I have always wanted to hear a live performance of Beethoven's 9th Symphony by the Cleveland Orchestra, and last Thursday I got my wish.
(Concertgoers received a free poster commemorating the Cleveland Orchestra's centennial.)
This season is the 100th anniversary of the Cleveland Orchestra, one of the greatest orchestras in the entire world. To conclude the season this month, conductor Franz Welser-Most scheduled five programs performing all the symphonies of Beethoven. This Thursday, Friday and Saturday, was the grand finale of the centennial. The orchestra played the last symphony which Beethoven wrote... his spectacular Ninth, the "Choral Symphony". Next weekend the orchestra will travel to Vienna to perform all the Beethoven symphonies, and then in June they will go to Tokyo.
I have been to many orchestra concerts in Cleveland's beautiful Severance Hall and the summer home at Blossom Center, but this was one of, if not the most memorable. The evening began with Beethoven's "Grosse Fuge", the final movement of his String Quartet in B-flat major arranged for full string orchestra. It was very nice... but I suspect that most people were eagerly anticipating the main event. After intermission the orchestra returned to the stage, and the 150 members of the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus marched onto the stage as well. The chorus is one of the only professionally-trained, all volunteer choruses in the U.S. The house lights went down, and one of the greatest pieces in the history of music began. The Ninth is Beethoven's longest symphony. It runs about sixty five minutes. The first three movements were beautifully played. Then a dissonant chord opened the final movement... the chorus had risen to its feet... and four vocal soloists appeared on stage. "The Ode to Joy", the lyrics taken from the German poet Friedrich Schiller, had begun. I have heard recordings of this symphony many times, but it cannot compare to hearing a live performance. The audience was engulfed in the sounds of the orchestra and the voices of the chorus and soloists. Adjectives such as awesome and overwhelming are inadequate. I am not ashamed to admit that I was trembling and teary-eyed.
And then it was over. The audience rose to its feet and gave the performers a thunderous ovation. The applause went on and on. How long? Five minutes? Ten? I don't know, but I do know that I have never heard such a prolonged response. And although I am not one to shout, "Bravo!", I was shouting at the top of my lungs and applauding until my hands were sore.
It was a tremendous evening, one that makes me proud to be a Clevelander!