air as we sat there and caught our breath, and I'm telling you, it was the most powerful performance I have ever been apart of. In fact, it was the most powerful experience, performance or no. Conductor Eric turned to bow, and the audience stood to its feet and clapped and cheered. He walked off, came back, signaled for me to stand, and they applauded more, and then they applauded for the outstanding vocalists and then for the entire stage full of people. We glowed.
Afterward, the principal horn player, who was my first horn teacher ten years ago, came over to shake my hand, and I almost cried. I was no longer his student but a fellow musician, something I have been working toward for a decade now. And I'll keep working, because once you get a taste of achievement, you don't just put down the horn and walk away. Freude, dammit. Freude.