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The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert on WRTI: Yannick conducts Beethoven's monumental Symphony No. 9

Yannick Nézet-Séguin
Jeff Fusco
Yannick Nézet-Séguin leading The Philadelphia Orchestra in June, 2022.

Celebrate 2023 with WRTI! Join us on Sunday, Jan. 1 at 1 p.m. on WRTI 90.1, and Monday, Jan. 2 at 7 p.m. on WRTI HD-2 when our Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert series brings you a performance recorded live in June, 2022.

Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin leads the Orchestra and the Philadelphia Symphonic Choir in a program that pairs Beethoven’s groundbreaking final symphony—including its inspiring choral finale—with Pachamama Meets an Ode by Gabriela Lena Frank, a work that places Beethoven and the famous “Ode to Joy” in a fresh context.

Composer Gabriela Lena Frank talks with Susan Lewis about dialoging with Beethoven and the role of whimsy in her works.

It’s one of several works commissioned by the Orchestra from contemporary composers, responding to Beethoven’s symphonies.

The original plan was to perform these works in tandem with the symphonies that inspired them, as part of the Orchestra’s celebration of the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth. That plan was interrupted in March, 2020 by the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown of all in-person live concerts in Verizon Hall.

The Orchestra picked up the cycle 18 months later at the outset of its 2021/2022 season, and this concert brings it to a close.

Beethoven’s final symphony still surprises, even two centuries after its composition.

“The Ninth Symphony has been used many times—in moments of despair, of hope. Unfortunately it’s been also misused in history where dictators wanted to show their power. This text—such an idealistic and humanistic one, I think—is still very inspiring. But it’s also our role as an institution in the 21st century, not to question the text, but to question: how do we relate to this history?”—Yannick Nézet-Séguin

As extraordinary as the Ninth sounds to modern ears, it was challenging and even baffling to Beethoven’s contemporaries, as it shattered multiple norms.

Its first movement begins in an utterly unprecedented way, emerging from a mysterious void in a magical use of orchestral sonority that some have seen as the composer’s depiction of the world’s creation. From this transcendent opening, the movement rapidly erupts into a dramatic, almost apocalyptic assertion of music’s future. The scherzo that follows is both powerful and humorous, a respite of sorts. With the slow third movement, we are back in otherworldly realms, but this time in a profoundly personal, even spiritual space.

Then comes the finale that will forever define this symphony, based on an inspiring poem by Friedrich Schiller that asserts, “All men become brothers wherever the gentle wings of Joy are spread.”

In addition to The Philadelphia Orchestra and the Philadelphia Symphonic Choir, four vocal soloists are featured: soprano Angel Blue, mezzo-soprano Mihoko Fujimura, tenor Issachah Savage, and bass baritone Ryan Speedo Green.

Composer and pianist Gabriela Lena Frank
Mariah Tauger
Composer and pianist Gabriela Lena Frank

As a prelude to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, Yannick leads the Philadelphians and the Philadelphia Symphonic Choir in Pachamama Meets an Ode. In this 10-minute work Gabriela Lena Frank draws on her mother’s Peruvian heritage to conjure an imaginary meeting between Beethoven, with his European Enlightenment ideals, and an indigenous Peruvian painter of the same era—an individual who has experienced the devastating impact of European colonialism on the Inca and Quechua cultures native to Peru, as well as their natural environments.

The painter addresses Beethoven as “Great Man” and invokes the spirit of Mother Earth, known in Latin American indigenous cultures as Pachamama.

Pachamama Meets an Ode is scored for the same orchestral and choral forces as Beethoven’s Ninth, creating a kind of dialogue across an ocean and across centuries and cultures.

Yannick Nézet-Séguin talks with Susan Lewis about Beethoven's Symphony No. 9

Listen throughout the broadcast for producer Susan Lewis’ conversations with composer-in-residence Gabriela Lena Frank and Yannick Nézet-Séguin.

Read detailed program notes from the concert here.

Frank: Pachamama Meets an Ode
Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125 (“Choral”)

The Philadelphia Orchestra
Philadelphia Symphonic Choir

Yannick Nézet-Séguin, conductor
Angel Blue, soprano
Mihoko Fujimora, mezzo-soprano
Issachah Savage, tenor
Ryan Speedo Green, bass baritone

Listen to The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert broadcasts, every Sunday at 1 p.m. on WRTI 90.1, streaming at WRTI.org, on the WRTI mobile app, and on your favorite smart speaker. Listen again on Mondays at 7 p.m. on WRTI HD-2. Listen for up to two weeks after broadcast onWRTI Replay.

Melinda has worked in radio for decades, hosting and producing classical music and arts news. An award-winning broadcaster, she has created and hosted classical music programs and reported for NPR, WQXR—New York, WHYY–Philadelphia, and American Public Media. WRTI listeners may remember her years hosting classical music for WFLN and WHYY.
Susan writes and produces stories about music and the arts. She’s host and producer of WRTI’s TIME IN online interview series, and contributes weekly intermission interviews for The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert series. She’s also been a regular host of WRTI’s Live from the Performance Studio sessions.