By Connor Yearsley
Beethoven’s immortality will be put on display Saturday night.
The Baylor Symphony Orchestra, the A Cappella Choir, the Concert Choir and the Central Texas Choral Society will combine forces and end the concert season definitively with Ludwig van Beethoven’s colossal Symphony No. 9.
The President’s Concert will begin at 7:30 p.m. in Jones Concert Hall in the Glennis McCrary Music Building.
Stephen Heyde, conductor of the Baylor Symphony Orchestra, said he’s excited about the concert.
“It’s the most famous work of art ever,” he said about Beethoven’s final symphony.
Beethoven was commissioned to compose the piece, which is subtitled “Choral,” in 1822, and it was first performed in Vienna in 1824. The words of the iconic fourth movement, which is the only movement to utilize the choir, were taken from German poet Friedrich Schiller’s “Ode to Joy.” The symphony marks the first time a choir was used in a symphony.
The fourth movement features four vocal soloists, all of whom are Baylor School of Music alumni: Kiri Deonarine (soprano), Luretta Bybee (mezzo-soprano), Stephen Carrell (tenor) and Matthew Treviño (bass).
“We have selected outstanding Baylor alums to sing the quartet,” said Dr. Alan Raines, director of choral activities. Raines said he has prepared the choirs for the concert.
Heyde said he thinks the piece was precedential in many ways. He said it introduced many musical innovations that would be exploited for the rest of the 19th century as well as the 20th and 21st centuries. He also said it provided the standard against which subsequent symphonies have been judged.
He said the nature of the piece stands in stark contrast to Beethoven’s personal life at the time of composition, by which point Beethoven had gone completely deaf.
Heyde said despite Beethoven’s isolation, overwhelming loneliness and pain, which would inevitably result from a musician’s inability to hear, the piece is not bitter, but full of hope and joy.
He said the first movement is cosmic and starts from nothing, as if it had always been there. He said by the fourth movement, when the choir comes in, the piece is screaming from the rooftops.
He said the second movement, the scherzo (quick movement in triple time), is energetic and rhythmic and the third movement is spiritual and absolutely tranquil.
“When the ‘Ode to Joy’ first comes in in the cellos and basses, it’s electrifying,” Heyde said.
“It is the most exuberant and exciting piece,” Raines said.
Heyde said it’s a complete piece. “It has it all and I think that’s what Beethoven intended,” he said.
He also said it’s a celebration of life. “It speaks of the possibilities of the human condition, the human spirit. I think that’s why it’s iconic,” Heyde said.
Raines said the piece is huge. “To do the Beethoven 9 is a monument of Western music,” he said.
Heyde agreed. “It’s epic,” he said. “It’s huge on a scale that until this time had never been anticipated.”
Raines said the piece marks the transition from Classicism to Romanticism.
“It signals the explosion of the opening of the Romantic era in my opinion,” Raines said.
Heyde and Raines said there are certain things that make the piece challenging musically and logistically.
Raines said the vocal stamina required is enormous. “Like a marathon runner, the singers are required to sing at an intense level for a long period of time,” he said.
He also said the range (tessitura) required by the singers is quite extreme.
“It’s just a very difficult piece, but it’s a piece that’s almost instantly recognizable,” Raines said.
Heyde also said it’s a supreme challenge for those reasons. He said getting the balance right is also tough. There’s pressure to live up to expectations with the piece and that performing it is like walking in the footsteps of giants.
“There are so many expectations for this piece. People want to be moved by it,” Heyde said. “They want to feel the thrill of it. We don’t want to let them down and I don’t think we’re going to.”
He also said it’s sometimes hard not to neglect the first three movements since the fourth movement is so iconic and demands so much attention. “You have to have dinner ready,” Heyde said. “You can’t just have dessert ready.”
Heyde also said fitting the nearly 330 musicians onstage is challenging.
Raines and Heyde said combining their interpretations of the piece wasn’t difficult since they think similarly about music.
Raines also said Baylor vocalists are well-trained in foreign languages, so getting the German diction right isn’t as challenging as it might be. He also said the choirs are used to performing with an orchestra and vice versa, so integrating the two hasn’t been too problematic.
Heyde said it’s been over ten years since the School of Music last performed Beethoven’s 9th, but he felt now was the right time.
“I thought we had the right forces in the orchestra and in the choirs. It’s not every year you’re going to have an orchestra that can play it and singers who can sing it. It’s a special group of musicians on campus right now,” Heyde said.
Heyde and Raines said they think everyone is well-prepared for the concert.
“They’re highly talented and conscientious and they value this music,” Heyde said of the musicians.
Heyde said he thinks the performance will leave an impression on the audience. “If we perform this piece to the level at which we’re capable, every single person in that room will remember it the rest of their lives,” he said.
“It’s a spectacular piece,” Raines said.
For ticket information visit www.baylor.edu/music or call 254-710-3571.