Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 was my first favorite work of classical music. It registered with me at the age of 15, and its passages have been engraved in my head ever since.
So I was delighted to hear it played yesterday at the Kennedy Center. Until some guy came onstage and started talking really loud into a microphone about the composer. Concerts usually don't go that way.
The interruption was by design, however. It was a performance of "Beethoven Lives Upstairs," a musically driven drama about a youngster named Christoph. When the unhinged composer moves into Christoph's family's boarding house, the kid goes all apoplectic, writing his uncle about the master's erratic and loud behavior. Much of the narrative revolves around Beethoven's creeping deafness and how it impacts home life.
The story of how Christoph moves from revulsion at the house's tenant to understanding and, ultimately, appreciation entails a strange juxtaposition: Christoph and his uncle chatting above more than 25 classic Beethoven melodies, played by the National Symphony Orchestra, over the course of an hour.
It all amounts to a strange form of bliss-cum-torture for a lifelong classical music fan. The orchestra latches onto a towering passage---great! Then Cristoph starts talking into the mike---ugh! Then the orchestra moves onto another beautiful span of music---great again! You spend the entire time wishing that the conductor---in this case, David Amado---would just go off script and finish out one of these works.
No dice. Two-minute passages would have to do. And do they did: The kids around me stayed quiet and engaged the whole time, not even bothering to kick the seats in front ot them. When I got a quiet moment to myself last night, though, I popped Symphony No. 6 ("Pastoral") into the old disc player and listened to that sucker start to finish.