Move over Jack Bauer … Brabbins gives Beethoven just 24 hours

Move over Jack Bauer … Brabbins gives Beethoven just 24 hours

Will listeners, never mind the musicians, survive as Martyn Brabbins conducts the Salomon Orchestra through all nine Beethoven symphonies in a single day?

One of the greatest achievements of western music, performed complete in concert this weekend, a chance to hear an event of such enormity of vision that any classical music lover should jump at the chance: no, not Bryn or Plácido at the Proms in Wagner or Verdi, but a soupçon of a symphony cycle at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. A Beethovenathon, to be precise. With the Salomon Orchestra, Martyn Brabbins conducts all nine Beethoven symphonies in just a single Saturday, starting with the shockingly cheeky First at 11 in the morning, and progressing through four concerts to the epoch-shaking Ninth at about half seven. Assuming, of course, that his tempos don’t flag, and that the musicians don’t need massages, physio, or therapy by that time.

If anyone can pull the Beethovenathon off it’s Brabbins and the Salomon Orchestra. They have unique form when it comes to scaling this symphonic Everest. They did all nine in a day in Cheltenham in 2003, following their Beethoven experiment with complete surveys of Tchaikovsky’s and Dvorak’s symphonies in subsequent seasons. Brabbins says there is an “incredible cumulative effect” to hearing the nine symphonies in chronological order, with nary a break for a Beethovenian breather. I can well believe him, but the question is how the stamina of the players and their listeners will survive nearly six hours of symphonic onslaught. We’re more used to consuming culture in complete cycles and series today than ever before (we’ve all sat down to watch one episode of 24 and ended up slumped on the sofa hours later having got through a whole day with Jack, or started off watching a single episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm and followed Larry from happiness to despair 10 shows later). But is Beethoven really ripe for the Jack Bauer treatment? Will the result be blazing Beethovenian insight or mere musical overload?

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