Editor’s note: Two days ago, after months of planning and rehearsal, the leaders of a grand musical event planned in Lewiston to honor Beethoven’s 250th birthday canceled the concert because of the threat posed by the coronavirus. Set for later this month, the concert will not be rescheduled. The cancellation announcement was made after the Sun Journal had produced this story. In tribute to the effort made by the many community members and organizations involved in the concert — and in tribute to Beethoven’s 250th birthday — we are presenting the original story planned for today.

“Joy! Joy!

Your magic reunites

What custom sternly divides;

All people become brothers.”

“Be embraced, you millions!

This kiss for the whole world!”

These words taken from “Ode to Joy” hearken us to take note of the birthday of arguably the most remarkable composer in the history of the world, Ludwig van Beethoven.

All birthday milestones deserve both solemn and joyous celebratory recognition. Consider how to celebrate the monumental significance of a quarter of a millennium, 250 years, for one of the world’s greatest and most famous composers. Ludwig van Beethoven was born in December of 1770 in Bonn, Germany, and became famous in his lifetime as both a pianist and composer. Today his music is as relevant as ever. His death in March of 1827 at the age of 56 left a musical legacy that is a universal treasure. So it is no surprise that worldwide events are celebrating his life in music in this year of 2020.

John Corrie                            Josh Kuckens photo

And that includes the Lewiston-Auburn musical community. The local celebration will be one of place, of amassed talent and of a personal nature: On March 29, set in the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, Beethoven’s symphony number 9 in D minor, Opus 125 (often known as Beethoven’s 9th) will be presented by two orchestras, five choirs, four soloists and two conductors, and will be the last classical concert by longtime and beloved conductor John Corrie.

The symphony is regarded by many critics and musicologists as Beethoven’s greatest work and one of the supreme achievements in the history of western music. As one of the most performed symphonies in the world, this ground-breaking symphony is the first example of a major composer using voices in a symphony (thus making it a choral symphony). The words are sung during the final (4th) movement of the symphony by four vocal soloists and a chorus. They were taken from the “Ode to Joy,” a poem written by Friedrich Schiller in 1785 and revised in 1803, with text additions made by Beethoven.

Beethoven’s 9th is his final complete symphony, composed between 1822 and 1824 and first performed in Vienna on May 7, 1824, nearly 200 years ago. It was a huge event. With Beethoven himself conducting, it marked the first time the musical master had performed in public for years. However, since he was completely deaf by this time, Beethoven couldn’t actually hear the symphony he was supposed to be conducting. In truth, the real conductor sat out of sight at the side, secretly keeping time for the musicians. When the performance ended and the audience had erupted in celebration, Beethoven was still concentrating on conducting, since he was a few bars behind the real performance. One of the singers had to turn him around to see the ecstatic audience, whose cheering he couldn’t hear. Obviously moved, he left the hall with tears in his eyes.

For the local tribute to the musical genius, the Maine Music Society Orchestra will combine talents with the Bates College Orchestra to start things off. The first movement, conducted by Carl Bettendorfer, conductor of the Bates College Orchestra, opens with the orchestra mimicking the sound of an orchestra tuning up as though the symphony is mysteriously born out of nothingness. A frightening theme suddenly emerges around which the entire movement is based. In the traditional sonata form of this movement, Beethoven explores and develops his main theme and will repeat it later on.

The remaining three movements, conducted by John Corrie, amplify the established main theme.

The second movement is a whirling scherzo, full of dramatic energy. A middle trio section, softer and calmer, holds sway until the scherzo re-enters in full force, crushing any less exciting sounds.

The third movement is slow and thoughtful. Typical of Beethoven’s introspective late period, it contains graceful melodies and a very sweet orchestral sound. It is a moment of respite from the fury of the previous two movements.

And lastly, the famous final movement is actually a symphony in a symphony itself. One will notice that it has four miniature movements, which mirror the larger movements of the symphony itself.

The symphony ends in a wonderful storm of joy with the choir and orchestra soaring and celebrating humanity.

The voices in the final movement will include five choirs and four soloists. The soloists are Luette Saul, soprano; Joelle Morris, mezzo-soprano; Martin Lescault, tenor; Leon Griesbach, bass baritone. All are long-time members of the Maine Music Society and outstanding professional musicians in their own right.

The choral groups involved in the grand musical tribute each are rehearsing separately with their respective conductor. They will be:

— The Maine Music Society Chorale, conducted by Corrie;

— The Bates College Choir, conducted by Joelle Morris;

— The Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul Schola Cantorum, conducted by Scott Vaillancourt;

— The Edward Little High School Chamber Choir, conducted by Sarah Brooks;

— The Lewiston High School Chamber Choir, conducted by Erin Morrison

The ensemble choir for the performance of the fourth movement will be conducted by Corrie, who will be conducting in his last classical concert performance prior to his retirement in May.

Corrie has been teaching at Bates College in Lewiston since 1982 and has been artistic director of the Maine Music Society since 2006. Since 1982 he has been a lecturer in music and teaching musicianship. Throughout this time, Corrie has been a driving force behind the Maine Music Society and rich community collaborations of musical groups such as the upcoming tour de force to honor Beethoven’s 250th birthday.

Corrie chose Beethoven’s 9th Symphony because it’s the composer’s quintessential work. The themes of unity and brotherly love in the “Ode to Joy” are especially compelling in these times of division and conflict, and the work  stands as a fitting grand finale to Corrie’s leadership with the Maine Music Society.

“The whole symphony is a particular favorite of mine,” Corrie said. “I did choose this for my last concert with orchestra because of the Beethoven anniversary year. I am particularly pleased to be presenting one more citywide collaboration of so many choirs when we can celebrate singing classical music together.”

Bates College’s collaboration with the concert through the Bates College Choir and Orchestra also includes its Harward Center, which is helping to subsidize the cost of the music for the high school singers and helping to reduce the cost of tickets for the parents of the high school participants.

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