Brahms’s Fourth Symphony doesn’t mean anything. Like much of the classical music repertory, it has no text, no plot. It elicits emotions, but not in a rigidly defined way. At a concert, your neighbor’s experience of it, her explanation of its impact, will almost certainly be different from yours.
It’s also, like much of the repertory, chameleonic — a different piece if you’ve suffered a heartbreak or celebrated a joy. On Thursday, when the Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra performed the symphony at Lincoln Center, the notes were the same as ever. But, played by dozens of Ukrainian musicians on a mild evening in Damrosch Park, the score took on an air of calm but implacable defiance, what Rimbaud once called “burning patience.” There was no hysteria to this Brahms, just resolute intensity.