September 20th, 2001, was a great day for the Unheard Beethoven and lovers of Beethoven's music. The National Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Leonard Slatkin, on that date premiered our own Willem's realization of Beethoven's sketches for the proposed opera Macbeth, Biamonti 454, which can be heard here.
The performance at the Washington DC Kennedy Center came about through the efforts of James F. Green, Beethoven scholar and member of the Board of Trustees of the Ira F. Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies. He approached Mr. Slatkin, who was enthused about the possibilities and immediately put the Macbeth Overture on the NSO concert schedule. Although a few newspaper critics pooh-poohed the notion of Beethoven realizations, the general consensus was that this was intriguing news. The Times (UK) in particular considered The Unheard Beethoven a unique marriage of technology and music that has made the musical world stand up and take notice.
Willem and Mark attended the dress rehearsal at the Kennedy Center on the morning of the 20th. The Macbeth Overture was surrounded by large-scale pieces on the program, including a bombastic orchestration of a Bach Passacaglia by Respighi, Bernstein's Chichester Psalms and the Dvorak New World Symphony. Our apprehension about how our realization would compare to these works was unwarranted, for the Macbeth stood its own quite nicely. Amazingly enough, the audience at the dress rehearsal gave the Macbeth a rare round of applause.
The premiere was highly exciting, although many of the dignitaries that had been expected were diverted by President Bush's request that they hear him address Congress that night. We will accept that as a satisfactory excuse, this time. The reaction of the audience was highly favorable, with comments such as "Brilliant!" being the norm. We were exceedingly pleased and proud that the realization was so happily received. The performances were even more thrilling on the succeeding nights of Sept. 21 and 22.
Press comments included the following, from the Baltimore Sun: "The work sounds as if it could indeed precede Macbeth, conveying a bit of spookiness, dark drama and military action." The Washington Post called it "an astounding musical coup: the first world premiere in the Western Hemisphere of a major orchestral work by Beethoven....effectively orchestrated-eerie enough to raise hairs on the neck of a bloodthirsty thane." Performances are in the wings by the Winnipeg Symphony and the Orchestre de Bretagne. We are keeping our fingers crossed about a possible recording as well.