Maestro Jorge Mester.
Beethoven Symphonies No. 1 and 9
Conductor, Jorge Mester
with the University of Louisville Collegiate Chorale,
Louisville Chamber Choir and Voces Novae
Review by Annette Skaggs
Entire contents copyright © 2014 by Annette Skaggs. All rights reserved.
In the final performance of the 2013-14 season, the Louisville Orchestra presented the Alpha and Omega of Beethoven’s symphonies: numbers One and Nine, and they certainly did not disappoint.
A full house came that evening to watch Maestro Jorge Mester approach the conductor’s stand for the last time as the Music Director of the Louisville Orchestra. What a fitting presentation to send the good maestro off to retirement in style.
Although I don’t recall studying many of Beethoven’s works in Music Theory while I was in college, I can only imagine that this Symphony No.1 would fill a few weeks of class time. Woven throughout the movements there were strategies and musical tricks that would fool the ear into believing that with each progressing phrase or inclusion of another instrument that there would be the aurally pleasing dominant resolution and landing on the movement’s key of C. Not so much. And the orchestra handled those mischievous little tricks well. A majority of the audience was compelled to applaud after each movement.
When the audience returned to their seat the stage was filled with a chorus of over 100 voices, including the University of Louisville Collegiate Chorale, Louisville Chamber Choir and Voces Novae, all under the direction of the esteemed Kent Hatteberg and four soloists: soprano Katie Van Kooten, Mezzo-Soprano Rebekah Bortz Hardin, Tenor Daniel Weeks and Bass Kenneth Shaw. As one would expect, this was going to be a big sound.
Symphony No. 9 “The Choral” in D minor is arguably Beethoven’s most recognized symphony with the iconic “Ode to Joy” chorus in the fourth movement. In the beginning movement, the sound is not bright but somewhat disjointed. And that is what it is supposed to be. With each movement, the melody becomes brighter, more inviting. By the third movement, all is well and within its proper place. Harmony is no longer fragmented and the melody, well, one can hum along with it.
Of course, the star of the symphony is the fourth movement, “The Chorus”. The first chords of this movement sound dissonant and don’t resemble anything like what we just heard in the previous movements and that’s okay. The violas, cellos and basses offer an almost somber yet strikingly comfortable line that serves as a catalyst to the fanfare that awaits us as bass Kenneth Shaw begins to sing “O Freunde, nicht diese Tone!” (Oh friends, not these tones). Suddenly there is a breakthrough in tonal reconciliation and the Chorus and soloists share in that joy, “Freude! Freude!” (Joy! Joy!)
I delighted in the thunderous sound of the 100 plus member chorus and enjoyed the palpable sense of excitement with the orchestra. Although the German could have been a little crisper, I felt that Dr. Hatteberg had a fantastic group to work with.
The soprano Katie Van Kooten had a beautiful clear tone to her voice and was effortless in the higher register, but I found that her German was muddled at times as well. Rebekah Bortz Hardin, a local favorite, added just the right middle to punctuate the canon, although at times, it was hard to hear those middle notes, but that was due to the number of persons on stage, not Ms. Hardin. Tenor Daniel Weeks, another local favorite, was made for this symphony. He caressed each phrase with agility and passion. From the first note of bass Kenneth Shaw’s “O Freunde” I knew this guy had chops. His middle and lower register added a beautiful line to an already fluid and flowing quartet of guest soloists.
As I watched Maestro and company take and accept five curtain calls from the enthusiastic and appreciative audience I reminisced of his conducting style, where often times he would leap in mid-air to assure a downbeat or he would unconsciously move his baton in a way that was in perfect sync with the pulse of the piece even while giving explicit directions for his orchestra. He did all of those things and more to the delight of Louisville-Kentuckiana audiences for many years and I wish him the best in his next endeavors!!!
Before the concert I was fortunate to attend a Meet and Greet with the Music Director Designate, Teddy Abrams. All I can say, I think Louisville is in for a treat with eyes and baton to the future with a nod to all that came before.
Beethoven Symphonies No. 1 and 9
April 10-11, 2014
Kentucky Center for the Arts
501 West Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202