A note from Benjamin Zander
Last night’s dress rehearsal might have been the most thrilling 2 1/2 hours I have ever spent as a musician! I say "two and a half hours” because, for the first time in 40 years, I ended the rehearsal HALF an HOUR early! The orchestra played with such fire and brilliance, such all-out passionate conviction and such staggering virtuosity that, at the end of playing through Ein Heldenleben at 9.25 p.m. I said “Thank you, Good night.” This is an orchestra on fire!
And the program is so colorful, so varied, so beautiful and so gobsmackingly, headsplittingly challenging for every department and is being met with such astonishing playing and such visceral excitement that some of the musicians seem to realize that they are participating in a historical event.
What is afoot? Well, yesterday afternoon at about 4 p.m. I heard, for the first time, a recording that I didn’t know existed: Strauss conducting Ein Heldenleben with the Vienna Philharmonic in 1944. It’s a terrible recording and the playing is incredibly scrappy, which is probably why it has only had 700 views on YouTube and also explains why only two people out of the 109 in the orchestra had heard it. But what it reveals is a completely different vision for the piece. My favorite recording had been Mariss Janson’s with the Südwestrundfunk orchestra, which clocks in at 49:49 minutes and my performance with the BPO was shaping up in that general direction. Indeed, Kevin Owen, our magnificent horn player, told me that mine was the slowest of the many performances he had done with orchestras in the area, including the BSO and my own in 2006. In view of the extreme demands that the piece makes on the first horn player, I sensed he was hoping that I would move it along a bit, but he is not the interfering type. Imagine my astonishment when I saw that Strauss’s performance clocked in at 38:49! Was there anything I could do just two days before the concert? I told the orchestra what had happened and said that since tomorrow night is a Discovery Concert "let’s see if we can 'discover' what Strauss was after, without worrying too much about perfection. After all, Strauss himself hadn’t been able to get much precision from the, by 1944, severely compromised Vienna Philharmonic, let’s go for it!"
What an event!