DSO Clef Notes: Longwood Gardens

When I moved to Wilmington more than a dozen years ago, I was so pleased to be near one of my favorite childhood haunts: Longwood Gardens.  Growing up outside of Philadelphia, my family made regular, if infrequent, visits—and I loved it there.  Many nights I would fall asleep puzzling out the layout of the land.  On moving back to the region, I became a regular at the gardens, and my imperfect mental map was, visit by visit, revised into a more reliable one.  

Even though now I know Longwood well, I still love feeling lost there. The land and the gardens unfold in such gratifying ways—sometimes comfortingly predictable, other times, exhilaratingly subversive.

This June, the Delaware Symphony will add a soundtrack to those gardens—playing an all Beethoven program:  the Coriolanus Overture,the Second Piano Concerto, and Fourth Symphony.  Beethoven’s music, like Mr. duPont’s gardens, wanders down paths that fulfill, and subvert, our expectations.  Beethoven’s genius is in the way he guides us—often using tactics, language, and contexts from an earlier generation—into new territory, providing us with fresh, surprising, musical vistas.

In his Second Piano Concerto (really his first—just published late), he slyly pokes at the powdered wig and embroidered waistcoat culture of the day.  There may be no living pianist more capable of knitting together Beethoven’s establishment context with his rebellious personality than Peter Serkin.  This is an extraordinary opportunity for Delaware Valley residents to hear one of the most important musical voices of our time.

Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony, nestled between the genre-busting Eroica and the bristling, compact Fifth, is their friendly middle sibling. Nevertheless, Beethoven Fourth is a work of startling originality and subtlety. Devoid of the bravura of the Third, and the drama of the Fifth, the Fourth, with its disarming demeanor, hits establishment values hard—but always with a smile.  

Like a walk in the Gardens, the musical journey of a Beethoven symphony or piano concerto is a carefully crafted narrative filled with reassurance, surprise, drama, and beauty—makings of a great story—musical or horticultural.  

I never imagined, as a child visiting Longwood, that I might be making music in those very gardens—overlaying the extraordinary natural beauty with its aural equivalent.