Musician Spotlight: Jon Gustely

Beethoven’s Ninth – A Hornist’s Tale

Powerful, iconic, groundbreaking, transcendent; to the orchestral musician Beethoven’s Ninth is all of these things. Though I’ve played the Ninth with many orchestras and conductors, there were two transformative performances where I was not in fact on stage, but in the audience.
The renowned Austrian conductor Josef Krips’ farewell performance of Beethoven’s Ninth with the San Francisco Symphony
was the very first classical music concert I ever attended. At that time in the 1970’s, I went to a public school in the East Bay
that like so many others had an excellent music program. My parents brought me along to the symphony hoping that I might
be inspired to choose an instrument and begin to study classical music. The minute I heard the golden sound of the horn
echoing through the old War Memorial Auditorium my decision was made.
The next day I went to the band room at Camino Pablo Elementary School and picked out a battered old horn and instruction book. I lugged them the half mile home and began playing along with my mom’s old recordings of Luciano Pavarotti, Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole.
On Sunday, November 12, 1989, in my apartment in Brussels (where I was solo horn with the National Opera), I watched on live television as Daniel Barenboim and the Berlin Philharmonic gave an impromptu performance of Beethoven’s 7th Symphony in Philharmonic Hall. The Berlin Wall had officially fallen on November 9 and all East German citizens showing a GDR ID card were admitted for free. For most, it was the first time in 25 years that they were allowed to enter West Berlin.
Imagine after 25 years finally seeing friends and family, a cherished park or church, a particular place full of memories. “Freude” indeed!
Barenboim’s concert served as a prelude to two transformative performances of the Ninth conducted by Leonard Bernstein celebrating the fall of the Berlin Wall on December 23 in West Berlin and December 25 in East Berlin. Bernstein assembled an international orchestra made up of musicians from London, Paris, New York, Leningrad, and East and West Germany. To mark the festive occasion in the Ode to Joy, he famously changed the word “Freude” (Joy) to “Freiheit” (Freedom).
After first hearing Josef Krips conduct the Ninth, I was inspired to dedicate my life to making music. Bernstein’s historic
performances in Berlin helped to restore a divided nation and an infinitely rich culture that for a quarter of a century
had been separated by a wall. As Louisville strives to be a compassionate and diverse city, it is fitting that we close the Louisville Orchestra’s 2018-2019 season with Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. It is the great composer’s supreme
achievement celebrating art, love, brotherhood and sisterhood, joy and freedom. I hope these concerts will inspire you to celebrate our remarkable orchestra, our city and our Commonwealth. In a world so often divided, music still has the power to unite.