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Beethoven's Ninth, with Guerrero and the BSO

Giancarlo Guerrero
Courtesy of the artist
Giancarlo Guerrero

Saturday, August 21, 2021
8:00 PM

In an encore broadcast of the final concert of the 2019 Tanglewood season, Giancarlo Guerrero conducts the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Tanglewood Festival Chorus in Schoenberg's "Peace on Earth" and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, the "Ode to Joy," Saturday at 8pm.

Boston Symphony Orchestra
Giancarlo Guerrero, conductor
Nicole Cabell, soprano
J’Nai Bridges, mezzo-soprano
Nicholas Phan, tenor
Morris Robinson, bass
Tanglewood Festival Chorus
James Burton, conductor

SCHOENBERG Friede auf Erden (Peace on Earth), for unaccompanied chorus
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 9

This concert was originally broadcast on August 25, 2019

In the audio player above: Giancarlo Guerrero describes his experiences at Tanglewood this summer and why this performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony carries extra significance.


Brian McCreath [00:00:00] I'm Brian McCreath, I'm at the Koussevitzky Music Shed with Giancarlo Guerrero back at Tanglewood. Giancarlo, thanks for a little bit of your time this morning. I appreciate it.

Giancarlo Guerrero [00:00:07] It is always a privilege to speak with you. Thank you.

Brian McCreath [00:00:08] Am I correct that you spent a little bit more time at Tanglewood here this summer than you have in the past? You did a concert with the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra. Tell me about your experience of being here a little bit longer and working with the fellows of the TMC this summer.

Giancarlo Guerrero [00:00:22] This has been a truly privileged summer to spend two weeks in this paradise of music and nature and beauty and great musicians and artists. And it really has been the highlight of this year so far for me, because the first week, I got to spend with the fellows from the Tanglewood Music Center and I always enjoy working with students. But this particular group is truly remarkable. I mean, to have the Boston Symphony players coach you on a daily basis and then you literally have the best students right now at the universities and conservatory around the country and around the world. And the attitude and the professionalism and the virtuosity that they bring to every single rehearsal and session and concert is beyond inspiring. And all I have to say is that at the end of the week, all I felt is that, you know, our art form is in great hands, that next generation is going to take over in a way that I think will be inspiring for many other people in the next 50, 100 years. And as long as we have the great musicians from the Boston Symphony making sure that they are passing on their wisdom and their knowledge, this is what is going to make our art form continue to grow and become a relevant part of daily life as the world continues to change. And of course, then to spend the second week with my beloved Boston Symphony Orchestra with Beethoven 9 closing the program, well, I don't have enough gratitude to be able to really thank this institution for providing me this incredible privilege. And it has been both personally and professionally, immensely rewarding.

Brian McCreath [00:01:53] Well, Beethoven 9, as you know, is something that happens every year for the last weekend of Tanglewood. And that brings up that question that's a constant in classical music. We hear pieces again and again, and yet the context is always different. The context for Beethoven nine this year is exceptional in terms of what's happening on this day. Tell me about the way that that works for you. Do you, when you're conducting a specific piece of music, and in this case, Beethoven's Ninth, are there extra elements of your interpretation that are affected by the context of the moment you're performing it?

Giancarlo Guerrero [00:02:26] Always. I am not the same person I was yesterday or the same person I was a week ago. And you kind of change and bring that personal state of mind that you're in, into your music making. How can you not? You cannot separate it. The other thing that comes with playing a piece that is so well-known, and a piece that as you say gets played every year by the Boston Symphony, is that what do you bring that can be fresh again? And I can tell you, the Boston Symphony is such a phenomenal orchestra because they do expect their conductors to bring new ideas. You know, I mean, I'm sure they could look up and say, "Oh, we can do it the same way every year." But you have to remember that they all remember differently. And a piece that is so well known, not only with the Boston Symphony, what any orchestra will always have baggage because you always remember the last time you did it, but every player will remember this differently. So the main job of a conductor in this case with limited rehearsal time is to bring a cohesive performance, combining some of the great traditions that they've done in the past. And a lot of it is listening to say, "Oh, you know what, I want to keep that." And then other things that you realize, "Oh, my God, they're not in sync here." And some people are playing a note longer and half the other orchestra playing the note shorter. So you may need to stop and say, "OK, guys, we're doing it short," and then they grab their pencils, "OK. This year we're doing it like this." I'm sure whoever does it next year might change up their mind. But that is a big part of what you have to do. A lot of it is just bringing cohesiveness into a performance of a work that is so well known, and because it is so well known, may have, you know, memories attached or traditions to it.

[00:03:52] But I think because of my relationship with this orchestra that we have such great chemistry and we like each other. I mean, there's no other way of putting it. There's great trust between each other. They look up at me and say, "You know what? Giancarlo, give us your ideas and we're more than happy to do it. But do give us what you want." And I think from that perspective, I feel encouraged that what a great way that you don't want to hear the same piece played over and over the same way. That's why we have recordings, I think. If you want to hear the same piece played over and over again, well, that's why we have recording. With a good bottle of wine. You'll be OK.

[00:04:23] I would hope that when you come to a performance, you are in the hopes that you're going to discover something new. There has to be a sense of adventurousness. And even at the end of today's rehearsal, a few people that apparently have been coming here for many, many years, they were ecstatic because they said, "Oh, my God, I was hearing things that I've never heard before and think that you were bringing out." And to me, that is the greatest compliment. Of course, this weekend being the four hundredth anniversary of the first arrival of the first slave ship into the United States in 1619, you want to talk about a perfect piece that talks about humanity and freedom and peace and joy. You could have never planned this and Beethoven, when he wrote this, he was a great believer in the ideals of the French Revolution. So the fact that we're going to commemorate this very important moment in the history, not only of the United States, but in the history of the world, a very dark period, that fortunately nowadays we can look back and hopefully learn from that. I think it is absolutely important that orchestras also make sure that our music, our art form in some way, shape or form, is able to bring that healing and that recognition, to those incredible moment that music is, as I said, the best way to sometimes heal those open wounds. And because it is a universal language, and it truly is, those words are forever universal. So, yes, definitely this weekend adds a little bit more of poignancy and for me, a personal deep feelings towards it. So it's going to be quite special, I think we can hear in Tanglewood.

Brian McCreath [00:06:07] Giancarlo Guerrero, it's great to see you back here. And thanks a lot for your time today. I appreciate it.

Giancarlo Guerrero [00:06:10] Always a privilege. Thank you again.