Performance Review: Beethoven’s Ninth
The Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra’s Florida Blue Classical Series concluded in great fashion this weekend with “Beethoven’s Ninth: Ode To Joy,” a program featuring the seminal nineteenth century masterwork alongside a world premier by contemporary composer Tarik O’Regan.
“Trances,” by Tarik O’Regan
The evening kicked off with “Trances” by British-American composer Tarik O’Regan. O’Regan was present for the premier, and offered some helpful opening remarks just before the piece was performed. He explained that “Trances” rose out of recollections of music he grew up around during the time he spent as a child in North Africa. The piece proved to be simultaneously innovative and accessible. It opened with assertive passages for percussion, which set the tone for the highly rhythmic first section. Noteworthy throughout the composition was the composer’s usage of goblet drums, an instrument common to North African and Middle Eastern music, but very rarely heard in the context of a western symphony orchestra. As the composer noted at the outset, this particular percussion instrument served as a unifying thread throughout the various sections of “Trances.” At turns vivacious and reflective, the piece had to my ears a distinctly American musical vocabulary, which at moments even carried subtle whiffs of Aaron Copland and Samuel Barber. The work left me wanting to hear more from Tarik O’Regan, and kudos to Courtney Lewis and the Jacksonville Symphony for continuing to champion contemporary composers and new music.
Interested in learning more about Tarik O’Regan’s music? Read about his compositional journey in an exclusive blog interview, watch an interview with Courtney Lewis and Tarik O’Regan or listen to Courtney Lewis speak about the piece on Insight S2122E6 and Insight S2122E9.
Symphony No. 9 “Ode To Joy,” by Ludwig van Beethoven
Following intermission the eager audience settled in for Beethoven’s beloved Ninth Symphony. Long regarded as one of the great touchstones of western music, performing this gargantuan work is not an endeavor to be approached lightly, but Courtney Lewis and the musicians of the Jacksonville Symphony and the Jacksonville Symphony Chorus were clearly prepared for the task at hand. Tempos, pacing, and balance were spot on throughout, allowing the myriad melodic lines to shine forth freely and naturally. Several times I found myself noticing new details in the score that I hadn’t previously. Balance was particularly refined in the sublime third movement, which is an elaborate double theme and variations. The underlying melody upon which Beethoven wove his elaborate tapestry of ideas was always discernable underneath the surface.
After the famous final movement got underway, guest baritone Corey McKern (who amazingly stepped into this weekends’ performances with less than a day’s notice) threw down the gauntlet with his stentorian declaration, “O Freunde, nicht diese Töne!” His voice carried through the hall with clarity and conviction, paving the way for the other soloists and eventually the chorus to follow. Once the choral entrance arrived it was clear that the Jacksonville Symphony Chorus had returned to its top form. Intonation and diction were consistently strong, and balance with the orchestra was well considered. The combined forces of orchestra, soloists, and choir kept the rapt audience spellbound right up through the final chords of this most Promethean of symphonies. The roar of applause at the conclusion evidenced an audience appreciative not only of this particular concert, but for what has been an innovative and engaging symphony season overall.
A Triumphant Capstone
“Beethoven’s Ninth: Ode To Joy” was a timely and triumphant capstone to a yet another year which has seen the Jacksonville Symphony, along with performing arts organization across the world, continue to struggle with the challenges of performance art in the age of the pandemic.
Tim Tuller is the Canon for Music at St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral in Jacksonville, Florida. Tuller formerly wrote for the Florida Times-Union as classical music reviewer.
Watch, Listen and Read
Interested in joining the Jacksonville Symphony for another innovative and engaging Season? Please visit our 2022/23 Season page to learn more about the upcoming Season programming. Additional content for this performance includes a Q&A with composer Tarik O’Regan, an episode of Insight and a full set of Program Notes. Looking for more content? Subscribe to our YouTube Channel to watch concert archives, interviews, behind the scenes content and more.
The Jacksonville Symphony would like to give special thanks to Florida Blue for sponsoring the Classical Series and Mayo Clinic for sponsoring the Mozart Piano Concerto Live Stream Series. Additional thanks are given to Tim Tuller for attending the performance and writing this performance review: Mozart’s Groundbreaker.