Going to Beethoven’s 9th? Sorry, we’re playing the 7th

Going to Beethoven’s 9th? Sorry, we’re playing the 7th


norman lebrecht

December 28, 2021

The Philadelphia Orchestra announces a disappointing program change:

In adherence with organizational COVID protocols, and to ensure the safety of audiences, artists, and staff, The Philadelphia Orchestra has changed the program for the New Year’s Celebration concerts scheduled for Friday, December 31, 2021, and Sunday, January 2, 2022, in Verizon Hall at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts.

Instead of Composer-in-Residence Gabriela Lena Frank’s Pachamama Meets an Ode and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, the Orchestra will perform Rossini’s Overture to William Tell and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7.

Xian Zhang conducts as previously announced.

No refunds, apparently.


  • Brian says:

    Disappointing program change? The 7th is a much better piece!

    • Barry says:

      Regardless of which piece is better, which is obviously subjective, I believe the Philadelphia have already gone through a recent run of performances of the seventh. They probably should have picked something they haven’t played yet this season.

      • Elissa says:

        Since this seems like a last minute change, I doubt they could adequately perform something completely new. They do have to practice/rehearse things.

        • Barry says:

          Your point is well-taken. But I would think they could play a Brahms or Tchaikovsky symphony that isn’t already on this season’s schedule in their sleep.

          I’m thinking of the audience members who paid to hear the 7th recently and don’t want to hear it again so soon.

  • Mikos says:

    I’d gladly listen to Rossini’s Overture to William Tell a hundred times a day rather than I’d ever hear Gabriela Lena Frank’s Pachamama Meets an Ode. Amazing how easy it is to actually ‘judge a book by it’s cover’ when they title their nonsense like that.
    Hey, it’s an lgbtq-abcdefg former man, woman, former homeless addict who’s found her/his way and this piece is about her/zer struggle and the patriarchy ruining her life but guess what, the bassoon solo deals with it and by playing a native american dance cadenza it expresses how all white men lose in the end! Get your shots y’all and don’t forget, BBB or MAGA, don’t wish Americans ‘happy holidays’ these days. They live in America. That’s just wishful thinking.

    • Peter San Diego says:

      Frank is a marvelous composer, regardless of the title. I presume the reason they took that work off the program is that it connects to the 9th and its ode (or so the title of Frank’s work suggests). A pity they didn’t replace it with something more contemporary than the Tell chestnut.

    • Patrick says:

      Mikos: You’re a nut.

  • Niels Jensen says:

    At least it’s still Beethoven. Imagine if they switched to Birtwhistle…

  • Harry Collier says:

    I prefer the new programme. Never heard of Gabriela Lena Frank, but I suspect Rossini was an even better composer.

    • Enquirer says:

      Well, Beethoven didn’t think much of Rossini; and, considering the many ‘programs’ in Beethoven’s music, he might well have approved of Frank: see her explanation of Pachamama … helpfully given by msc below. And, though I confess I hadn’t heard of her either, after googling her, and listening to some of her work, I think I should have.

  • Carl says:

    It’s a smart move. “Ode to Joy” and “super spreader” aren’t two phrases that go well together. Wonder if the chorus will receive any pay due to the cancellation?

    • Carson says:

      Nope, the chorus is not being paid for the missed rehearsals and concerts, nor do we have any communication from Philly Orch about if/when our rehearsals might be for the still-scheduled Carnegie Hall program on Jan 11th.

  • DG says:

    Disappointing, maybe. But it makes sense that having a choir onstage as well is riskier right now.

    • anon says:

      Riskier “right now”, as opposed to when, exactly? Viruses and variants that infect via the upper respiratory tract are ALWAYS commonplace in the winter, so unless you want to ban choral music for half the year, how about you get a sense of proportion? Omicron is MILDER than previous variants of COVID-19, and it is pretty much unavoidable, unless you want to live like a hermit for a few weeks (in which time everyone else will have got it). Unless you are extremely vulnerable (in which case it would indeed make sense to shield during the peaks of a wave of infection), better to just get on with life as normal. If not now, then when?

  • Richard Barrett says:

    Always happy to hear Beethoven 7 – it’s a miracles

  • msc says:

    Frank’s notes to her piece: “Composer note
    I am a believer of human-driven climate change, reluctantly so. That is what three straight years of apocalyptic fires in your beloved home state will do. And I’m left asking: How on earth did we get here?

    Many climatologists attribute the origins of humankind’s destructive behaviors to the Industrial Revolution, the backdrop to Ludwig van Beethoven’s life. Just as the iconic 9th Symphony (Ode to Joy) was coming to life, across an ocean, the exploitation of the New World’s natural resources (along with those from Africa and the Indian subcontinent) fueled Europe’s churning engines of commerce and technology, with brutal results for native Americans.

