In a tight hour, Beethoven’s assistant Ferdinand Ries (Micah Sandt) stands in front of the City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong, and takes us on a whirlwind tour through Beethoven’s orchestral music and tragic life. The choice of short excerpts, short duration, and in-character narration make it a perfect concert for children. But the robust musicality of the orchestra and guests (Micah Sandt, Yoonie Han) means that everyone will be moved by the continuing power of this extraordinary composer.
Though Ries’ biographical monologue (written by Leanne Nicholls) is of few words, the script and choice of repertoire are both incredibly well-researched. For example, the narrator lets us in on the secret love affair between Beethoven and Countess Julie Guicciardi, and then sits down to play Moonlight Sonata, framed here not as a bleak, tortured moment of insomnia, but as a love story.
Beethoven’s most famous hits are all there, beginning and ending with excerpts from his ninth symphony, “Ode to Joy”. The concert begins with this theme on solo cello, joined by other members of the strings, and slowly but surely, the conductor (Colin Touchin) and whole orchestra. The imagination and storytelling isn’t just in the spoken narrative, but in the musical staging and editing, too.
The whole Beethoven showcase is completed with brilliant production design (Ernesto Maurice Corpus, Jason Chu, Aurora Corpus, Lo Cheuk-wing) that immediately helps us to visualise the musical world that Beethoven (and Ries) inhabited. Ries interrupts each musical outburst so that we cannot clap; but the audience outburst at the end is all the louder for it.
Playing Sat 2 October 2021 at Hong Kong City Hall.