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San Diego Symphony: Choppy Beethoven

Conductor John Nelson has an impressive resume. He's conducted four of the "big five" American orchestras. He's conducted at The Met and Lyric Opera of Chicago and has worked at several major houses in Europe. He also won a Grammy award for a recording of Handel's Semele on Deutsche Grammophon.

Taking all this into consideration, I didn't like his take on Beethoven's Ninth. I found his conducting to be frenetic, distracting, and disingenuous.

The first two movements were okay but when we got to the third movement, I'll admit I got angry.

There was no room in his conducting to allow this section to bloom. The tempo was trite. I understand taking a brisker tempo when an orchestra is unable to sustain a broader approach or when the audience might drift.

However, the San Diego Symphony is more than capable of sustaining any tempo. I was expecting this movement to be a revelation and it fell flat for me.

The finale had some nice moments but the soloists were wonderful.

When Bass Richard Zeller opened the vocal section, his voice filled the hall. Symphony Hall is a tough venue for soloists but this quartet marshaled their voices and "painted the back wall". Robert Breault handled the impossible tenor solo as well as could ever be expected. It is a brutal piece of music to sing. Soprano Heidi Grant Murphy and mezzo Susanne Mentzer sang with artistry and the ensemble sections sounded good.

The San Diego Master Chorale was serviceable. They seem to have been directed to sing with zero legato as the choral texture was aggressive and choppy. Again, there was no room in Nelson's conducting to allow a vocal line to form.

The gap between the quality of the orchestra and the quality of the Master Chorale is growing rapidly. The Master Chorale is a volunteer group and the better singers in town aren't in it. It might be time for the San Diego Symphony to consider paying a modest core of singers to be in the chorus.

The audience enjoyed the concert as they stood to their feet at the conclusion. It was a fine performance but based on what I've heard so far this season I was expecting much, much more. If Jahja Ling had been conducting I think it would've been better.

After the concert as my friend and I trudged up the hill on 7th street, I finally said, "I don't know what I'm complaining about, the concert was fine. It was good."

He agreed but added a caveat, "Great music is like pizza and sex--it's tough to get it wrong."

John Nelson conducting Beethoven's Missa Solemnis. We can hear Nelson's aggressive and choppy approach in this clip.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ZhGFsugEQE

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Conductor John Nelson has an impressive resume. He's conducted four of the "big five" American orchestras. He's conducted at The Met and Lyric Opera of Chicago and has worked at several major houses in Europe. He also won a Grammy award for a recording of Handel's Semele on Deutsche Grammophon.

Taking all this into consideration, I didn't like his take on Beethoven's Ninth. I found his conducting to be frenetic, distracting, and disingenuous.

The first two movements were okay but when we got to the third movement, I'll admit I got angry.

There was no room in his conducting to allow this section to bloom. The tempo was trite. I understand taking a brisker tempo when an orchestra is unable to sustain a broader approach or when the audience might drift.

However, the San Diego Symphony is more than capable of sustaining any tempo. I was expecting this movement to be a revelation and it fell flat for me.

The finale had some nice moments but the soloists were wonderful.

When Bass Richard Zeller opened the vocal section, his voice filled the hall. Symphony Hall is a tough venue for soloists but this quartet marshaled their voices and "painted the back wall". Robert Breault handled the impossible tenor solo as well as could ever be expected. It is a brutal piece of music to sing. Soprano Heidi Grant Murphy and mezzo Susanne Mentzer sang with artistry and the ensemble sections sounded good.

The San Diego Master Chorale was serviceable. They seem to have been directed to sing with zero legato as the choral texture was aggressive and choppy. Again, there was no room in Nelson's conducting to allow a vocal line to form.

The gap between the quality of the orchestra and the quality of the Master Chorale is growing rapidly. The Master Chorale is a volunteer group and the better singers in town aren't in it. It might be time for the San Diego Symphony to consider paying a modest core of singers to be in the chorus.

The audience enjoyed the concert as they stood to their feet at the conclusion. It was a fine performance but based on what I've heard so far this season I was expecting much, much more. If Jahja Ling had been conducting I think it would've been better.

After the concert as my friend and I trudged up the hill on 7th street, I finally said, "I don't know what I'm complaining about, the concert was fine. It was good."

He agreed but added a caveat, "Great music is like pizza and sex--it's tough to get it wrong."

John Nelson conducting Beethoven's Missa Solemnis. We can hear Nelson's aggressive and choppy approach in this clip.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ZhGFsugEQE

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