    Among these people, the Cusco School of Painters were in quiet revolt. Reaching the peak of their expressive power as Beethoven was achieving the same, these largely anonymous Peruvian indios, who had been drafted into a service of pictorial evangelism, mastered oil and canvas to portray scenes from biblical stories. Yet, amidst depictions of European countrysides and visages, images of native birds, animals, flowers, and trees were snuck in, an act of subversive preservation of the gifts of Pachamama (“Mother Earth” in the Inca-Quechua language).

    In my choral-orchestral work Pachamama Meets an Ode, Beethoven is treated to a scene of an indigenous painter plying his trade in a Spanish church with Moorish (Mudéjar) arches constructed on the remains of a demolished Inca temple. The painter hides spirits from bygone native cultures (Chavín… Moche… Huarí) amidst European figurines, equipping them with protective natural talismans (huacas) and friendly fauna. He is readying his subjects for their journeys, as paintings, into lands violently transformed by colonization. Even old indigenous myths take on new meanings as a Peruvian pistaqo is no longer simply a highland boogie man, but also an urban capitalist murdering indios for their body fat to grease factory machines.

    In our modern day global climate crisis, lands are increasingly fallow, polluted rivers astonishingly burst into flames, and animals (such as the amanto fish, the puna grebe duck, and the viscacha chinchilla rodent) disappear into extinction. Gifts from the past — especially odes — must be looked at with new and searching eyes.

    Pachamama asks, challenging us: What of joy?

    This work is dedicated to my niece and nephew, Camila and Alexander Frank, who shall inherit the earth.”

    I think I prefer William Tell’s more basic ode to political freedom.

    • Peter B says:

      So ‘Pachamama’ must translate to ‘White People Bad’ in some language. Make it Rossini, or Pachabel.. Heck, the audience in Phily would be better off listening to a 45 RPM of the 80’s video game ode ‘Pac-Man Fever’ by Buckner and Garcia than paying money to hear how terrible they are.

    • John Borstlap says:

      I am particularly disappointed about the puna grebe duck, the sight of which has become so rare. And why is the Peruvian vesper mouse (Calomys sorellus) not mentioned?? The last time I saw one, on one of my trips to notate local folklore tunes, it had a specifically sad look and rubbed its little hands in despair because of its decreasing territory (a settlement of a UN Wildlife Protection Team had been set-up nearby). The team had already noticed that the singing of the vespers at sunset of this remarkable species showed a marked reduction in volume.

      But the sounds of other species have been captured by the composer’s Andean Walkabout:


      ..which is truly nice and lively music, by the way. She is a multitraditional and multiculti composer who wants music to be embedded within the community (doesn’t matter which one or how), so that audiences have something to think about during the listening experience – lest their thoughts would wander around aimlessly.

    • Pianofortissimo says:

      First I have to recognize that the composer’s original notes are funnier than any parody.

      I suspect that I would prefer the Lone Ranger’s soundtrack to Pachamama.

  • Minnesota says:

    I hope no one is suicidal over the program change. Not the most unsettling thing to have happened over the past two years.

    • John Borstlap says:

      But that depends upon the listener’s sensitivity and cultural commitment. My poor uncle Henry committed suicide when a full 20-hour programme of Morton Feldman, to which he had looked forward intensily for more than a month, and for which he had trained in meditation for weeks, was changed at the last minute into a one hour programme of Tchaikovsky.


  • Michael says:

    What’s your point? Your alternate headline, had they not changed the program, would have been: “Omicron Ode, Philly’s Super-Spreader Beethoven”. Two years into this pandemic, such sanctimoniousness wears awfully thin.

  • Chichi rodriguez says:

    7th is actually better

  • Anyone should get a refund because they are not playing the piece that people paid good money for. How unfair.

    • Larry says:

      That’s why it always says “Artists and programs subject to change” in advertising, programs, etc.

    • Bill says:

      How about the people who are happy to be getting Rossini instead of GLF? I would pay good money for the new program, but pass on the original, even though I prefer op. 125 to op. 92.

      I have nothing against the work female composers in general, but having played a number of GLF’s works, I do have something against hers. I speak only for myself, and if you like her stuff, enjoy! We won’t all like everything. I don’t like everything Rossini wrote, either!

    • V. Lind says:

      You’ve really never had anything to do with the backstage of an orchestra, have you. 1) The word refund is the word that gets you fired. 2) The small print on most subscription packages, and possibly even the back of most tickets, has something about programme changes without notice.

