POTSDAM - Kenneth B. Andrews has had a constant companion since this past summer: Beethovens 9th Symphony.
Its consumed my life for the past several months, Mr. Andrews said.
The director of the Orchestra of Northern New York has learned that one cant think small when it comes to Ludwig van Beethovens 9th.
In July, you could have seen him at the First Presbyterian Church in Watertown, measuring every item and inch in front of the church and making sketches as he envisioned the space filled by the 60-piece Orchestra of Northern New York and approximately 150 choir members.
Its certainly considered by most people as one of the greatest pieces of art in Western civilization, Mr. Andrews said of the 9th. Its a very large undertaking, but we felt that for the opening of our 25th season, this would be a great mark.
Because of the musical scope involved, the 9th Symphony hasnt been presented in the north country for at least four decades, Mr. Andrews said.
It returns next weekend as the Orchestra of Northern New York is joined by a combined group of about 150 singers from Potsdam Community Chorus and the Northern Choral Society for a 7:30 p.m. concert Saturday at SUNY Potsdams Hosmer Hall and at 3:30 p.m. Sunday at First Presbyterian Church, 403 Washington St., Watertown.
The more Mr. Andrews has worked on preparing for the symphony, the more impressed he is by the work, despite becoming quite familiar with it over the years as a flutist, conductor and professor at SUNY Potsdam.
The work was so revolutionary in so many ways, Mr. Andrews said. The more I study and live with it, the more I find myself constantly shaking my head and being amazed.
Mr. Andrews said that besides the revolutionary harmony and instrumentation, it was the first time a chorus had been added to a symphony. The chorus sings on the symphonys finale, with words taken from Ode to Joy, a poem by German writer and philosopher Friedrich Schiller.
There were choral works before with orchestra, but a chorus had never been brought in to a symphony before, Mr. Andrews said.
The piece becomes more amazing considering that Beethoven wrote his 9th Symphony when he was deaf.
The only thing Ive been able to make about all of this is that because he was deaf, perhaps he couldnt hear anyone tell him this was not possible, Mr. Andrews said.
Beethovens 9th Symphony premiered in 1824 in Vienna. It was his final symphony. The German composer died three years later.
Mr. Andrews noted that Beethoven had always admired Schillers Ode to Joy, which was published in 1785.
Beethoven uses the poem not in the exact way its written, Mr. Andrews said.
He said that Beethoven wrote the symphonys opening three lines: O friends, no more these sounds/Let us sing more cheerful songs,/more full of joy!
The bass (voice) comes in with those lines, Mr. Andrews said.
There are four soloists in the Orchestra of Northern New Yorks Beethovens 9th, all members of the vocal arts faculty at SUNY Potsdams Crane School of Music: David Pitman-Jennings, bass; Jill Pearon, soprano; Lorraine Yaros Sullivan, mezzo-soprano, and Donald George, tenor.
Several of the soloists have sung this several different times, Mr. Andrews said.
The Potsdam Community Chorus is directed by Jeffrey Francom, assistant professor at Crane, and the Northern Choral Society is directed by Sara D. Gleason, music teacher at Copenhagen Central School.
The 9th Symphony, Mr. Andrews said, starts out rather darkly in the key of D minor and ends brightly in D major.
Its sort of the concept of darkness to light, he said. It finally comes to fruition in the last movement in this explosion of joy.
Schillers Ode to Joy, Mr. Andrews said, focused on liberty, equality and fraternity.
He was looking at the humanitarianism that came in after the Napoleonic Wars, Mr. Andrews said. Beethoven embraced that. In writing this symphony, he was putting that into music.
Mr. Andrews said conductors interpretations of the 9th Symphony in the past often strayed from Beethovens metronome timing (tempo) marks.
When you look at the way theyve played it for the past 200 years, usually all the fast movements are much slower and the slow movements are a lot faster, Mr. Andrews said. The argument had been that the metronome was either broken, or Beethoven couldnt hear it anyway, so it didnt matter.
He said his tempos for the 9th are closer to the faster tempo that he believes Beethoven intended.
I feel very strongly that Beethoven had an idea; that he was such a genius, that even in his deafness, I cant believe it was as far off as some people have indicated, Mr. Andrews said. I hope to keep the intent and the intensity of the work.
The chorus will be on stage for the entire concert at Hosmer Hall. But because of space considerations at First Presbyterian Church, the chorus will appear for the final movement only.