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Odes to Freedom – Bernstein & Beethoven, Part II

Date(s) - Saturday, June 1, 2019
8:00 pm - 10:00 pm

Music Center at Strathmore


Esther Heideman, soprano
Shirin Eskandani, mezzo-soprano
Colin Eaton, tenor
Kevin Short, baritone
National Philharmonic Chorale
Piotr Gajewski, conductor

Bernstein Chichester Psalms Beethoven Symphony No. 9 in D minor (“Choral”)

When the Reverend Walter Hussey, Dean of Chichester Cathedral in Sussex, commissioned Leonard Bernstein to compose a choral piece for the cathedral’s 1965 music festival, he added that “many of us would be very delighted if there was a hint of West Side Story about the music.” This was an unusual request for a piece of sacred music, which was intended for the combined cathedral choruses of Chichester, Winchester, and Salisbury. Bernstein obliged, and produced a joyful suite of choral settings of texts selected from the Psalms. In his own view, the Chichester Psalms was “the most accessible tonal piece I’ve ever written.” This magical work, combining Biblical Hebrew verse with the choral traditions of the Christian church, was a resounding success from the moment of its soldout premiere on July 15, 1965, conducted by Bernstein himself. Its companion piece in this second part of the Bernstein/Beethoven pairings is Beethoven’s monumental “Choral” Symphony No. 9, arguably the greatest symphony in the history of Western music. While the Chichester Psalms teems with the

freshness and vigor of youth, the Symphony No. 9 probes the depths of the human soul, culminating with the most famous ode to joy in all music. In one of the decisive moments of the 20th century, Bernstein conducted Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 on Christmas Day 1989 in the “Ode to Freedom” concert celebrating the fall of the Berlin Wall and making a universal declaration of faith in the power of freedom to unite humankind. On that special occasion, the chorus replaced the word “joy” with “freedom.” In the same spirit, the Chichester Psalms represents “a visionary plea for reconciliation and unity throughout the world.”

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