Minnesota Orchestra performing Beethoven's Fifth Symphony

A thrilling, sometimes disorienting, effect of going to hear Osmo Vänskä and the Minnesota Orchestra perform Beethoven these days is how swiftly they inspire a kind of radical re-listening. We settle down for a favorite symphony, not quite aware of the way past exposures have dulled or sugared our expectations. And then within bars, we find ourselves wondering if we'd ever really known it at all. The outlines are there, but the voices within, the urgencies and serenities that we cherish in Beethoven—these can sound spookily new. Which is surely part of Vänskä's aim: Who is Beethoven if not unpredictable, passionate, transcendent? And yet at this stage of the composer's legacy, penetrating the core freshness of the symphonies is an epic feat, one open only to the few ensembles accomplished and self-humbling enough to risk it. It's along these most familiar passages where the ride is most bracing. Last season, at the beginning of the seventh symphony's Allegretto (the oft-sampled "Johnny one-note" movement), Vänskä and ensemble brought the house down, quietly, with insistent rhythmic nerve. In an unforgettable February 9 performance of the timeworn fifth (buh-buh-buh-bum), the orchestra lit up unlikely new realms, subverting audience anticipation time and again. But the surprises, like the endlessly supple tempos, never pointed to themselves in the fashion of a gimmick. As ever with Vänskä, concertmaster Jorja Fleezanis, and friends, it was the music that ruled—the sound of that familiar stranger, Beethoven, bursting into the hall.


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