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From Where I Sit: The Youthful Energy of Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony

On May 17, The Philadelphia Orchestra performs its final program at Carnegie Hall this season. The orchestra's principal oboe player Richard Woodhams discusses his lifelong memories of Beethoven's "Pastoral" Symphony.  

Sir Simon Rattle always brings engaging programs! This one seems to contrast the dark, sad, and macabre music of Webern, Berg, and Ligeti with one of Beethoven's sunniest works, the "Pastoral" Symphony. It has, for me, many pleasant associations, of which I'd like to mention just a few.

I first started listening to it when I was about 12 years old and starting to take up bicycle racing in my native northern California, so I connect the music with youthful energy and optimism. Some 25 years later, the "Pastoral" Symphony was my son's favorite piece of music as a young child. It also was on the first half of Eugene Ormandy's last concert with The Philadelphia Orchestra. This took place at Carnegie Hall in the early 1980s, and I was fortunate enough to be part of it. Mr. Ormandy conducted the Beethoven with brisk, vigorous tempos even though he was ailing. On the second half, he conducted Bartók's Concerto for Orchestra. The score had been put before him, but he slammed it shut (to great applause) and nailed it by memory!
Woodhams at age 14, two years after he first discovered Beethoven's "Pastoral" Symphony, while on tour in Japan with the California Youth Symphony.

It's a great privilege in life to play with such an astonishing orchestra and we always love to be in Carnegie Hall with its clear, responsive acoustics. And I am constantly reminded of the rich continuum of symphonic music and its invaluable contribution to maintaining the quality of culture here in America, performed as it is by so many orchestras at such a high level.