By Rachel Stengel
Beethoven may have been unaware of the standing ovation he received when his Ninth Symphony was first performed, but Westminster Choir College (WCC) hopes to hear the sound of hands clapping reverberate from the walls of Carnegie Hall.
The Westminster Symphonic Choir heads back to Carnegie Hall on Feb. 3 to perform Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. This is the 38th time the choir has performed this iconic piece.
Composed when he was completely deaf, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is generally considered one of the greatest symphonies and was the first of its kind to use voices. It features choral portions of Frederich Schiller’s poem “An die Freude” — the familiar “Ode to Joy.”
This is the first time WCC will perform with the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, according to Anne Sears, WCC’s director of external affairs. The orchestra is composed of musicians from Israel, Palestine and other Middle Eastern countries and described as “a human laboratory that can express to the whole world how to cope with each other” according to The Independent.
“The whole idea of this orchestra was founded around the idea of trying to bridge cultures for music,” Sears said.
The Symphonic Choir will participate in the fourth movement, which melds the choir, four soloists, brass, woodwinds, percussion and strings. The vocal range of the piece is a challenge, especially for sopranos and tenors, according to senior vocal performance major and tenor Orin Strunk.
“Although the music is beautiful, Beethoven didn’t really care in which [singing] range he wrote,” Orin said. “It’s really extreme. There are really high notes, really low notes. He didn’t expect a singer to be good enough to be able to do what he needed to do.”
The music’s cadence and dialect also present challenges for the choir, according to senior vocal performance major and soprano Cherisse Williams.
“It’s a little nerve-wracking because, especially with this piece, it’s very rhythmic and it’s not in our native tongue,” Williams said.
Rehearsals have yet to start, but the Symphonic Choir will practice with Dr. Joe Miller, professor of conducting, but perform with Daniel Barenboim, conductor for the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. Each conductor brings out something different in the vocalists, according to Strunk.
“Dr. Miller usually takes a more technical approach in just making sure we know our notes, our rhythms, the pronunciation, the dialect of a language,” Strunk said. “The other conductor comes in and brings out the feeling, emotion and passion of the choir.”
Williams also enjoys the various ways conductors handle the same piece of music.
“It’s great to see the conductor’s approach to how to take the music, the storyline behind it because every piece has a story,” she said.
Though tickets offered through Rider for students are sold out, they can still be ordered at Carnegie Hall’s website. Prices range from $17 to $120.
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Printed in the 12-7-12 edition