Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Freude und Freiheit

I am much more likely to cry in moments of great beauty than sadness.

It was last Spring that my friend Steven gave me a birthday ticket to the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's final concert of the season. It was the first season for Maestra Marin Alsop, Music Director and Conductor. In scheduling her first season she had included all nine of Beethoven's symphonies. I must confess that I love "The Ninth" with it's stunningly beautiful music and Schiller's great "Ode to Joy". The rumbling baritone soloist sings Freude (Joy) and my tears start flowing, my feet start dancing (it's a good thing I'm sitting) and I'm doing my best air conducting until the conductor turns to the audience and we can start applauding. It was the best birthday present imaginable.*

Two or three weeks ago MPT (Maryland Public Television) was doing one of their fund raisers. I was channel surfing when I discovered they were broadcasting the film of an incredible concert from 1989. It was a special edition of PBS Great Performances.

In December 1989 the Berlin Wall fell and the two Germanys began their reunification. On Christmas Day there was a concert at Berlin's Schauspielhaus (Playhouse). Leonard Bernstein led orchestras, choruses, and soloists from Berlin, Dresden, New York, London, Paris and Leningrad (representing the two Germanys, the wartime Allies and European Jews) in a massive rendition of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. The original concert was broadcast live in more than twenty countries to an estimated audience of 100 million people. For the occasion, Bernstein reworded the text of the final chorus, substituting the word Freiheit (freedom) for Freude (joy). He said he thought Beethoven and Schiller would have approved.

I remember that original concert. My partner Joe and I sat glued to the television. It hit home for both of us in different ways. Joe's mother was from Czechoslovakia and he had done his undergraduate thesis at Cornell on Nazi Europe. My mother's family was German and although they had been in this country since the mid-1800s they suffered discrimination during the war because of their German last name (Franz). Joe was even more emotional than me and we hugged and wept all through the concert.

And so now you know the story of the last time I cried.

in October 2008 the BSO will be performing Bernstein's Mass: A Theatre Piece for Singers, Players and Dancers

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