Classical Views: Enjoy a concert that's full of 'Joy'
Beethoven's Ninth Symphony is such an amazing piece. It's a work that transcends time, culture and economic differences. In Japan, they sing the main melody together in stadiums. This is a piece that focuses on brotherhood and love for all mankind. They played it as the Berlin Wall was taken down in 1989.
It is a piece that reminds us of our creator and the vastness of the universe: a tribute to the beautiful stars and heavens. The Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125 (also known as "The Choral"), Beethoven's final complete symphony (1824), is a piece where virtually everyone knows the main tune, the famous "Ode to Joy."
Surprisingly, Ludwig van Beethoven was not the first composer to use this melody. A very similar melody occurs in "Misericordias Dominia," which Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote in 1775. It's a simple melody, almost childlike in its contours. Easy to remember, easy to sing.
It's the melody that everyone who attends the concert wants to hear, but "Ode to Joy," with words based on a poem by Friedrich Schiller in 1785, sung by four soloists and a chorus doesn't occur until about 45 minutes into the piece.
To solve this dilemma, I decided to write an "Ode to Joy Fanfare" to start off the Beethoven Ninth concert of the Allentown Symphony Orchestra, 8 p.m. April 11 and 2 p.m. April 12. This way, you can hear your favorite melody right at the beginning of the concert. It is almost like getting to eat desert first.
In my fanfare, I didn't want to give away the entire melody too soon, so I selected a variety of musical snippets from the movements of the Ninth Symphony and created what I jokingly refer to as "Beethoven Nine in a blender." I start with a quote of the opening of the last movement, but after that, I give you just fragments and musical motifs that float in and out of the sound.
These are all hints of great themes to come. The "Ode to Joy" melody appears slowly in the piece, just a few notes at a time tossed around the orchestra, but finally when you do hear it completely, it is played not by the members of the Allentown Symphony, but by 30 young string students from the El Sistema Lehigh Valley program. I wanted us to remember the beauty of brotherhood for all mankind, as seen through the eyes of a child.
When selecting pieces to be performed in a concert along with Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, I am always a little stumped. The Ninth is so incredible and so powerful, how can other pieces share the same concert? To create continuity, I decided to tie into Beethoven's concepts of brotherhood, the uniting of all people, our individual journeys in life and love, and the vastness of the universe.
The concept of life's journeys is captured through the famous piece by Franz Liszt, "Les Preludes," based on the poem, "Meditations Poetiques," by Lamartine, which states: "What else is our life but a series of preludes to that unknown Hymn, the first and solemn note of which is intoned by Death?" Man lives and loves, fails and retreats, returns and conquers. This is a piece about life and how we live. A fitting partner for Beethoven's Ninth.
To tie into the "vastness of the universe" I selected a composition by Canadian composer John Estacio. He has written a wonderfully textural piece, "Borealis," inspired by the Northern Lights. I've always been fascinated with the illumination of these colors in the sky. It is amazing to realize that this wonderful sight is created by nature alone.
Estacio's work captures the essence of these shifting colors. During the concert we're in for an extra treat because with this piece of music we will be featuring the premiere of a new film by Jose Francisco Salgado, the videographer who created the film for Gustav Holst's "The Planets" that we performed a few years ago. Salgado's footage is stunning and blends wonderfully well with the music we will be playing. It will be a highlight of the concert.
The Beethoven Ninth Symphony, which encompasses the second half of the concert features the Allentown Symphony Chorus, in its second annual performance, and four very fine soloists.
Two of the soloists have local connections. Jeremy Galyon, bass-baritone, graduated from Bethlehem's Liberty High School, Class of '94, and performs with the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Jennifer Laubach, mezzo-soprano, lives in Easton and has an active teaching studio and performs with The Bach Choir of Bethlehem and the Bach and Handel Chorale.
Noah Baetge, tenor, is a rising young talent who recently performed with the Santa Fe Opera and has been awarded first prize in many vocal competitions. Sara Pearson, soprano, was a Met soloist in 2013 in "La Rondine" and "Les Dialogues des Carmelites." She and all of the soloists are very excited about performing with the Allentown Symphony Orchestra.
Nowadays, most people will have an opportunity at some point in their lives to hear Beethoven's Symphony No. 9. Unfortunately, Beethoven was never able to hear it because he was completely deaf by the time he wrote the piece. Sometimes, we take for granted this wonderful sense of hearing that allows us to experience beautiful and transcendent music.
You want to take advantage of this opportunity to hear the Allentown Symphony perform Beethoven's Ninth Symphony along with these other exciting pieces, including the world premiere of my "Ode to Joy Fanfare." I trust that you will hear the music like you've never heard it played before.
And don't forget, attend the "Meet the Artists" event, free of charge, with myself, "Ode to Joy" vocal soloists and the "Borealis" film-maker, noon April 10, Miller Symphony Hall.
Diane Wittry is Music Director-Conductor of the Allentown Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Director (USA), International Cultural Exchange Program for Classical Musicians, Sarajevo Philharmonic, Bosnia; and author, "Beyond the Baton" and "Baton Basics" (both, Oxford University Press).
Allentown Symphony Orchestra concert tickets: Miller Symphony Hall Box Office, 23 N. Sixth St., Allentown; allentownsymphony.org; 610-432-6715