A packed Sottile Theatre paid homage to Ludwig van Beethoven with two American premieres of Beethoven-inspired works plus the composer's beloved Seventh Symphony.
Spoleto Festival resident conductor and new music guru John Kennedy led the young musicians of the Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra.
Louis Andriessen's "The Nine Symphonies of Beethoven" (1970) is a parody, quoting snippets of each of the symphonies in order, with sounds intruding from the pop world (a drum set, electric guitar, ice cream vendor's bell, etc.).
The humor becomes palpable when a bit of Rossini/Bugs Bunny appears, as do references to Beethoven's most popular piano pieces: "Fuer Elise," and the "Moonlight" and "Pathetique" sonatas.
This bit of fun at Beethoven's expense was followed by Michael Gordon's "Rewriting Beethoven's Seventh Symphony" (2006), another American premiere.
Four obsessive ideas are taken from the four movements of the Seventh Symphony and each repeated ad naseum in what might be described as dissonant modulating minimalism.
It was at times ear-shattering and unlistenable.
Beethoven survived these assaults of deconstruction and destruction thanks to the wonderful relief of the real Seventh Symphony after intermission.
Kennedy started out as a percussionist. While his conducting skills might lack finesse, his sense of rhythm is unlimited. He presided over a rhythmically vital, joyful account of the Seventh.
And even if the volume was at least one notch too high all evening, this just added to the fun of what Kennedy rightfully called in the program notes Beethoven's most joyful symphony.
Each section of the orchestra earned a standing ovation from the audience.
It was an evening of excitement and fun even if Gordon's rewriting left a little pain in the inner ear. Even a deaf Beethoven might have been able hear the louder bits.
William Gudger is professor emeritus of music at the College of Charleston.
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