Ninth Symphony resounds

Masterpiece: Beethoven's composition poses challenge for academy music director and performers.

April 08, 1999|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Franz Schubert wrote an exquisite Ninth Symphony.

Antonin Dvorak's Ninth Symphony, "From the New World," has been a crowd-pleaser since its premiere in 1893, while Gustav Mahler's Ninth Symphony is one of the most profound symphonic utterances of them all.

But in the music world, "The Ninth," unnamed, means only one thing: the Ninth Symphony of Ludwig van Beethoven.

No other work approaches its mystique or inspires such reverence among musicians and lovers of great music. First performed in Vienna in 1824, three years before the composer's death, Beethoven's great D-minor symphony with its choral setting of the poet Friedrich von Schiller's "Ode to Joy" is still a larger-than-life musical experience.

"Most pieces of music come to a great cadence and stop," said John Barry Talley, director of musical activities at the Naval Academy. "But the Ninth accelerates through its ending, then seems to leap out of the hall and continue on some place else. Truly, it's a mystical piece to me."

Talley will conduct the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra, four soloists, his Naval Academy Glee Club and the Goucher College Chorus in Beethoven's Ninth at the Academy's Alumni Hall at 7: 30 p.m. Saturday. The program also will include Ralph Vaughan Williams' languid and lush "Serenade to Music," which excerpts selections from Shakespeare's "Merchant of Venice" as a text.

This is Talley's second go at the Ninth. He last conducted it in 1983.

"It scared the heck out of me then and it still does now," he laughed. "There are lots of minefields there for players, singers, and conductors."

Beethoven's four movements explore the range of emotions. The tense, declamatory drama of the first movement yields to the immense energy of one of Beethoven's most turbulent Scherzos.

Movement three, the sublime adagio, explores the inner reaches of beauty in a most unearthly way, after which the soloists and a large chorus assume center stage for the blazing finale with its message of equality, hope and universal brotherhood.

The Ninth is a logistical nightmare for the conductor, who must simultaneously minister to an orchestra, soloists, and choir, making sure each is on task and in balance with everyone else. It's as close as one can get to conducting opera without having to watch anyone pretend to die on stage.

The mood swings of the piece are stunning. Solo recitatives, choral interludes, monumental fugues, operatic solos, and a rousing Turkish march fairly explode across the pages of this miraculous score, written by a composer who didn't hesitate to place superhuman technical demands on his singers and players.

"It's a piece that's just too big for its frame," Talley said. "This is music that just keeps hammering, trying to get out. It's the sum total of Beethoven's creative energy breaking loose in a miraculous effort to express the inexpressible."

Information: 410-268-6060.

Pub Date: 4/08/99

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