Classically Trained: Yes, Beethoven is still very 'good'

Editor's note: This corrects the spelling of Pinchas Zukerman on the photo caption. Also, Beethoven's "Violin Concerto in D Major" is his only violin concerto, not only solo violin work, that he wrote.

A while back a co-worker asked me a music question: "Is Beethoven, you know, still considered good?"

As the most dedicated — make that "only" — classical aficionado of the newsroom, I was prepared with an answer as long as the finale of the Ninth.

"Is Beethoven still 'good?'" I replied incredulously. "You might as well be asking if the frescoes of Michelangelo are still beautiful. Is the Grand Canyon still breathtaking? Is the Great Wall of China still impressive? Is 'Airplane!' still funny?"

Then I explained how Beethoven's music evokes a timeless beauty. Even some 180 years after his death, his symphonies are still being explored, debated and deciphered. And all this came from a man who became deaf yet still heard, deep within the confines of his mind, the intricate goings-on of the symphonic musical machine.

I think, though, my long-winded answer to my colleague was probably lost after mentioning "Airplane!"

Still, I'm reminded of it again because the Pacific Symphony is playing so much Beethoven next week as part of its season dedicated to the composer hailed as one of the most — if not the most — influential musicians of all time.

The Costa Mesa-based ensemble is hosting evenings featuring world-renowned violinist-violist and conductor Pinchas Zukerman Jan. 13 to 15. The Israeli-born musician is one of the most heralded soloists of the last 40 years. When not maintaining his busy touring, recording and teaching schedule, Zukerman leads the National Arts Centre Orchestra of Ottawa.

The 8 p.m. concert series at the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall begins with two Zukerman-led pieces: Stravinsky's "Concerto in D" and Haydn's Symphony No. 83, nicknamed "The Hen."

Stravinsky — notable for his dissonant music for "The Rite of Spring" that started riots during its 1913 Paris premiere — wrote "Concerto in D" to feature only the string sections. Michael Clive's concert notes remark how the three-movement concerto doesn't feature a showy, virtuosic player and "sensational effects," but rather "a seamlessly braided ensemble."

Haydn's 83rd symphony dates back to the 18th century and got its nickname from its opening movement, whose distinctive rhythms are reminiscent of our feathered friends.

The concert ends with Zukerman performing Beethoven's "Violin Concerto in D Major," the German composer's only concerto for solo violin. Unlike the Stravinsky concerto, this one features remarkable "sensational effects" in a work that's since become a standard of worldwide orchestral performance repertoire despite its disastrous 1806 premiere.

To learn more about the series' works, visit the 7 p.m. pre-concert talk with Alan Chapman on any of the three nights.

Those yearning for more should come to hear the intimate chamber music sessions at 3 p.m. Jan. 16. The afternoon at the Samueli Theater is titled "Beethoven, Beethoven, Beethoven!" and features three of his chamber works: the "Sonata for Horn and Piano in F Major," the "Clarinet Trio No. 4 in B-flat Major" and the "Septet in E-flat Major."

A group of the Pacific Symphony's soloists — including Keith Popejoy on horn and Benjamin Lulich on clarinet — will be under the direction of Orli Shaham.

Shaham, the pianist and host of the afternoon, has been praised by critics on four continents. She's performed with orchestras worldwide — including Boston, St. Louis, Chicago, Israel, England, Australia and Malaysia — and is a frequent recital artist.

For more information, visit or call (714) 755-5799.

BRADLEY ZINT is a copy editor for the Daily Pilot and a classically trained musician. E-mail him story ideas at

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