Big expectations for Beethoven's Ninth Symphony at the Proms on the night of the opening of the London Olympics. The West–Eastern Divan Orchestra rose to the occasional under its conductor, Daniel Barenboim. Magnificent with a touch of the mystic and idealistic. The slow movement was intense without loosing form and direction with (at last in this cycle) a dialogue between the instruments; the choral last movement was thrilling, both with the sheer quantity of the two hundred singers from the National Youth Choir of Great Britain and the speed of the performance. A memorable evening.
Maybe not precise enough for the archive but this was a performance for this moment and will have received a global audience. Presumably shown live in many countries as a prelude to the Olympic opening ceremony, although BBC television won't show it in the UK until tomorrow.
The promenade area was particularly full, with the end of the queue for the day arena tickets meeting the queue for the day gallery tickets, a rare event, I am told. I had a good queue from the conversation point of view, a lady piano teacher on one hand and a group who joined after benefiting from the Prom Talk at the Royal College. which apparently included a good singsong.
The acclamation from the audience was warm and fantastic, as it has been throughout this cycle. It seemed a bit mean that this wasn't acknowledged with any encore, as is part of the Proms tradition? If there were live television considerations this special evening then why not after the Seventh?
I'm still struggling to characterise Daniel Barenboim's view of Beethoven's symphonies. A couple of sublime moments but not many: not much dreaming and quite a bit of stomping. In one way Daniel Barenboim is simply being true to the music without imposing a view of his own, except (for example) that the scale of the orchestra hardly changes between symphonies: the eighth was to the same scale as the seventh.
Daniel Barenboim has been relatively ungererous with repeats throughout this cycle. The seventh was played with minimal break between the movements, which caught out many of the coughers. The ninth had some particularly melodramatic pianissimos, particularly in the last movement. But that isn't about his vision.
In the end, my impression is that Daniel Barenboim's view of the Beethoven cycle is to do with peace and conciliation, in particular political reconciliation and moving onwards in the region the players come from. The West–Eastern Divan Orchestra is his contribution to that healing process; the lofty ideals embodied in Beethoven's symphonies are realised by the players of this orchestra playing together these performances in China, at the time of the Olympics and in front of His Holiness the Pope. How wonderful that they can do so to such a high standard: this is Daniel Barenboim's legacy.
Symphony No. 9 in D minor, 'Choral'
Anna Samuil, soprano
Waltraud Meier, mezzo-soprano
Michael König, tenor
René Pape, bass
National Youth Choir of Great Britain
West–Eastern Divan Orchestra
Daniel Barenboim, conductor