Prom 18: Barenboim/West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, Royal Albert Hall

5.00

 

It’s been quite a journey, from Beethoven’s First Symphony to
his Ninth in eight days. The Red Arrows even gave us a fly-past to celebrate at the end...

Yes, the mighty ‘Choral’ Symphony, containing Schiller’s manifesto of human unity, coincided with the Olympics’ opening night and started early so that everyone could catch the ceremony – and so that Daniel Barenboim could zip from podium to stadium as one of eight great humanitarians who together carried in the Olympic flag.

Barenboim conducts Beethoven not as the last of early music, but as the first of modern. This creation, in which symphonic form burst its boundaries, set the precedent that later composers strove to match, especially Mahler. And Barenboim gave the Ninth a near-Mahlerian treatment as an epic journey from darkness to light. His attention falls to the interrelation of macrocosm and microcosm: the whole is a narrative, the definition of detail articulates its message.

The first movement emerged bleak and angry; pointed-up instants – such as a lingering on a note that tips into headlong descent – added to its communicative strength. The second movement continued with absolute seriousness of purpose, the atmosphere turning on the axis of the woodwind as they introduce the work’s first hint of sunshine.

The West-Eastern Divan Orchestra's woodwind section deserves a gold medal. Rarely in any orchestra do you hear tone quite so gorgeous and ensemble so unified, each individual’s artistry flowering to the full within the whole.

Through the symphony they became a group of soloists within the larger ensemble, Beethoven’s harbingers of hope. After a Mahlerian-scale pause, the Adagio molto was first cousin to the Adagietto of Mahler’s Fifth: a great-hearted meditation, with moments of hold-your-breath magic over hushed deepenings of colour.

So to the choral finale and its ‘Ode to Joy’. The National Youth Choir of Great Britain gave their proud all. But placing the soloists at the back, alongside the choir, didn’t work to advantage. Tenor Michael König – replacing Peter Seiffert – sounded faint; soprano Anna Samuil veered from steely to shrill.

The mezzo-soprano Waltraud Meier had little opportunity to shine. It was only the ever-magnificent bass René Pape who delivered the necessary pizzazz. The WEDO can’t bring world peace. But as a symbol of what people can achieve against all odds when they really try, it takes some beating.

This unforgettable concert spoke as much about the unity of humankind as the Olympic opening ceremony itself – and the music was much better. 

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk