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Beethoven's Ninth a triumph for MSO

March 21, 2002|BY BOB MAGINNIS

A triumph for MSO Ludwig van Beethoven's Ninth was his last symphony, and for many critics, the composer's greatest work. On the National Public Radio program "Milestones of the Millennium," it was called "one of the all-time greatest achievements, not just in music, but for humanity as whole."

That's true in part because, according to music historian Elizabeth Schwarm Glesner, when it was first performed on May 7, 1824, the composer was deaf and so ill that a member of the chorus had to turn him around to see the cheering audience.

Based in part on Friedrich von Schiller's poem, "Ode to Joy," its well-known music has been used many times, as NPR reviewers noted, to mark momentous occasions, such as the fall of the Berlin Wall.

But because it is so familiar, a symphony orchestra performing it is like a soloist attempting to sing National Anthem. Not only are both pieces difficult, but the audience's familiarity with them guarantees that any musical missteps will be noticed immediately.

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But there were no missteps last weekend for the Maryland Symphony Orchestra, which not only performed the Beethoven symphony, but did so with a 57-member chorus made up of members of Hagerstown Choral Arts and a variety of church choirs and regional choral societies.

It is appropriate that a work that celebrates faith was brought to life here because MSO director Elizabeth Schulze believed that all could work together to make something great. Just as jewelers meld gold and precious stones into works of art, Schulze and Elaine Braun, Director of the Festival Chorus, turned talented musicians and singers into something greater than the sum of their parts.

No description of a performance can recreate the experience of being in that audience, where many in the audience were moved to tears, followed by a thunderous standing ovation when it was over. Congratulations to MSO for this triumph and to all those who work hard to keep this organization a vital part of Washington County.

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