Ode to Freedom - Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 (Official Concert of the Fall of the Berlin Wall 1989)
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Leonard Bernstein's historical concert in celebration of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 has long become almost as legendary as the revolutionary moment that it celebrated. Recorded at the beautiful Schauspielhaus right on Gendarmenmarkt in the centre of Berlin on Christmas 1989, it has now become available on DVD, along with a short documentary film as bonus. The fall of the Berlin Wall on November 1989 unleashed a wave of democratisation in Central and Eastern Europe that radically transformed the world order and Leonard Bernstein spontaneously accepted an invitation to conduct a performance to mark this new era. It was only fitting that East Germany's new-found freedom should be celebrated with Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. The monumental work, perhaps the world's most famous Symphony, was inspired by Schiller's poem 'Ode to Joy', a passionate eulogy to freedom. Adding to the symbolism of the event, Bernstein conducted an orchestra and chorus formed from musicians from both East and West Germany (Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Staatskapelle Dresden), as well as the United States (New York Philharmonic), Great Britain (London Symphony), France (Orchestre de Paris) and the Soviet Union (Orchestra of the Kirov Theater).
Bernstein is a master theatricalist in his conducting; he sweats, grimaces, smiles, swoons, leaps, and crouches, his stick technique is at many points firm and decisive, at others floppy and vague. […]The experience of watching and listening to this performance will go some way to enable us all, German or non-German, to relive those truly momentous days. --Musicweb-international
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The concert that performed that Christmas morning in Berlin was more then just playing Beethoven's 9th symphony. It was a bringing together of people from around the world to perform, listen and watch an amazing concert praising the joy of freedom. As for the DVD of this concert it is excellently produced. It is beautifully filmed and the picture quality is sharp and clear with great camera angles throughout the Schauspielhaus showing Bernstein the orchestra and the choral performers during the concert. The sound quality is outstanding as well giving you the feeling of being there. You certainly want a first rate sound system with your television to experience the full sound of the orchestra. This is a performance I never tire of watching and bet you will feel the same way after watching this for the first time.
After 20+ years however, the emotion of that historical event has waned somewhat. Now I remember overlooking the fact that Mr. Bernstein had grown old and looked tired. The playing was dull, uninspired, and dragged on (I like my allegros to be Allegro!). It is to their credit that this orchestra, which was made up of players from different orchestras and different parts of the world, played this well without much rehearsal time together.
I recommend this DVD more for the documenting of a pivotal moment in world history rather than for its actual performance.
So many things were incredible. I was amazed that Leonard Bernstein directed this entire huge, long symphony without a stand or the musical score. I was touched how many musicians came from all over the world, including both west and east Germany, to become a part of this performance. The huge orchestra was joined by two huge choirs, a wonderful childrens choir, and excellent soloists.
I choked up many times during the performance and began crying almost immediately after the end. I was then shocked that the audience just sat there for several moments but finally burst into unbelievable standing applause that went on and on and on.
I was further moved when I recalled that Beethoven had lost his hearing before even writing the 9th Symphony, and that, during the first performance of the ninth, Beethoven had to be turned around to see the audience applauding since he could not hear it. And, even though he personally could never hear his Symphony, he called it "Ode to Joy". I can tear up just thinking how all that affected this marvelous man.
I was so moved by this performance I was truly dazed for several moments after it finished, then began to tear up again. The TV cameras then moved outside the performance hall, showing us the tens of thousands out in the dark, cold square, yelling and screaming. I hadn't realized they were out there and were able to watch and listen through big screens.
I know I'm describing the mood the music created, and the effect it had on all of us. You will never forget this performance, and will watch it many times.
I've loaned this recording to many of my friends and they all have returned it almost silently, still unable to convey their feelings in words.
This is a once in a lifetime performance. Incredible!!
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