The first four notes of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony — three G’s and an E-flat — make up one of the most famous musical progressions ever written, a motif so familiar, its become synonymous with the very idea of drama.
But Beethoven’s Fifth, which premiered in 1808, has more than four notes. Juneau symphony conductor Kyle Wiley Pickett said he’s looking forward to reacquainting — or introducing — local audiences to the difficult work in its entirety.
“It’s thrilling,” Pickett said. “It’s absolutely thrilling from beginning to end.”
“Until you see it live, you just can’t really appreciate how great that piece is.”
Pickett has paired Beethoven’s Fifth with a piece he believes will be new to Juneau Symphony audiences, Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto. In addition to providing a good balance between the familiar and the new, the piece, written in 1935, also contrasts with the Beethoven in form; the twelve-tone work does not conform to traditional scales and harmonies.
“It’s not centered in a major or minor key,” Pickett said. “It was written in a period where they were experimenting in different musical languages.”
The Berg piece will feature violin soloist Terrie Baune, concertmaster of the Eureka Symphony and the North State Symphony and co-concertmaster of the Oakland East Bay Symphony
One of the interesting aspects of the Berg piece, Pickett said, is that it contains a “direct quote” of a Bach chorale, “Es ist genug” from Bach’s Cantata No. 60, a technique he said is pretty rare.
“It’s kind of an earth-shattering moment,” he said. “It’s an incredible striking thing to have this chorale dropped in to this very modern piece.”
Prior to the symphony’s performance of the Berg concerto, the Juneau Bach Society will join them on stage to perform the Bach cantata itself. The Berg concerto will be next, followed by Beethoven.
Pickett said building the program for the symphony’s shows, finding connections and contrasts between the works, is one of his favorite parts of the job.
“The music you choose has a lot to do with how you build your audience and your orchestra, and it’s a role I take really seriously,” he said.
The Juneau Symphony first played Beethoven’s Fifth in 1999, when Pickett was auditioning for the position of music director, and is probably the piece he’s conducted most often in his career. Like any work of genius, however, the symphony offers rich new material with every encounter, and he can’t imagine getting tired of it.
“How can you get tired of Shakespeare? How can you get tired of Beethoven? Every time I look at it I find new things.”
The spring concert will be presented twice this weekend: at 8 p.m. Saturday, April 2, at the Juneau Douglas High School auditorium, and at 3 p.m. Sunday, April 3, at the Thunder Mountain High School auditorium.
Concert conversations for both shows begin one hour prior to performance.
For more information, visit www.juneausymphony.org.