Due to a number of conflicts, I didn’t buy a subscription for the Johannesburg Philharmonic’s Summer Season 2020. But I did decide to go to the last week, conducted by Daniel Boico, as a birthday gift to myself, and for the experience of two works that I love and was keen to hear again. It turned out to be just about the most rewarding decision I’ve made so far this year, and one of the most heartening experiences I’ve ever had at a classical music concert.
The programme began with Beethoven’s Fifth Piano Concerto, in E-flat, the one nicknamed “The Emperor Concerto.” Larger and louder than Beethoven’s four previous piano concerti (or any other concerto that came before), this work often sounds like a piece for two orchestras, one of them played in a reduction by a single, heroic pianist. Last night, that pianist was Jan Jiracek von Arnim, a tall, thin, bespectacled teacher from Vienna, with an air of confidence and comfort that he was equal to the challenge.