Arts & Events

Young Beethoven in Concert

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Monday January 01, 2018 - 01:48:00 PM

The San Francisco Chamber Orchestra, led by Music Director Ben Simon, offered three Bay Area concerts, December 29-31, focusing on Beethoven’s early works. I caught the Saturday, December 30 concert at San Francisco’s Herbst Theatre. Opening the program was a true chamber work, Beethoven’s Septet in E-flat Major, Opus 20, a work from 1799-1800. In this piece, Beethoven’s choice of instrumentation was innovative. An ensemble of clarinet, bassoon, French horn, violin, viola, cello, and double bass was anything but traditional. Further, the prominence given to the clarinet as an equal to the violin was new. This joyful work was beautifully dispatched by the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra.  

Next on the program was Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in C Major, Opus 15. This work, though given the number 1, was actually the third piano concerto composed by Beethoven. The composer himself gave this concerto the number one, acknowledging that his true first and second concertos were not as good and dramatically new as this one, which he decided to publish as Number One. Soloist in these performances was debut artist Rin Homma, a twelve year-old pianist who has won numerous awards, including two successive prizes in the California Concerto Competition in 2016 and 2017. In her rendition of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1, Rin Honna was excellent. Undaunted by the difficult cadenza in the first movement, Rin Homma navigated its difficult passages with aplomb. If I had any reservations about her playing, they occurred in the slow Largo where a clarinet soars above the piano. This movement seemed more plodding than flowing. The third movement, a Menuetto, and the final Adagio, closed out this youthful work by Beethoven, excellently interpreted by Rin Homma. 

After intermission, the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra returned to perform Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1 in C Major, Opus 21. Conductor Ben Simon announced that he considered both Symphonies 1 and 2 more interesting to him than Symphony No. 3, the Eroica, which is usually cited as Beethoven’s break-through work. Under the lead of Ben Simon, the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra proceeded to offer a respectable candidate for the breakthrough status claimed for it by their Music Director. Whether or not I bought Ben Simon’s claim, I enjoyed his rendition of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1 in C Major, a work I dearly love. All told, this was a welcome way to close out the year of 2017 and to welcome in 2018.