      I bitterly resent the latter, having been more than once in attendance at a concert to hear something specific and to have had it changed, usually due to illness or some such. It particularly stung at an opera programme I went to, that was very expensive and for which I have saved up for ages, but a singer’s bad throat prevented him managing just what I had decided to spurge for.

      But life happens, and at this time I am surprised anyone was foolish enough to programme the 9th anyway. But they did, and the changes strike me as being as good as they get, better in the case of the Lone Ranger theme over a bunch of new age preachery through music.

      But one of these days there is going to be a rebellion against orchestras for breaches of the trade descriptions act. Or breaches of advertising. Until orchestras can manage their finances well enough to offer refunds for legitimate reasons — like programme changes — they are going to continue to be regarded as a poor investment or, worse, a dishonest dealer.

      • Enquirer says:

        Only to comment on ‘new age preachery’. I really think that is unfair, and I wonder whether you knew anything about Gabriela Lena Frank and her music when you made that judgement? She is an experienced composer, and writes very listenable-to music. Reading her program note again, without prejudice, it seems to me honest and thoughtful, from someone with a deep knowledge of latin-american music and culture, and a deep concern about history and the environment. She works in the (European) tradition of tone poems. I listened to and watched another of her pieces, Contested Eden, about the Californian wild-fires;


        I found it moving both musically and visually (although I am not sure what somebody who knows more about dance than I do would make of the choreography).

        • John Borstlap says:

          The music is nice and musical and colourful, also light; and it does not need at all some ‘story’, and ‘visuals’, and a load of PC chatter to keep the interest going.

          • Enquirer says:

            I thought you would have understood that music expresses/evokes emotions along with thoughts that arise from them or that they arise from. Would you have dismissed those works of Beethoven that meditate on revolutionary ideals and the Napoleonic wars as ‘nice and colourful, also light’, and his expression of hope for the universal brotherhood of man as ‘PC chatter’ or ‘new age preachery’? For shame.

            Frank in her program notes is (I think) reflecting contemporary concerns: among other things, the impact of European culture and industrial and technological ‘progress’ on the land of the Americas (both north and south) and on the various native American cultures, and their responses – the Cuzco school of artists is a paradigm.

            Whether listening to Frank’s music with this in mind enhances the experience is another question, one that could also be asked about, for example, Verklärte Nacht, or Also sprach Zarathustra.

      • Enquirer says:

        Here is Frank’s program-note to Contested Eden.

  • TNVol says:

    “William TaHell” in brass musicians’ vernacular.

  • MacroV says:

    Understandable that maybe a choir isn’t the best idea right now, but not the most novel or imaginative of programs.

  • Patrick Gillot says:

    So what? The change of program makes sense. The Philadelphia Orchestra is not responsible for the virus and the new program is far superior.

  • michael redden says:

    I actually love the seventh the best, and enjoy trying to play the Liszt transcription!!

  • Hal Sacks says:

    As a subscriber, I suspect Philorch will gladly exchange any tickets for performances later in the season.

  • J Barcelo says:

    Who cares? Both the 7th and 9th are over played. So is William Tell. What dull, unimaginative programming. What a waste of a great orchestra.

    • Karl says:

      What would you suggest J? I think some American classics would be better. Maybe Ives 2nd Symphony.

      • J Barcelo says:

        What they need to do is look at some of the music in that stunning, huge Ormandy Columbia mono box and play something that has been ignored for 60 years. Like a symphony by Mennin, or the delightful Hershey Kay arrangement of Gottschalk’s music. Anything…but this constant replaying the European classics is killing music.

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    I lament that Beethoven did not use the notes that later became the Allegro appassionato (5th movement of the String Quartet No. 15 in A minor, Op. 132) as the concluding movement of the 9th, as was originally intended.

    • John Borstlap says:

      It’s too late to try to make him change his mind.

      • Pianofortissimo says:

        Beethoven had a propensity to commit the ‘sin’ of asymmetry in Art, as is most evident in the Choral Fantasy, in the last movement of the 9th, and in the first version of Op 130. Had Beethoven lived two more years or so he would have repaired that mistake, as he did with the Grosse Fuge. I’m quite sure of it.

      • Greta Benadé says:

        Oh how I enjoyed these letters… I am talking from the southest point of Africa and wish that I could hear that orchestra and the 7th!

        May all you musical souls be blessed abundantly in 2022.
        Keep the music playing..

  • Ralph Neiweem says:

    Would imagine a reschedule is in the works after Covid. Sorry to be a bore, but that’s about the size of it. Enjoy Rossini and 7th.