Classically Trained: A 10 for the Ninth

IRVINE — A performance of the Ninth Symphony is always full of eagerness.

When is that massive choir in the back going to sing? When do the soloists come out? Is the third movement over?

Big questions, to be sure. But then, after some 45 minutes of waiting, it all happens.

And it's never a disappointment.

The Pacific Symphony's performance at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater of Ludwig Van Beethoven's magnum opus Saturday was as exciting and beautifully executed as I've ever heard live.

Guest conductor Robert Moody — of North Carolina's Winston-Salem Symphony and the Portland (Maine) Symphony Orchestra — delivered a rousing interpretation of the Ninth that excited and delighted the thousands of attendees. They leapt to their feet at the concert's conclusion.

Beethoven's work represents the best of early 19th century Western music, if not the best of all Western music ever. All four movements of the Ninth do that, despite the epic scope of the finale that can seemingly drown all the greatness preceding it.

Moody said Beethoven's work evokes the best of the human spirit. It's hard to disagree when the 186-year-old symphony is played so well and with such precision, gusto and fervor.

The Americana first half was fitting for Sept. 11, especially Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings," though I wished images of that day could've been projected on the amphitheater's screens alongside the performance. I feel it would've made the performance even more powerful with some visual aids.

Still, plaudits go to Moody for leading the orchestra and its accompanying choral army toward a grand evening and wonderful conclusion of the summer season.

A choir sample

The Costa Mesa-based All-American Boys Chorus, celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, conducted an open rehearsal earlier that day at the Orange County Fairgrounds. They were looking for new members.

The singers, who range in age from about 8 to 14, were likely the first choir in the whole county to begin working out the intricacies of "Jingle Bells."

The 100-some boys were jingling all the way with great rehearsal discipline under the auspices of conductor Wesley Martin, an Australia native who's led the group since 2002.

When he said, "Sit up and don't talk," they did. A poster proclaiming "We are only as good as our discipline" loomed overhead in the rehearsal room. Martin's directions came quickly and concisely.

"I don't want to hear an ugly diphthong."

"I'm still hearing strange noises on the word 'world,'" he said during the "What a Wonderful World" reading.

The boys sported red or blue jerseys with the group name on them. The red-shirted are the boys who sing concerts and have earned that distinction; the blue shirts are the trainees working for it. The section leaders wore full suits.

All the boys undergo an extensive musical training regimen. They learn to read sheet music and can get good enough to sight-read.

"They're really good sight-readers. We're really proud of that," said alumnus Tony Manrique, executive director of the chorus.

Manrique was one of the first 10 members of the chorus in 1970.

The nonprofit employs three full-time workers: Manrique, Martin and alumnus Aaron Cassaro, the production manager.

The boys have been rehearsing out of the Ranch Building since 2006, but have been on the fairgrounds since 1975.

Perusing the building's walls shows pieces of this Costa Mesa choir's history. The pictures tell all: They're in front of a Canadian glacier, laughing with Bob Hope, singing in the Crystal Cathedral, looking proper with Ronald and Nancy Reagan, standing alongside John Wooden, posing down under along the Sydney waterfront or smiling with first lady Barbara Bush.

A map of the U.S. has points where the group has performed, but it doesn't include sojourns throughout the world, like the chorus' recent tour to Australia, Singapore and Malaysia.

These boys even have a bus with their name on it. Manrique said it's a point of pride.

On that note, this group should be a point of pride for Costa Mesa, and for Orange County. When I was their age, most of my fondest reminiscences of that time were performing music and the travels for those performances. I anticipate for these boys, those singing times will also provide lasting memories.

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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