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Bob Keyes

Bob Keyes has written about the arts in Maine since 2002. He’s never been much an artist himself, other than singing in junior high school chorus and acting in a few musicals. But he’s attended museums, theaters, clubs and concert halls all his life, and cites Bob Dylan as most influential artist of any kind since Picasso. He lives in Berwick.

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Posted: April 17, 2017

Portland Symphony Orchestra to perform Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony

Written by: Bob Keyes
Robert Moody photo courtesy of Portland Symphony Orchestra

Robert Moody photo courtesy of Portland Symphony Orchestra

Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 has been used to mark the end of World War I and the victory of the Allies in World War II. When the Berlin Wall fell, Leonard Bernstein conducted a version of Beethoven’s Ninth in East Berlin with musicians from many nationalities, including both sides of the wall.

It’s a seminal piece of music, monumental in its scope and power and one that Portland Symphony Orchestra conductor Robert Moody calls “nothing short of an earth-shattering symphony. There is no tune probably more well known than the famous joyful, joyful tune of Beethoven’s Ninth.”

Under Moody’s baton, the PSO performs the piece at Merrill Auditorium on Sunday and Tuesday, concluding its three-year focus on Beethoven. Over the last three concert seasons, the orchestra and Moody have performed all nine Beethoven symphonies, with the Ninth completing the cycle.

Beethoven wrote it nearly 200 years ago, in 1824. He was near the end of his life and nearly completely deaf. Moody is not the first to note the astonishing accomplishment. “For him, there was nothing other than a rumble and a hum of noise,” Moody said. “With this going on, he gave us 70 minutes of the most powerful music ever written.”

It was the first major symphony to incorporate voices, with the words taken from the poem “Ode to Joy,” and remains one of the most performed and most recognized pieces of music in history.

Photo courtesy of Portland Symphony Orchestra

Photo courtesy of Portland Symphony Orchestra

Mindful that the symphony has been used to mark peace and that we are in a time of turmoil, Moody is pairing the symphony with Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings, a solemn and achingly beautiful piece of music, which will segue directly into the Ninth.

The orchestra will perform with singers from ChoralArt and the Oratorio Chorale, as well as four soloists: soprano Mary Boehlke-Wilson, alto Margaret Lias, tenor John McVeigh and baritone Philip Cutlip.

Carolyn Nishon, the orchestra’s executive director, said the completion of the Beethoven cycle is cause for celebration – for the orchestra and its supporters. “It’s almost like a bucket-list opportunity to play all nine under one conductor in a short time span, and also for the audience to see their hometown orchestra perform all of them,” she said. “When these times can be so divisive, the opportunity to come together, with hundreds of people on stage singing and performing a piece that culminates with an ‘Ode to Joy’ is hugely powerful and will be an incredible moment for everyone who is there.”

Portland Symphony Orchestra performs Beethoven’s Ninth

WHEN: 2:30 p.m. Sunday and 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 25.
WHERE: Merrill Auditorium, 20 Myrtle St., Portland
TICKETS & INFO: $25 to $75; 207-842-0800 or

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