A Fitting Finale: Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony
May 30, 2014
On May 15, 2014, I had the pleasure to direct the combined forces of The Chapman Orchestra and Chapman University Choirs, choirs from the University of California, Irvine, the Orange County Youth Symphony Orchestra (OCYSO) and Grammy-award soloists in the largest concert in Chapman University’s history to a sold-out audience at the Renèe & Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall.
This historic concert was presented by the Philharmonic Society of Orange County in celebration of the Society’s 60th anniversary and in honor of retiring President Dean Corey, who is stepping down after 21 years on the job. The concert included the West Coast premiere of progressive British composer Mark Anthony Turnage’s “Frieze” and culminated in Beethoven’s monumental Ninth Symphony (“Ode to Joy”) with over 300 performers(!) cramming the stage.
The Orange County Register lauded the performance, exclaiming “Wachs guided the ensemble with energy, precision, and a welcome sense of clarity and poise. He doesn’t dance. It’s all business: big, broad and direct…The performance wasn’t just good by standards for younger performers, but forceful and exuberant by any standard: genuinely inspiring, technically proficient, structurally sound. The combined choruses were a powerhouse.”
It was by far the largest endeavor of this kind that I have ever had the privilege of conducting. I was particularly happy that we were able to bring together so many Orange County institutions, including my own two orchestras, The Chapman Orchestra and OCYSO. We not only sold-out the beautiful Renèe & Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, but my understanding is that we outsold the Vienna Philharmonic, which is the world’s greatest.
The combined forces had only one rehearsal in which to piece it all together however the logistics and the planning lasted well over a year. For example, OCYSO rehearsed every Sunday for 9 months leading up to the performance. After each rehearsal, the music staff and I would detail the following week’s rehearsal schedule. It was a massive logistical, intellectual, and, I might add, emotional undertaking.
While the roar of the audience, the standing ovation and the critical acclaim were certainly welcome to all after so much work, I might not be quick to repeat the feat. Then again, we’ll just see!
(A year-long documentary of the project was shot by Sicshot Productions and should be ready for distribution in late summer ’14.)