“In my opinion,” and Maestro Michael Neumann stresses the words in my opinion, “Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is the greatest musical composition Western civilization has ever produced.”
It’s an assessment that’s widely shared.
Beethoven’s Ninth, with its famous “Ode to Joy” chorale, is universally deemed the composer’s finest work and one of classical music’s greatest masterpieces. It was the composer’s last completed symphony and the first symphony ever written with a choral component.
You can experience this magnificent music as the Folsom Symphony and the Sacramento Master Singers present “Glorious Beethoven!” March 24 and 25 at Three Stages at Folsom Lake College. Neumann will lead the ensemble in Beethoven’s Ninth and Master Singers director Dr. Ralph Hughes will conduct two additional pieces.
What the audience will experience from the Beethoven composition is, Neumann said, “an extremely intense, moving piece of music, not only because of the musical aspects but on a spiritual level. Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is out in the stratosphere spiritually.”
“Nothing,” he adds, “was ever the same musically after Beethoven wrote his Ninth Symphony.”
The power of this piece is made even more extraordinary by the fact that Beethoven was deaf when he wrote it. At the premiere in Vienna in 1824, an era when multiple standing ovations were properly reserved for royalty, the audience rose five times in long, thunderous applause. The 53-year-old composer, after conducting the performance, had to be turned toward the crowd to see the clapping.
With its complex music and the addition of the choral portion, this piece is the most artistically demanding work the Folsom Symphony has undertaken. The concert will feature at least 70 symphony musicians and 80 singers, including four soloists.
It’s possible the orchestra could be its largest ever for this program. Musicians around the area have contacted Neumann asking for the opportunity to join the symphony just to be able to play this music.
“That’s the nature of this piece,” Neumann said, adding that he will welcome the additional musicians where he can work them in.
The evening will open with Hughes leading the orchestra and chorus in two pieces: “Toward the Unknown Region” by Vaughan Williams and “Te Deum” by John Rutter.
“Toward the Unknown Region” is a musical rendition of Walt Whitman’s 1881 poem “Darest Thou Now O Soul” from “Leaves of Grass.” “Te Deum” is Rutter’s arrangement of fourth-century Christian liturgy. It was written in 1988 for a Thanksgiving service at Canterbury Cathedral.
After intermission, Neumann will lead the ensemble through the Ninth Symphony’s four movements. It is the fourth movement that contains the famous choral finale, “Ode to Joy.” Some music writers have characterized this last movement as a “symphony within a symphony” composed of four movements of its own.
In the finale the soloists and chorus perform the song of joy, Beethoven’s tune set to the words of the Friedrich Schiller poem “An die Freude.” Here the soloists perform: soprano Robin Fisher, mezzo-soprano Buffy Baggott, tenor Jaeho Lee and bass-baritone Burr Phillips.
Schiller’s poem celebrates the spiritual brotherhood of mankind, and Beethoven, who rewrote some of the text for this work, seemed intent on imparting that same message for this symphony. It’s a message still timely today, 300 years after it was written.
Every music lover should experience Beethoven’s Ninth at least once. To allow as many patrons as possible to enjoy the music, the Folsom Symphony is presenting it twice — the standard Saturday evening performance March 24 at 7:30 p.m. and an encore presentation on Sunday, March 25, at 3 p.m. Both concerts will be at Three Stages in Folsom. For tickets visit folsomsymphony.com or call 916-608-6888.