The final concert of the Amarillo Symphony’s ninety-fourth season was the much-anticipated Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, performed April 26, 27 at the Globe News Center. And, extra icing on the cultural cake came in the form of Brahm’s Tragic Overture.
Brahms composed two works in tandem in response to his award of an honorary doctorate from the University of Breslau. The first piece, the Academic Overture exuded the ostentation of cap and gown. In the second, Brahms sought to express his darker, melancholic core.
Some might say Tragic is a misnomer, and that Assertive or Turbulent as titles are more apt. Regardless, this variegated work takes us on an ocean voyage, in a small craft, through roiling seas with patches of calm.
The ups and downs of real life present themselves, but grief, fear and despondency do not. Perhaps the two pieces are antipodes: idealism versus reality. If so, reality shatters Gaudeamus Igitur.
Then Beethoven, rebel, iconoclast, champion of the hero and common man, spoke to us through his music, lighting a torch to enlighten a better world.
Many in the audience recalled the Christmas Day Freedom Concert of 1989 with Leonard Bernstein in Berlin, followed weeks later by the Amarillo Symphony, Civic Chorus and West Texas University Chorale.
Now, thirty years later, the Symphony, Amarillo Master Chorale, and the First Baptist Church Sanctuary Choir raised the bar not only on these earlier performances, but also on all offerings of the Ninth experienced by this writer in over fifty years. Several factors combined to make this concert both memorable and spectacular.
The first was the orchestra, which played in tandem. Cellos and Basses rarely feature, but they introduced the iconic theme with strength, dignity and precision.
The Ninth orchestral score is vulnerable to the caprice of instrumental soloists, but in this performance the French Horn sang with clarion purity and the tympani was cogent and confident.
Yet the soloists who make or break this epic work are the vocalists who must master the demanding “vocalistics,” without succumbing to the shibboleths that bedevil singers doing the piece.
Suzanne Ramo, in her fluid coloratura remained in sync with the conductor, while Amanda Crider, as mezzo, sang to the audience and not to the high soprano.
Johnathan Beyer, bass, covered the incredible range as only a true professional is capable, while Dominic Armstrong hit the high one on Sie ein Held zum Ziegen, oft the sound of only a croaky choke.
Greatest of compliments go to the chorus and their directors, Nate Fryml and Dan Baker, who performed beyond expectations and at a level surpassing similar choral presentations encountered in the last fifty years!
Three factors contributed to such sterling quality: astute direction; vocal talent; choral discipline. What especially distinguished this performance was the precision of diction. Imagine, Panhandle folk singing Deutsch better than the Dresden Staatskapelle Chorus!
For instance, when the bass section had to range to an E singing Bruder uber’m Sternenzelt, Muss ein lieber Vater wohnen, each singer enunciated every word in isolation, without a single voice breaking pattern in rhythm or elision. Impressive!
In addition, every part held forth in strength, the sopranos hitting over seventy high A’s with facility.
And the apex, the pinnacle, often called the greatest expression of human voice, when the females sang out Seid umschlungen, Millionen! Diesen Kuss der ganzen Welt! with other parts joining in rounds, was truly transcendent!
Further compliments are in order. Maestro Jacomo Bairos directed this magnificent work with dynamic charisma, inspiring the best from all performers. And the audience had both the courtesy and sophistication to remain silent until the conclusion, then rose in thunderous ovation that lasted over five minutes. All knew they had experienced something world-class!
And, as we left the world of art, into the vaunted Sternenzelt of the High Plains, the words kept singing in our heads and hearts, Alle Menschen werden Bruder, giving us hope for a better world.
For epic works like Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, we say, with deeper conviction, “Keep Amarillo Artsy! Keep Austin Weird! Keep Lubbock in the Rear View Mirror!!!”