There was something very special for me about last weekend's performances. I've sung Beethoven's 9th symphony several times now and, of course, known the piece for years as An Icon of Western Music. But (true confession) I've never liked it.
Even the most die-hard fan of Ludwig will usually concede that the vocal writing is ungainly, but my detachment from it has been more complex than that: I have genuinely never quite understood quite why it has such a profound impact on people, because it has always - ALWAYS - left me stone cold. I enjoy other Beethoven, but the effect of the 9th has always been a mystery to me.
Until Sunday afternoon.
This was different than the excitement usually generated by the sheer volume, speed and frenzy of the work (particularly at the end): perhaps it's the uncertainy of the times and the underlying emotional tension that doesn't seem too far beneath the surface that made the sentiment more meaningful. Perhaps it was the careful pacing and extraodinarily musical shape which the conductor gave the piece. Maybe it was just one of those magical occasions where the sum was greater than the whole of the parts.
But being in the middle of close to 250 people in a uninamous expression of a text which celebrates unity and joy with absolute conviction was... well it was extraordinary. I've never experienced that sense of group commitment with this piece either as performer or audience member, but suddenly, finally... it made sense.
The piece is technically flawed; the performance may have been technically flawed. But, ultimately, it didn't matter because something HAPPENED onstage, drawing performers and audience alike into a shared experience which I know I will remember for quite some time.