Celebrate Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony With The Seattle Symphony

Beethoven's Ninth Symphony

Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony stands as one of the most performed symphonies in the world. Often performed to welcome the New Year, it bids goodbye to one and welcomes another.  

Seattle Symphony performs Beethoven’s uplifting paean to the triumph of the human spirit, helmed by Grammy-nominated guest conductor Alastair Willis. They’ll be joined by the symphony’s principal violist Susan Gulkis Assadi, soprano Angela Meade, mezzo-soprano Margaret Gawrysiak, tenor Isaiah Bell, baritone Michael Sumuel, and the Seattle Symphony Chorale among others. 

The beauty and drama of Beethoven’s monumental Ninth Symphony is alternately awe-inspiring and uplifting. The famous choral finale, with four vocal soloists and a chorus singing the words of Friedrich Schiller’s poem “Ode to Joy,” is perhaps the most famous piece of music in history. Jubilant and life-affirming the glorious choral masterwork is bound to raise spirits and send audiences home renewed and refreshed. 

Alastair Willis conducts Beethoven's Ninth Symphony

Alastair Willis conducts Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony

While musical connoisseurs delight in the symphony’s contrapuntal and formal complexity, the masses find inspiration in the anthem-like vigor of the choral finale and the concluding invocation of “all humanity.” 

Over the years, “Ode to Joy” has remained a protest anthem and a celebration of music. From demonstrators in Chile singing during demonstration against the Pinochet dictatorship, Chinese student broadcast at Tiananmen Square, the concert conducted by Leonard Bernstein after the fall of the Berlin Wall and Daiku (Big Ninth) concerts in Japan every December and one after the 2011 tsunami.  

It has been used in a number of other contexts, such as The Beatles’ second film, “HELP!,” Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 film, “A Clockwork Orange” and in the “Die Hard film franchise. In 1996, it became the theme song for Triple H in the World Wrestling Federation until early 1998. A version of the song was used as the “Everybody Loves Raymond” theme song. It is also used as a closing theme for both the Summer Olympics and Winter Olympics television broadcasts on many networks.  

Around the world, it has Inspired flashmob performances at public spaces by musicians, including at a train station in Leipzig, Germany, to mark the 20th and 25th anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall. It also was played after Emmanuel Macron’s victory in the 2017 French Presidential elections, when Macron gave his victory speech at the Louvre. 

Ludwig van Beethoven was a German pianist and composer widely considered the greatest of all time. He is the crucial transitional figure connecting the Classical and Romantic ages of Western music. Although his personal life was marked by a struggle against deafness, some of his most important works were composed during the last 10 years of his life, when he was quite unable to hear.  

Beethoven’s Ninth, his final symphony, premiered on Friday, May 7, 1824, in Vienna. He directed the piece himself; that is, he stood before the lectern and gesticulated furiously. As history tells it, at times he rose, at other times he shrank to the ground, he moved as if he wanted to play all the instruments himself and sing for the whole chorus. Beethoven was profoundly deaf, so the real conducting duties were left to Michael Umlauf, the theatre’s leader/conductor who stood next to Beethoven beating time for the orchestra, or so the story goes. 

When the audience applauded, Beethoven was several measures off and still conducting. Because of that, the contralto Caroline Unger walked over and turned Beethoven around to accept the audience’s cheers and applause. The audience gave him five standing ovations. There were handkerchiefs in the air, hats, and raised hands. Beethoven, who could not hear the applause, could at least see the ovations. 

Seattle Symphony and Seattle Chorale perform Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony Dec. 28-30, tickets $27-$131, 206.215.4747 or online here.

Performers  

Alastair Willis, Conductor 
In the past few seasons, Grammy-nominated conductor Alastair Willis has guest conducted orchestras around the world including the Chicago Symphony, New York Philharmonic, Orquestra Sinfonica de Rio de Janeiro, Nordwestdeutsche Philharmonic, Hong Kong Sinfonietta, China National Orchestra (Beijing), and Silk Road Ensemble (with Yo-Yo Ma) among others. 

Susan Gulkis Assadi, Viola 
Principal Violist of the Seattle Symphony since the 1992-1993 season, Susan Gulkis Assadi enjoys a varied career as an orchestral player, chamber musician, soloist and teacher. 

Angela Meade, Soprano
Hailed as “the most talked about soprano of her generation” (Opera News), American soprano Angela has fast become recognized as one of today’s outstanding vocalists, excelling in the most demanding heroines of the 19th-century bel canto repertoire as well as in the operas of Verdi and Mozart. 

Margaret Gawrysiak, Mezzo-Soprano
Margaret Gawrysiak, mezzo-soprano, has recently performed Mistress Hibbons in the world premiere of Lori Laitman’s The Scarlet Letter with Opera Colorado; Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd with Townsend Opera; and much more. Current engagements for Margaret include the Old Lady in Candide with Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra; Marcellina in Le nozze di Figaro, and Ruth in The Pirates of Penzance with Lyric Opera of Kansas City; and a return to Seattle Opera as Berta in Il barbiere di Siviglia. 

Isaiah Bell, Tenor
Hailed in The New York Times for “a performance of haunting beauty, ideally depicting emotional distraction with ultimate economy and glowing vocal skill,” Canadian-American tenor Isaiah Bell looks forward to a season highlighted by the works of Handel, Britten and Kurt Weill. Featured by the 2016 Elora Festival in Mozart’s Requiem, he will be heard in Messiah with the Toronto Symphony and Calgary Philharmonic (both conducted by Nicholas McGegan), Britten’s Curlew River and Handel’s Acis and Galatea at the Brooklyn Academy of Music with the Mark Morris Dance Group and Weill’s intriguing Sieben Todsünden for the Toronto Symphony’s Decades series, conducted by Peter Oundjian. 

Michael Sumuel, Baritone
American bass-bar,itone Michael Sumuel, hailed as having “vocals [that] are smooth and ingratiating” (Daily Camera) returns to Houston Grand Opera in the 2016/17 season as Belcore in L’elisir d’Amore, conducted by Jane Glover and Masetto in Don Giovanni at San Francisco Opera, conducted by Marc Minkowski. Mr. Sumuel’s competition accolades include being awarded a 2015 Richard Tucker Career Grant, 2012 MONC Finalist and a winner of the 2009 Dallas Opera Guild Vocal Competition. He is an alumnus of the Merola Opera Program at San Francisco Opera Center and the Filene Young Artist program at Wolf Trap Opera. 

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About Starla Smith

Starla Smith is a career journalist, writing features for such publications as The New Yorker, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Daily News, The Des Moines Register, Vibe and a prize-winning Gannett Newspaper. She helped launch Theater Week Magazine and eventually became its publisher. As a regular contributor to Playbill, her interviews and photos were featured in Playbill and Playbill-on-line. Smith was featured in the New York Times "Style" section for her "Word Portraits," specialized tributes, speeches, and presentation profiles. And she covered theater and features for City Search, Digital City, and the Tena Duberry WOW! Radio show. She previously served as astrology guru for Out Magazine, and she hastens to assure her readers that "Starla" is indeed her real name.

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