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News / Life / Clark County Life

Vancouver Symphony closes out season with Beethoven’s Ninth

Recognizable classical piece taxing and amazing

By James Bash, Columbian freelance contributor
Published: May 30, 2024, 6:02am

The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra will close out its 45th season with gusto by performing Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 this weekend at Skyview Concert Hall. In addition to a very large orchestral ensemble, Music Director Salvador Brotons will cue the Portland Symphonic Choir, soprano Megan Belov, mezzo-soprano Grace Skinner, tenor Katherine Goforth and baritone Anton Belov to light the sonic fireworks and bring down the house.

Beethoven finished the monumental work 200 years ago in 1824 when he was already deaf. It became the first symphony to include a chorus, and it takes over an hour to play. The last movement includes words from Friedrich Schiller’s poem “An die Freude” (“Ode to Joy”), and winds up with the 100-voice-choir, soloists and orchestra going full throttle. That ecstatic finale has made the Ninth Symphony one of the most recognizable classical pieces ever written. It famously celebrated the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and has become the go-to piece for innumerable New Years Eve concerts and countdowns at classical music stations around the world.

The sheer cost of hiring a large number of forces and the technical demands made performances of Beethoven’s Ninth by the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra a rarity. The last time that the orchestra did it with Brotons was in May of 2004. So it’s high time that concertgoers get to hear this amazing piece with a conductor whose forte is the highly emotional music from the Romantic era.

Daniel Partridge, principal French horn for the Vancouver and Tacoma orchestras, has played Beethoven’s Ninth with several orchestras. He lives near Beacock Music in Southeast Vancouver and teaches at Clark College. Partridge recently played the fourth movement with the Vancouver Master Chorale.

If You Go

What: Vancouver Symphony Orchestra performs Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9

When: 7 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday

Where: Online or in person at Skyview High School Concert Hall, 1300 N.W. 139th St., Vancouver

Cost: $42 general admission, $10 for students, $15 for livestream

Contact: 360-735-7278 or vancouversymphony.org

 

“At the time that Beethoven wrote this symphony, the horn didn’t have valves like they do today,” Partridge said. “To change pitches, they had to rely on their ability to use their lips and air to play different partials of the overtone series, put their hand in the bell of the horn, or use a crook, which is a length of tubing that could be changed out. For the Ninth Symphony, Beethoven used four horns with two horns in one key and two in another, and that became the standard for other symphonies of the Romantic period.”

The horns have to be on top of their game to play this Beethoven’s Ninth.

“Everyone gets a workout,” Partridge said. “It’s not like the first and second horns get all the glory. Sometimes the third and fourth horns get a solo passage. It’s a very taxing effort for all of the horns.”

“It’s important to be hydrated,” Partridge added. “Beethoven’s Ninth is like a marathon. You have to train for it. It’s not a sprint. Anyone can play loud, but in the Beethoven, you have to play loudly for a long period of time. You have to have a training regimen to get in shape and stay in shape.”

Trumpeter Scott Winks has been playing with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra for the past 21 years. He lives in Vancouver east of Interstate 205 and is the band teacher at Shahala Middle School.

“The most difficult aspect of playing the piece for me is the intense mental focus that is required. My specific part is unique in that it does not necessarily have very many melodic lines. Because of the nature of the trumpet back in Beethoven’s time, I play primarily roots and fifths until the last movement when the trumpets have the iconic ‘Ode to Joy’ melody. That is a very triumphant moment for us. The trumpet parts are very rhythmic in nature, which helps drive some of the very intense moments in Beethoven’s music.”

Principal Trumpeter Bruce Dunn is also gearing up for the Beethoven. Dunn, who resides in the Fisher’s Landing neighborhood, teaches band at Covington Middle School, Sunset Elementary and Silver Star Elementary. He has a surefire way to get enough practice time.

“I get up really early, drive to the school before the kids get there, and practice for an hour,” Dunn said. “Everything is critical in the Beethoven. It’s an epic undertaking for us at the VSO. A lot of notes fly by nonstop in the final movement. When Brotons gives the brass section the green light, we take it from there. It’s worth the wait!”

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Columbian freelance contributor