Robert Spanos personality, Vaughn Williams' glory show up at San Diego Symphony

Beethoven not great before 3rd Piano Concerto, 3rd Symphony

Vaughn Williams – a proper symphony
  • Vaughn Williams – a proper symphony
  • Wikipedia Commons

We are having a proper winter in San Diego and on Saturday, March 9, we had a proper symphony performed by the San Diego Symphony at the Jacobs Music Center. Before we received the proper symphony we had a few other pieces of music to deal with.

Dreamtime Ancestors by American composer Christopher Theofanidis, had some beautiful moments but the piece was lacking coherent rhetoric. When we reached these beautiful moments I didn’t know why they occurred. Theofanidis didn’t make a persuasive enough argument to support his point.

As is my habit with a new piece of music, I don’t read the program notes until after the performance. They didn’t help.

Following was Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with pianist Jorge Federico Osario. As with Beethoven’s symphonies, so with his piano concertos. They don’t become “Beethoven” until the third symphony and the third piano concerto.

The opening orchestral section of the concerto felt as if Beethoven was completing a homework assignment entitled “Cliches of the Classical Period of Music.” By the time we reached the final section of the slow movement things began to get more interesting as the music began to sound like the seed which would turn into the harvest of the second movement of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5.

The third movement began leaning toward the Beethoven we all know and love but it was still a work of the classical period in both form and tone.


I expressed some doubt to my concert-mate regarding conductor Robert Spano. “I wonder if this conductor has any personality?” After the first movement of Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Symphony No. 2, my concert-mate leaned over and asked, “Any doubts about his personality now?”


This was the “proper symphony” I mentioned above. Maestro Spano and the orchestra gave us a performance which I can’t imagine anyone else improving upon. The glory of Vaughan Williams’s modal ingenuity was fully realized by both conductor and orchestra.

I mentioned that the previous weekend’s Mahler Symphony No. 4 had no trombones. Vaughan Williams gave the trombones plenty of opportunities to “tee off” and they took full advantage.

A few years ago I carped about having heard all four Brahms symphonies, twice, without getting a Vaughan Willimas symphony. After Saturday night I felt completely justified in my complaint. It should be noted that we’re moving on to a third rendition of the Brahms.

I care not. I’m willing to listen to Brahms over and over again if it means I get a Vaughan Williams like this one every now and then. It’s impossible to overstate the effect this music had in the hall as it came to its conclusion. It was a proper performance.

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It is very useful and interesting post! Thank you!

The headline writer mangled the article. Beethoven made his reputation with chamber works before his Third Symphony. Perhaps he was more conservative in early orchestral works to play it safe, because orchestras are expensive. Perhaps Fidelio made him more dramatic. Opera led the way in Beethoven's day.

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