Beethoven’s 9th wows Jorgensen
Published: Thursday, December 5, 2013
Updated: Thursday, December 5, 2013 23:12
180 people filled in the stage at Jorgensen last night to perform Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. The performance titled “Fruede!” was billed as the music of joy and celebration, perfectly capturing the themes of happiness, thanksgiving and love that abound in the Hannukah, Christmas and New Year season.
Members of the UConn symphony, the concert choir, the festival chorus and singers from Farmington and E.O. Smith high schools performed the symphony. Faculty members Constance Rock, Meredith Zeigler, Albert Lee and Anthony Leathem were soloists in the performance, showcasing the talent within the School of Fine Arts faculty.
The show began with the performance of “Magnificant” by Franz Schubert and conducted by Jamie Spillane, associate professor of music and director of choral studies. The composition boasted a thunderous melody that allowed the performers to convey the spirit of celebration. The piece was a joyous demonstration of orchestral power and the strong voices of the combined choir. The combined choirs were a force to be reckoned with and the soloists, Ryan Burns, Spencer Hamlin, Amanda Santos and Meghan Ryan brought brilliant performances of their own.
The second piece of the concert was Hector Berlioz’s “Hungarian March” from “The Damnation of Faust,” and it was conducted by Paul McShee. Although “The Damnation of Faust” is an operatic legend meant to be performed with children’s choir and orchestra, the music was well suited to the performance and allowed the already talented orchestra to display a high level of musicianship. The brass in this piece was particularly impressive with joyous fanfare like contributions to the melody. The piece was fast paced and joyous, as any dance number would be, but also featured a booming bass drum and strong horns to finish.
The third piece before the intermission was Ralph Vaughn-Williams’ “Antiphon” from “Five Mystical Songs.” The most modern piece of the evening, “Antiphon” featured a triumphant choral line complimented by a heavy orchestral presence. The piece almost sounded like a call and an answer, starting with the choral line and having the orchestra respond alternately.
After a brief intermission the show resumed with the performance of the highly anticipated Symphony No. 9 by Beethoven. Famous for containing what has become known to all young children and adults alike as “Ode to Joy” the symphony was much more than just a familiar tune. The four-movement piece told a story in the most delicate and simultaneously powerful musical terms.
“Beethoven’s ninth symphony is a special occasion,” said symphony conductor Harvey Felder. “It is a major work that changed symphonic movements.”
Felder related his personal experience with the symphony. He first heard it as a child on the “Night News” when hosts Huntley and Brinkley used the theme to open the show.
Felder described the piece as a story that the orchestra interprets and conveys to the audience.
“As performers we seek the narrative, we seek the story,” Felder said. “We try to tell you, the audience, a story.”
The moment the piece began the audience was hushed and captivated for the entire 63 minutes. Beginning with a slow first movement, the music gained momentum as the movement progressed. The climax was beautiful and stirring and transitioned to an anxious movement that was fast paced and featured quick notes throughout. The third movement was much more subdued an almost deliberate juxtaposition to the thunderous finale.
The finale featured the vocals of Zeigler, Lee, Rock and Leathem, as well as the combined choirs and when the choirs made their entrance with a resounding “Freude,” members of the audience jumped at the powerful noise coming from the unamplified students. The finale featured the familiar melody “Ode to Joy” and the joyous vocal parts created a triumphant celebration of the journey the last three movements had taken.
“It’s a long haul,” said Felder. “But it’s a journey, a fabulous journey.”
When the last booming note disseminated through Jorgensen, Felder had not even lowered his baton when the audience jumped up for a well-deserved standing ovation.
“I thought they were absolutely spectacular and that doesn’t even do them justice,” said Doris Hurley, who came to see her grandson. “I loved how the music celebrated the season, not a particular holiday. Most denominations, or even people, have a reason to celebrate this time of year and it is tasteful and thoughtful to celebrate to fantastic music that speaks of happiness and joy.”