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Last winter, when Juneau Symphony music director Kyle Wiley Pickett began formulating the idea of conducting Beethoven's Symphony No. 9, he saw two obvious challenges.
First, the symphony would have to assemble a string section large enough to handle the punishing task of the lush, layered arrangements.
Second, and perhaps more daunting, the orchestra would have to create its own group chorus to sing, in German, Beethoven's transcendent, 15-minute interpretation of Friedrich Von Schiller's "Ode To Joy" in the fourth movement.
"I was terrified and excited at the same time," said concertmaster Steve Tada, recalling his initial impressions of Pickett's plan. "It's a big piece, but the more we started working on it, the more we realized that it was definitely within our grasp."
Now more than 10 months later, the orchestra is ready to perform one of its most ambitious projects in terms of community-wide involvement. The Juneau Lyric Opera and Opera To Go have helped the symphony assemble its own 70-member chorale. Soprano Joyce Parry Moore, alto Catherine Pashigian, tenor Warren Huffman and baritone William Ramsey have signed on to front the chorus. And Pickett and Tada have built a super-sized string section with 16 violins, six violas and 10 cellos.
Symphony No. 9 plays at 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 8, and 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 9, at the Juneau-Douglas High School auditorium. A "concert conversation" begins one hour before each show. Advance tickets are $18 for general admission, $13 for students and seniors, $10 for children, and are available at Hearthside Books. At the door, tickets are $20 for general admission, $15 for students and seniors and $10 for children. For more information, visit www.juneau.com/symphony or call 586-HORN.
"We've really grown artistically to the point where I felt like we could handle doing this piece," Wiley Pickett said. "It's kind of a gift to the community and a gift to ourselves. There just isn't a piece that's bigger than Beethoven's Ninth. There are pieces that are longer and pieces that are more difficult, but there isn't a piece that's more important to humanity than Beethoven's Ninth."
Mikhail Bakunin, one of the founding fathers of anarchism, once said, "Everything will pass, and the world will perish but the Ninth Symphony will remain." Conductor Leonard Bernstein brought together musicians from East and West Germany to play the Ninth after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. And Sony and Philips used the Ninth as a standard when they were designing the first compact disc in 1982. Sony chairman Norio Ohga wanted the CD to be big enough, 75 minutes, to hold the entire Ninth Symphony.
"It's fantastic to be doing this now," Parry Moore said. "I really applaud Kyle. We could all use a dose of joy. After everything that's happened for the last few years, it will be a great celebration, a healing piece, a challenge for the company and a real hallmark of how far they've come."
"There's a lot of work for everybody, but it's a magnificent piece," Tada said. "Some people regard it as the crowning achievement of all of Western music. It's certainly a very recognizable piece and really a brilliant composition."
The orchestra started rehearsing together in early October. Wiley Pickett arrived in Juneau from Chico, Calif., for three rehearsals over a week and a half, returned to Chico and came back to town Monday, Oct. 27. The violins began meeting for weekly sectionals in September, one month before rehearsals.
"Beethoven's always difficult, it's never easy for anybody," said Lisa Ibias, the principal violinist for the concert and a symphony member since 1984. "His later works are even more involved than his earlier works. He does a lot more intricate patterns."
"It's typical Beethoven," Wiley Pickett said. "All the strings are sawing away for that 72 minutes. The violins are working the whole time, more in this one than the winds and the brass."
Juneau Lyric Opera conductor William Todd Hunt is directing the chorale, which spends the first 50 minutes of the work sitting. The chorus doesn't come in until the fourth movement.
"I have sympathy for the chorus," Wiley Pickett said. "The only time I've been in a production of Beethoven's Ninth as a performer (at Stanford), I was the piccolo player. And the piccolo player has to wait even longer than the chorus."
Korry Keeker can be reached at korry.keeker@ juneauempire.com.