Classically Trained: After 186 years, Ninth still magical

The greatest melody in all of Western music starts quietly. From its subdued beginnings, tapestries of instrumental color are added in each melodic line. The musical layers glide along on top of one another, repeating the same tune in fascinating new ways.

It's a kind of magic. It's magic that's 186 years old.

I am alluding to the the fourth movement of Ludwig Van Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, the kind of opus that you must go and hear whenever it's performed.

Why? You just do.

What makes the Ninth all the more amazing is that its composer couldn't even hear his own music. By that point in his life Beethoven was deaf.

Fortunately for Orange County, the Costa Mesa-based Pacific Symphony will be perfoming the musical masterpiece and other works on Sept. 11 at Irvine's Verizon Wireless Amphitheater.

Part of what makes a Ninth performance special is how many people it takes to pull off. Ensembles in Beethoven's time were generally smaller than we see today, but when Beethoven got around to writing his Ninth (and final) Symphony, he wrote for more instruments, more soloists, more voices, more everything.

The Pacific Symphony has assembled four vocal soloists — Tracy Dahl, Rita Litchfield, Brian Cheney and Troy Cook — and more than 100 other singers from a dozen O.C. choruses for the Ninth. Guest conducting for the evening in his debut with O.C.'s orchestra is Robert Moody, of North Carolina's Winston-Salem Symphony and the Portland (Maine) Symphony Orchestra.

The concert culminates the orchestra's summer season and will commemorate the day when New York's Twin Towers fell nine years ago.

Starting off the evening will be Morton Gould's "American Salute," a feisty piece that arranges the Civil War-era tune "When Johnny Comes Marching Home."

Next is a work evocative of the 9/11 tragedy, Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings" — the saddest of all sad music and America's unofficial mourning hymn. Though made famous when used in "Platoon," the first of Oliver Stone's Vietnam War films, the "Adagio" was performed at the funerals of two presidents and at the former World Trade Center site, not long after it became a cemetery of rubble.

Yet after hearts are wrenched, Americana will uplift the audience with Samuel A. Ward's rendition of "America the Beautiful."

Then comes Beethoven, who is distinctively the only non-American composer on the program. But that won't matter with the words to the Ninth's finale — taken from the German poem "Ode de Joy" by Friedrich Schiller — that call upon the triumph of brotherhood, of good over evil and kindness to all the world.

The Pacific Symphony has put together a great lineup on a September morning that arouses so many memories of events we're still coping with. Many died that day, but music is the best — and most living — form to recognize their ultimate sacrifices.

I think my favorite composer, Bernard Herrmann, said it best:

"Music is a beautiful art, if not the greatest of all the arts, for that reason. It's the kind of beauty that lives in time and space, and in each performance, over and over again."

BRADLEY ZINT is a copy editor for the Daily Pilot and a classically trained musician. E-mail him story ideas at

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