By Mack Burke
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Everyone has a bucket list. For many orchestra members and choral singers it’s the chance to perform Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9. Tonight, more than 250 musicians and choir members will get the chance.
The musical might of the OU Symphony Orchestra and combined OU Choirs will perform the piece as a part of the President’s Concert at 8 p.m. at Paul F. Sharp Concert Hall, marking the downbeat of President’s Arts Week, OU’s annual celebration of the fine arts.
“The concert is a celebration of both President Boren and the work the orchestra has done. It usually is a very ambitious program and this year is no different, because we’re presenting one of the grandest and most difficult pieces in the repertoire,” music director Jonathan Shames said.
“It’s definitely one of those pieces that everyone wants to be a part of,” violinist Emily Bishop said.
Bishop got the opportunity to perform the piece with the Dali Lama in attendance while studying at the University of Washington and looks forward to recreating the magic of Beethoven’s last symphony.
“It’s a really incredible piece to play because it says a lot and you just can’t play it if you don’t have enough people,” Bishop said.
The symphony was the first to feature a chorus and an orchestra. Generally a symphony is just an orchestra, but Beethoven opened the doors. Based on the poetry of Schiller’s ‘To Joy,’ It’s about joy, Shames said, but really its about universal brotherhood.
“That’s the deeper meaning of it, the brotherhood of man.”
It’s really quite thrilling to think this symphony represents that,” Shames said.
It takes time to get it under your skin, Bishop said, but the extra rehearsal is nice.
During rehearsal Shames carefully lead the orchestra through hours of nuanced adjustment, striving to bottle perfection from a sea of details.
“You’re tired. That’s good,” Shames said addressing the packed stage and choral rafters. “You should feel dead tired. You’ve been practicing for weeks, but it should be new everyday, with all the passion ... total focus.”
For all the maestro’s demanding he knows the enormity of the task.
“I hope it’s enough. Suffice it to say the orchestra and choruses work very hard. It’s hard to do, when you consider these students have all of their academic coursework and some of them have jobs, too. Becoming a musician is very hard to do. Musicians just work constantly,” Shames said.
For all the hard work, today marks the light at the end of the tunnel. Shames and his orchestra will take a storied piece of music and make it their own.
“It’s very demanding, but it’s not about the difficulty. It’s about the magnificence of the music,” Shames said.
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