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Sinfonietta sneak peek

Listening in to rehearsals of the Northwest Sinfonietta

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As he sipped his latte before the Tuesday night’s Northwest Sinfonietta rehearsal, Musical Director Christophe Chagnard explained that he’d researched Beethoven and felt as though he understood the man who’d been so influential in pushing the future of classical music.

Beethoven’s childhood at the hands of a drunken father left him scarred; as the eldest son, the boy was expected to collect his father from the bars, and learned to use music as a coping mechanism. 

“If Beethoven had not been a prodigious creator of music, he would have killed himself,” suggests Chagnard.

Beethoven achieved fame through his musical virtuosity and then was dealt another cruel blow as he slowly lost his hearing.

By the time Ludwig van Beethoven wrote the piece the Northwest Sinfonietta, with 75 special choral guests and pianist Jairo Geronymo, will play Friday night in Seattle’s Town Hall and Saturday at the Rialto Theatre in Tacoma, he was already half deaf.

Chagnard, explaining the composer’s debut of the “Fantasia in C minor for Piano, Chorus, and Orchestra, Op.80, Choral Fantasy,” told me “the term ‘fantasy’ suggests complete creative freedom.”

Released from the standard conventions Beethoven was already pushing, the composer created a piece that blended concerto, symphony, cantata, and solo; it’s suggested that the piece is a “rehearsal for Beethoven’s 9th (think “Ode to Joy” as you listen to themes.) In its inaugural concert, it was part of a four-hour epic that musicians only had one day — in an unheated theatre in Vienna, in the winter — to prepare for. Beethoven was conductor as well as pianist for that event, with his rock star-sized ego playing considerably in the event he’d funded.

The “fantasy” turned into a flop, for that evening, but in the hands of Chagnard, not playing the piano, and Geronymo, playing with skilled ease, the piece feels complete; the chorus fills the space as individuals sing, and as the group swells. I get goose bumps.

Chagnard suggested over coffee that Beethoven, more than most composers, could touch anyone.

All I know is in that theatre, listening to snippets of a whole, feeling the energy in the theatre, I felt magic.

More than wine, more than after-running endorphins, I felt swept away.

And I can’t wait to see the real deal on Saturday.

[Town Hall, Friday, Nov. 16, 7:30 p.m. $12-$50, 1119 Eighth Ave., Seattle; Rialto Theater, Saturday, Nov. 17, 7:30 p.m., 310 S. Ninth, Tacoma,]

  • Northwest Sinfonietta “Beethoven Revealed” Program II

  • Schubert “Overture in D “In the Italian Style”

  • Beethoven: Choral Fantasy with the Choral Union and Jairo Geronymo on piano

  • Mendelsohn “Verleih uns frieden” with the Choral Union, Christopher Nance, conducting

  • Beethoven, Symphony No. 8
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