Myung-Whun Chung conducts Beethoven
Symphony Center, Orchestra Hall; Apr 7
The cliche is that all orchestras sound the same, from London to Louisville, from Boston to Berlin. It's far from true, given the different education of musicians in different countries (and even at different American conservatories). The Dresden Staatskapelle is here to prove that there's still a wide variety of orchestral sounds in circulation. Led by Korean conductor Myung-Whun Chung, the ensemble—which has been playing continuously since 1548—still sounds like what we think of as a traditional German orchestra, with a warm sound anchored by a rich-toned string section and seamless ensemble in the woodwinds and brass.
The orchestra's storied history includes being conducted by Mozart and leading the premieres of nine of Richard Strauss's operas, including Der Rosenkavalier and Salome. Primarily an opera orchestra, the ensemble gives roughly 250 opera performances and around 50 symphonic and chamber concerts every year. This situation is fairly common in Germany, with orchestras existing mainly as pit bands. But for all this star-studded history, the Dresden Staatskapelle is still committed to contemporary music, especially by German composers.
"It's kind of a mixture," says the orchestra's dramaturg, Tobias Niederschlag, who writes the orchestra's program notes and assists in programming. "Dresden is a very traditional city, and the orchestra is very traditional." Yet it is still able to find a healthy balance between the old and the new. In 2003 the orchestra gave the premiere of Wolfgang Rihm's Europa nach dem letzten Regen (Europe After the Final Rain), a memorial to the pointless Dresden firebombing in 1945, continuing its tradition of working with living composers.
But for the concert here, it's ultra-traditional: two Beethoven symphonies, the Third and the Sixth. Back in 1823, Beethoven himself praised this very ensemble. Even though the group has changed, he'd probably recognize a little of what he heard then in its sound today.—Marc Geelhoed