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Gerald Carpenter: Music Academy Festival Orchestra to Make ‘Joy’-ful Noise in Opening Concert

Conductor Larry Rachleff will once again conjure up a world-class orchestra from a group of talented strangers.
Conductor Larry Rachleff will once again conjure up a world-class orchestra from a group of talented strangers. (Contributed photo)

The first concert of the season by the Music Academy of the West's Festival Orchestra is always a thrilling event — the wonder of how such a great orchestra can be formed and ready to play from a group of brilliant young musicians who have, for the most part, never played together and have met each other less than a month before — and this year's opening concert at 8 p.m. Saturday in the Granada Theatre feels even more special than usual because of the program.

The orchestra, led, as for many years past, by Larry Rachleff, will open the season where most other orchestras end theirs, with a performance of Ludwig van Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 in D-Minor, Opus 125 "Choral" (1824).

The quartet of soloists will be drawn from the rich talent pool of voice fellows, and the chorus will be supplied by the Santa Barbara Choral Society (JoAnn Wasserman, director). Preceding the Beethoven piece will be a brief work by Mason Bates called Ode, which was "commissioned by the Phoenix Symphony in 2001 as a companion piece to Beethoven’s Ninth."

In my early teens, I used to buy used 78s from St. Vincent de Paul and other proto thrift stores. The cost was usually 10 cents a disk. An early acquisition — I couldn't believe my luck — was a complete set of an all but mint pressing of the Choral Symphony, performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra and conducted by Leopold Stokowski. There were 10 disks and the set weighed about 15 pounds. Each of the four movements was spread over several disks, and the sound faded out at the end of one side and faded in at the beginning of the next. In my experience, the tactic was not a success. I couldn't really get a sense of the individual movements, let alone the work as a whole. I still have the set, and I fully intend, someday, to make a digital copy.

That is to say that Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, like the symphonies of Mahler and Bruckner, had to await the advent of the long-playing record to reach its proper audience, and to become fully assimilated into our emotional lives. The first generation to have regular access to these immense masterpieces was my own, that of the post-WWII "baby boom," who began to make our presence felt in the 1960s.

Richard Lester used the Ninth to very amusing effect in the second Beatles movie, Help!; Stanley Kubrick used it to terrifying effect in A Clockwork Orange. The Toscanini Beethoven set was the gold standard of the Ninth for about 20 years — long enough to become a major shaper of our tastes.

As Beethoven well knew, Schiller wrote "Joy" ("Freude") but he was thinking "Freedom" ("Freiheit"), because he didn't want to be arrested by reactionary governments. But poet and composer were equally intent upon fomenting a sensory revolution.

Tickets to the Festival Orchestra concert are $10, $40 and $50, with those ages 7 to 17 admitted free. For tickets and other information, call 805.969.8787 or click here.

Single tickets can also be purchased from the Granada box office at 805.899.2222 or online by clicking here.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributing writer. He can be reached at [email protected]. The opinions expressed are his own.

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