Symphony’s special birthday song

grand season opening: Beethoven’s most difficult work to play will be tackled with help from vocalists

Contributing writerOctober 12, 2012 

The Olympia Symphony Orchestra is 60 years old this month, and the symphony is taking its celebration very seriously.

“We wanted to start with a bang,” said conductor Huw Edwards. “We wanted to do something landmark and notable.”

Edwards’s choice: Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, the composer’s final symphony and generally considered to be his greatest. Some critics consider it to be the greatest piece of music ever written.

It’s a fitting piece for a celebration, the conductor said.

“It’s been played on the opening night of the London Olympics,” he said. “It was played at the millennium, with all the Y2K fears. It’s become this pivotal work that’s played on very special occasions.

“We wanted to do something big.”

The amount of work involved in playing the Ninth is big, too.

“It’s a huge undertaking,” he said. “Beethoven’s music is still the hardest to play, even 200 years or so after these symphonies were written. They are so perfect.

“It’s a struggle for us mere mortals to get close to them and to play really well. It takes super human effort to recreate his vision.”

One of the many outstanding features of the piece is its inclusion of voices, a revolutionary choice when the piece was completed in 1824.

“The symphony was seen as this pinnacle of instrumental music,” Edwards said. “But it dawned on Beethoven that if he wanted to speak to the world of mankind’s possibilities, probably the greatest way to do this was to actually have the voices of mankind deliver this message.

“The effect on the audience must have been incredibly stunning or bizarre.”

The symphony is collaborating with the Olympia Choral Society and four guest soloists, who sing Friedrich Schiller’s “Ode to Joy” in the final movement.

The soloists carry impressive résumés. Soprano Christina Kowalski of Tacoma has sung major roles with Portland Opera, Coeur d’Alene Opera and Kitsap Opera. Last month, she sang the role of Nedda in Skagit Opera’s “Pagliacci.”

Mezzo soprano Angela Niederloh of Portland was praised by James Bash of the Oregon Music News for a voice that “can bring a dead quarter note back to life.” This will be her third time singing with the orchestra here. Her upcoming engagements include a role in Falstaff with Portland Opera and the solo in Beethoven’s Ninth with the Seattle Symphony.

Bass-baritone Michael Delos of Seattle has been heard with opera companies from Seattle to New York, and in videogames and on movie soundtracks. Tenor Matthew Blegen of Shelton founded the Anna’s Bay Center for Music in Union; he conducts the Anna’s Bay Chorale, South Shore Chamber Orchestra, and Olympic Chamber Choir.

“They are all great singers,” Edwards said, “and the choir is doing incredibly well. It’s going to be an amazing collaboration — very uplifting, which is in keeping with this piece.”

Anniversary Celebration

What: The Olympia Symphony Orchestra celebrates 60 years by performing Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125, with the Olympia Choral Society and four vocal soloists.

When: 7 p.m. Sunday

Where: The Washington Center for the Performing Arts, 512 Washington St. SE, Olympia

Tickets: $20-$50

Season tickets: $75-$225

More information: olympiasymphony.com or washingtoncenter.org or 360-753-8586

THE REST OF THE SEASON

Honoring America’s Freedom (7 p.m. Nov. 11): A patriotic concert in honor of Veterans Day

Symphonic Gems (7 p.m. Feb. 10): A program of Brahms and Elgar, and featuring cellist David Requiro

Operatic Treasures (7 p.m. March 10): With soprano Eva Gheorghiu

Diamonds in the Rough (7 p.m. April 28): Including Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5 in D minor, Op. 47, and a Mozart piano concerto played by Charlie Albright

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