WSO Beethoven concert goes big

sbirkenmeyer@vagazette.com

The Williamsburg Symphony Orchestra plans to tackle Beethoven’s ambitious final symphony with the aid of more than 200 choral singers in one of their grandest productions yet at the Williamsburg Community Chapel April 12.

“It is certainly the biggest concert that we have ever had since I’ve been here,” said Carolyn Keurajian, WSO executive director. “It’s a wonderful collaboration with so many different organizations. It’s probably the premiere piece of the season.”

The concert centers around Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 9,” composed in 1824 when he was entirely deaf and approaching death.

“It’s a widely recognized piece. Even if they don’t know what it’s called, they’ve heard the melody,” Keurajian said. “It’s so symbolic and powerful.”

Janna Hymes, the symphony’s music director, said the piece’s lengthy movements — totaling more than an hour — marked a unique move for the composer’s era.

“It was a testament to freedom and to love and what he was trying to get across at the end of his life,” Hymes said. Since her tenure began in 2004, the WSO has performed Beethoven’s eight other symphonies, some more than once. But the ninth is a first. “For us, it’s a milestone.”

The piece starts with a traditional movement much like Beethoven’s previous symphonies and moves on to span the range of human emotions. An uplifting and energetic second section gives way to a slower, more thoughtful third that Hymes said is “soul-wrenching.” The concert culminates in a “gigantic” finale.

“The last movement is a piece within itself,” Hymes said.

It’s also a chance to highlight other artists, including 220 singers from four choral organizations: the Williamsburg Choral Guild, the Virginia Choral Society, the Virginia Wesleyan University Singers and Christopher Newport University’s Chamber Choir.

“These are fantastic choral directors, known in their field,” Hymes said. “We just love the idea that it was a collaborative effort.”

The concert also highlights several soloists: Virginia Opera tenor Joseph Dennis, soprano Colleen Daly and mezzo-soprano Ann McMahon Quintero.

“They’re some of the most sought-after opera singers today,” Keurajian said. “They have a breadth of experience.”

The fourth soloist, Williamsburg bassist Branch Fields, called the performance “an uplifting celebration of glorious music, and more.”

The performance opens with Dmitri Shostakovich’s “Festive Overture,” a shorter piece Hymes said aims to get people excited for the adventure to come. She also plans to announce the WSO’s next season from the stage.

Hymes hopes the concert brings people together and proves as monumental for those in the audience as it is for her symphony.

“This is bringing so many elements of the community together,” she said. “For me, there’s nothing like this. I’ve been looking forward to this for years.”

Want to go?

The Williamsburg Symphony performs at 8 p.m. April 12 at the Williamsburg Community Chapel, 3899 John Tyler Highway. $50-60, tickets available at williamsburgsymphony.org or by calling 229-9857.

Birkenmeyer can be reached by phone at 757-790-3029.

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