Philadelphia Orchestra/Yannick Nézet-Séguin at Carnegie Hall – Beethoven’s Seventh & Eighth Symphonies and Carlos Simon’s Fate Now Conquers

Symphony No.8 in F, Op.93

Carlos Simon
Fate Now Conquers

Symphony No. 7 in A, Op.92

Philadelphia Orchestra
Yannick Nézet-Séguin

Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 9 November, 2021
Venue: Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City

This concert continued the Philadelphia Orchestra’s Carnegie Hall celebration of Beethoven 250 with two of the composer’s later Symphonies framing Carlos Simon’s Fate Now Conquers, a 2019 work which they inspired. The program began with an exuberant and highly satisfying rendition of Beethoven’s good-humored Eighth, the most buoyant and compact and of his symphonic works, and one with features that hark back to earlier composers: the ticking rhythm of the second movement reminiscent of Haydn’s ‘ClockSymphony, and the graceful third-movement Minuet and wind Trio so evocative of Mozart. Nézet-Séguin delivered a briskly-paced reading that effectively balanced resolute force with refinement while capturing all the good humor and nostalgia of the score. The outer movements were vigorous and decidedly dramatic, the middle two attractively direct and elegant.

Next came Fate Now Conquers, one of a series of works commissioned by The Philadelphia Orchestra to reflect on Beethoven’s legacy. The title of the piece alludes to an 1815 entry in the composer’s journal, an excerpt from Homer’s Iliad which stresses the unpredictability of destiny: “But Fate now conquers; I am hers; and yet not she shall share / In my renown; that life is left to every noble spirit / And that some great deed shall beget that all lives shall inherit.” Carlos Simon’s five-minute piece borrows harmonies from the second movement of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony. The breathlessly-paced work abounds with agitated arpeggios in the strings and free-flowing melodic fragments accompanied by an insistent rhythmic beat. The musicians’ skillful response to Nézet-Séguin’s sensitive direction brought out all the subtleties in the breezily energetic score, with Hai-Ye Ni’s cello solo sounding especially lovely. For the listener, connecting the Symphony’s Allegretto theme with elements in Simon’s cryptic and colorful treatment was an intriguing and enjoyable exercise.

A breathtaking reading of Beethoven’s Seventh completed the program, with Nézet-Séguin’s masterful direction and absolute joy in conducting on full display. This was a performance of high contrasts. In the first movement the conductor pushed the music forward in a quick, decisive style, eliciting a wide array of expressive details leading up to the triumphant final bars. After a brief false start caused by a cell-phone interruption, the Allegretto opened with the famous melancholy theme, beautifully rendered by the lower strings, and made exceptionally distinctive by piano and pianissimo playing that was full of drama and mystery. The little fugue near the end was especially memorable as it passed through and elaborated on by the various sections. Following a vivacious Presto Scherzo, the orchestra erupted joyfully in the infectious and invigorating Allegro con brio Finale.

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