beethoven time


ludwig van beethoven.

Drama and familiarity – in any kind of performance setting, they become an unrivaled combination. Place them both at the end of a concert season and you have the makings of a monumental parting shot.

That is what the Lexington Philharmonic has planned tonight for a sold out finale to its 2013-14 season at the Singletary Center. It will bid adieu with one of the most popular, commanding and critically lauded works in any classical repertoire – Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9.

“We don’t say Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony,” said Philharmonic music director and conductor Scott Terrell. “We say Beethoven 9 because it’s so famous. There is no way Beethoven 9 is not an event. It’s not just any piece. It’s that piece.”

A choral symphony that will tonight team the Philharmonic with 150 vocalists from the Lexington Singers, the Lexington Chamber Chorale and the Kentucky Bach Choir along with multiple featured soloists, Beethoven 9 was completed in 1824 and has long been one of the world’s most frequently performed symphonies. Its most familiar passage, built around the Friedrich Schiller poem Ode to Joy, is sung during the symphony’s fourth movement.

But it is the music’s inherent drama that most fascinates Terrell, along with the opportunity to discover what drove Beethoven to create such a masterwork.

“Everybody comes at Beethoven 9 with a different point of reference,” he said. “A lot of people know the piece. But like The Messiah, there have been many, many interpretations of Beethoven 9. For me, the issue has not necessarily been the logistics of putting it together with the chorus. The bigger challenge for me is getting people to buy in to the way I view the piece that the composer intended.

“This is the first time I’ve conducted the piece, so that’s sort of a big deal. You don’t quite realize how incredible a work it is until you begin to organize your thoughts around it. It’s an astounding piece of music. It’s a bit daunting, as well. But sometimes you have to do these interpretations for the very first time. That’s the excitement of it.

“But I firmly believe that in this particular symphony you need to be absolutely in line with what you think Beethoven is after dramatically – where he was in his life, his deafness that had set in, his struggling with the whole symphonic form late in his life. In the end, it’s a question what he was after.”

Enhancing the majesty of Beethoven 9 will be its placement in a program full of contrasts. The symphony will take up all of the concert’s second half. The first will be dominated by the more ethereal Three Songs for Soprano and Orchestra by contemporary Argentine composer Osvaldo Golijov (Golijov’s 2004 opera Ainadamar will be part of the Philharmonic’s 2014-15 season). Opening the evening will be another classical staple, but one far lighter and briefer than Beethoven 9 – Claude Debussy’s agelessly lovely Claire de Lune.

Beethoven 9 offers an intense sound world that doesn’t relent. So I thought what was really important was balance in the overall program. So with Golijov, there is less angst than with Beethoven. But it’s also a sonic world that you can’t just dive into right out of the gate. From the listener’s point of view, you need something to serve as a sort of wine to start the evening with, as it were.

Claire de Lune serves the purpose of just letting everyone exhale before we start what will be a pretty exciting but emotionally intense evening.”

Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra performs Beethoven 9 at 7:30 p.m. May 16 at the Singletary Center for the Arts. Tickets are sold out, but the performance will be broadcast live tonight at 7 and again at 8 p.m. on May 18 on WKYL-FM 102.1. To be put on a waiting list for tickets, call (859) 233-4226. For more information, go to

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