Beethoven’s 9th: It’s Big!
By Cathy DeDe, Chronicle Managing Editor
What is it about Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony?
“It is big in every sense,” says Glens Falls Symphony Orchestra conductor-music director Charles Peltz.
The Symphony performs the Ninth — which features Beethoven’s famed “Ode to Joy” in its fourth and final movement — on Sunday, May 5, at 4 p.m. at Glens Falls High School.
The program features a chorus of more than 180 singers — 189 as of Monday’s count — from the Adirondack Voices, Queensbury High School Madrigal Singers and the school’s Concert Choir.
It also includes Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms, completing the Orchestra’s year-long dual celebration of Beethoven and Bernstein.
The Ninth? “It’s just unique among classical pieces,” says Glens Falls Symphony executive director Jennifer Brink.
“It’s an amazing piece,” says Penny Schiek, who prepared the chorus and will also conduct the Chichester (pronounced chih-chester) Psalms. “The choral movement seems to transcend time. It’s a simple, great melody that everyone learns when starting an instrument. Very accessible.”
Maestro Peltz said, “It changed the course of music…changed how some composers who came after thought about what a symphony is, that now it must have words and chorus. It must have meaning, something more than a progression of sections marked Andante or Allegro. It created two robust and distinct strains of music composition.”
How he thinks of it as he prepares the piece? “You are responsible to this iconic piece of music that is essential to the art. What a privilege that is. You look forward to being part of it, in it, part of this human machine.”
“It traverses so much emotional ground, and then the last moment, in a divisive time, could there be any words of more value, that all men will come together as brothers, with a nod to the divine spark.”
Ms. Brink notes that the Ninth was performed when the wall between West and East Berlin was taken down. In fact, she says, it was performed twice, on both sides of the fallen wall.
Bernstein himself conducted the second concert, in what would soon be the former East Berlin, with musicians from around the world. He changed the German text of the Ode to “Joy” to “Freedom.”
It’s so beloved in Japan, Ms. Brink adds, that it is regularly performed by orchestras of 1,000 musicians in stadiums holding tens of thousands of people.
More lore: The Japanese techno-giant SONY, when it first came out with CD technology, based the amount of music the new format could hold — 74 minutes — on how long it takes to play the Ninth, Ms. Brink says. “It tells you how central the Beethoven Nine is around the world. It is unique in how it touches people.
Glens Falls Symphony Maestro Charles Peltz rehearses the orchestra. The players get three rehearsals to bring all their prep work together before the big show, even when it’s as big as Beethoven’s Ninth (plus Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms). Chronicle 2018 photo/Cathy DeDe
The choral section “has its challenges,” Ms. Schiek says — though it’s not as challenging as many other choral works. The toughest thing is learning the German, she said.
Ms. Schiek performed it as a student in the Crane School of Music chorus, for opening ceremonies of the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics.
Ms. Brink played the French Horn with the Boise Philharmonic when they performed the Ninth several years back.
She says the piece includes what is among the most challenging of French Horn solos in the repertoire — and Beethoven set it on the fourth horn player (rather than the principal, which is far more typical).
So, it fell to her in that case and it will be played by GFSO Fourth Horn Amy Baker on Sunday.
Ms. Brink sees it as another way the composer “elevated the common man” through this piece.
Maestro Peltz conducted it with the Glens Falls Symphony about 15 years ago, he said. His experience: “Elation and incredible sense of immersion. The piece draws one deeply into it.”
Chichester closes Bernstein
Like the Ninth, Maestro Peltz says, Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms “speaks to humanity, reflection, and yes, even love.”
He notes, “It has a beautiful solo for boy soprano, on the Adonai.”
The choral piece, with Hebrew text taken from the Biblical Psalms, stands well alongside the German “Ode to Joy,” Maestro Peltz suggests.
Ms. Schiek, who will conduct the Bernstein, says, “It’s very Bernstein. He knew melodies but boy, he could also mix it up rhythmically.”
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