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Orchestra of NNY tackles Beethoven’s 9th

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POTSDAM - Kenneth B. Andrews has had a constant companion since this past summer: Beethoven’s 9th Symphony.

“It’s consumed my life for the past several months,” Mr. Andrews said.

The director of the Orchestra of Northern New York has learned that one can’t think small when it comes to Ludwig van Beethoven’s 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.

“It’s certainly considered by most people as one of the greatest pieces of art in Western civilization,” Mr. Andrews said of the 9th. “It’s 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 hasn’t 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 Potsdam’s 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 symphony’s 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 I’ve been able to make about all of this is that because he was deaf, perhaps he couldn’t hear anyone tell him this was not possible,” Mr. Andrews said.

Beethoven’s 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 Schiller’s “Ode to Joy,” which was published in 1785.

“Beethoven uses the poem not in the exact way it’s written,” Mr. Andrews said.

He said that Beethoven wrote the symphony’s 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 York’s Beethoven’s 9th, all members of the vocal arts faculty at SUNY Potsdam’s 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.

“It’s sort of the concept of darkness to light,” he said. “It finally comes to fruition in the last movement in this explosion of joy.”

Schiller’s “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 Beethoven’s metronome timing (tempo) marks.

“When you look at the way they’ve 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 couldn’t hear it anyway, so it didn’t 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 can’t 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.





The details
WHAT: The Orchestra of Northern New York opens its 25th season with Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, featuring the Potsdam Community Chorus and the Northern Choral Society.
WHEN/WHERE: 7:30 p.m. Saturday at SUNY Potsdam’s Hosmer Hall and 3:30 p.m. next Sunday at First Presbyterian Church, 403 Washington St., Watertown.
COST: $22 for adults, $20 for senior citizens, $10 for students. Tickets for Potsdam performance available at CPS Box Office in Snell Theater at SUNY Potsdam.
Tickets also can be ordered by calling the orchestra at 267-2277 or visiting its website at www.onny.org. Tickets will also be available at the door. People are advised to arrive early.
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