Both Chizuko “Cheeko” Matsusaka and Yoko Kita carry distinct memories of the first time they heard the music of Ludwig van Beethoven.
For Matsusaka, who grew up in a musical family, she got her first blast of Beethoven at age 11, sitting in on a rehearsal of her sister’s youth orchestra. When the horn section launched into the joyous trio in the third movement of Beethoven’s third symphony, dubbed the Eroica, Matsusaka’s world changed.
“I remember thinking I’d never heard anything like that, and it just really inspired my imagination,” Matsusaka says.
Growing up in Japan, Kita, on the other hand, had no musicians in her family. Her parents valued the importance of classical music for their young daughter’s development, however, and purchased a box set of “essential” composers on vinyl.
“One of them in the collection had Beethoven's portrait on it, and Side A was the fifth symphony,” Kita recalls. “I was just so terrified of the opening as a little kid, that I would ask my mother—or eventually when I was able to drop the needle myself—to always skip a quarter of an inch so I didn't have to listen to that opening!” Like so many listeners who treasure Beethoven, Kita outgrew her “Fifth phobia,” ultimately becoming hooked on the drama that overwhelmed her young senses at first.
As Sarasota Orchestra’s principal timpanist, Kita has performed with the Orchestra since 1990, while Matsusaka began her first season in the Orchestra’s cello section in 2002. Beethoven weaves a powerful thread through the course of both their careers as their connection to his music has deepened.
“When you go through that ‘tween’ time where, you know, it just feels like the world is going to end, Beethoven is there for you,” Matsusaka says. “To me, he always represented tenacity, that there's always hope. Here’s a guy that who is losing his hearing, and yet he's pumping out some of the most beautiful music of his life.”
“I learn something new each time we perform the same [Beethoven] symphony, especially with different conductors bringing in different visions,” Kita says. “And I've changed as a player, over the years, growing from a rookie player to really appreciating what's in front of me and the magnitude of what I get to be part of.
“But it never gets easy,” Kita adds. “It's a brand-new challenge.”
As orchestras everywhere honor the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth in their 2019-2020 seasons, Sarasota Orchestra has infused this year’s concert series with the composer’s ingenious musical creations. Audiences will experience the might of his symphonies and piano concertos in the Orchestra’s Masterworks and Discover Beethoven series, as well as the innovative brilliance of his chamber works in Chamber Soirees. Even in the Orchestra’s crowd-pleasing Pops and Great Escapes, concert-goers will feel the sense of eternal hope that defines Beethoven’s staying power.
“Beethoven, to me, he's a groovy guy,” Matsusaka says, pointing to Walter Murphy’s disco “remix” of the composer’s fifth symphony, A Fifth of Beethoven, which topped the Billboard Hot 100 in 1976.
“Murphy didn't really change what Beethoven wrote; he just added to it,” Matsusaka explains. “It speaks to the fact that Beethoven grooves."
Matsusaka continues, “I think with social media and the way politics are going right now, subtlety, nuance, all of those things are gone. But we can share with music that sense, the unspoken. Beethoven gets to the point really fast. That's something that everyone can share in the moment, without having to say a word.”
“What I think is so neat is his breaking tradition itself becomes the tradition in the classical world,” Kita says of Beethoven’s musical legacy. “It’ll be really fascinating to find out how it keeps changing. In the next 250 years, which will take us to 2270—we won't be around, but I'm going to say orchestras across the world will be playing Beethoven.”
[This story was originally featured in the October 2019 issue of West Coast Woman.]