In 2008, The Hartford Chorale performed Beethoven’s two extra-human choral symphonies, the Missa Solemnis (in May) and the Ninth Symphony (in October). I wonder how many symphonic chorales have the opportunity to perform these two extraordinary pieces within the space of just six months. Our performances with The Hartford Symphony Orchestra were magnificent and well-received, as documented by reviews in The Hartford Courant. Read the Missa Solemnis review HERE, read the Ninth Symphony review HERE, and click HERE to read The Courant’s opinion that our performance of the Missa Solemnis was “the most extraordinary orchestral concert in Connecticut during 2008.”
The year with Beethoven was an extraordinary journey of learning and discovery. As usual, I supplemented my musical preparation with research and reading, and posted my observations and discoveries in a number of essays posted here at Quodlibet. (You can read my Missa Solemnis essays HERE and the Ninth Symphony essays HERE.)
Now, as The Hartford Chorale prepares for its May 9 performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (the “Choral”), this time with the New Britain Symphony Orchestra, I find myself revisiting some of my earlier explorations and thinking about how to prepare mentally for yet another performance of this epic work. After all, many members of the Chorale could probably perform the Ninth Symphony in their sleep. We performed it with The Hartford Symphony Orchestra in 2006 and 2008 (two performances each time, with the 2008 performances sung from memory), and a large contingent of Chorale members performed it again in China during the summer of 2008. And of course, many members have performed it countless times in earlier years, both with the Chorale and with other ensembles.
It would be so easy to show up in New Britain this weekend and just “sing the notes,” wouldn’t it? After all, we’ll be performing with an unfamiliar orchestra, working with a new conductor none of us have met, and singing for an entirely different audience with whom we do not have an established relationship. Will it matter, and will anyone even know, if we don’t invest ourselves fully in this performance?
Yes, of course it matters.
The New Britain Symphony Orchestra has kindly invited The Hartford Chorale to participate in this performance as guest artist. This is our début with the NBSO; perhaps it will be the first of many collaborations. We owe it to the NBSO and its audience (that’s our audience, too!) to offer our very best artistry. We can sing well for the NBSO.
Though the Ninth Symphony is widely known, frequently recorded, and often performed, there’s a good chance that there will be people in our audience who have never heard it before, or who have never heard a live performance. Perhaps an aspiring musician or poet will be listening. Perhaps a would-be philanthropist is wondering if he or she should invest in local arts organizations, and came to hear if we are any good. Perhaps there’s a member of the orchestra who has never performed this music before! Our performance just might be a life-changing event for someone. We can sing well for that person.
Musically, the Symphony demands the utmost from every musician who performs it, whether that musician is in the orchestra or in the chorus. There’s no “half-way” in this music, no “sort of,” no “good enough.” The music commands our attention, our interest, our investment, and our commitment as musicians, as singers, and as thinking people. To perform the Symphony with anything less than our best musicianship would be to deny ourselves the opportunity to create an extraordinary musical experience, which we can appreciate as individuals and as members of an ensemble. We can sing well for ourselves.
Spiritually, the Symphony belongs to the world and to every person in it. Every performance of this music has the potential to become an affirmation of the joy in living that Beethoven, despite his often-tragic life, was able to comprehend and communicate so clearly. As performers, we have a duty to present this music and text with dignity and passion, as Beethoven conceived it and as he wished it to be performed. To do less is to cheapen both its intrinsic worth and ourselves as choral artists. We can sing well for the world, to whom this music belongs.
So yes, it matters.
New Britain Symphony Orchestra
Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (Choral)
With guest artists The Hartford ChoraleMaurice Peress, Music Director
Saturday, May 9, 2009, 7:30 p.m.pre-concert talk at 6:30 pm
Welte Hall, Central Connecticut State University
Telephone: (860) 826-6344