Ein Heldenleben marks the climax of that string of magnificent tone poems that established Richard Strauss’s early fame and that, over the course of the ensuing century, have proved enduring and inexhaustible. Strauss himself is the hero of this Hero’s Life, and his vast orchestra with its limitless resources of color and nuance portrays the world in which he battles for the acceptance of his music, woos his future bride, and earns a place of eternal renown with his life’s achievements. A performance of this work is also a heroic undertaking for the orchestra itself: it is among the most exhausting works for the players in the entire repertory, with virtuoso brass and wind parts, and a solo part for the concertmaster that is almost a concerto in itself.
Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony is the absolutely iconic Beethoven work. It is in part because it is so well known that Mr. Zander has always been powerfully attracted to it. But his study of what Beethoven actually wrote revealed a piece that is quite different from what one usually hears. His bracing, often revelatory account of this piece has thrilled audiences at the BPO and all over the world whenever he has conducted it.