You don’t get much bigger than Beethoven’s famed Ninth Symphony, which the Youth Orchestras of Fresno will perform in characteristically grand scale in its season finale concert 4 p.m. Sunday at the Saroyan Theatre. There will be more than 100 instrumentalists and 150 singers on stage for those rousing moments of “Ode to Joy.”
Overall, 500 musicians will participate in the concert, titled “The JOY Project.” The program includes a piece by Fresno State music professor Kenneth Froelich commissioned for the concert to fit in with the Beethoven 9 theme: an intriguing seven-minute variation titled “A Beautiful Spark.” (I’ll go into a little more detail on the Froelich piece at the end of this blog post.) There’s Handel, Holst, Mendelssohn, and Tchaikovsky to sample as well, along with an art exhibition on the “JOY” theme. And if that’s not enough joy for you, audience members are encouraged to bring any kind of musical instruments (kazoos are welcome) to play at an informal recap of “Ode to Joy” in the theater’s lobby after the concert.
Leading up to Sunday’s concert is another big-deal event: the orchestras’ annual “Painted Violins” fundraiser. This year’s event, “Painted Violins at the Painted Table,” features for auction seven violins and one cello painted by prominent artists, along with an “Ode to Joy” quilt. Participating artists are Clarkia Cobb, Michelle Fairbanks, Leonard Filgate, Samantha Orozco, Jennette Rasch, Charise Warsco, Saul Villegas and Kristyne Walker. The event is 5 p.m. Saturday at the Painted Table, 1211 N. Wishon Ave. Tickets are $65.
Just for fun: Here’s me with my YOOF “Blue Beethoven Wig” holding one of the violins.
I write (a lot) more about the Sunday concert and the Ninth Symphony in the upcoming Sunday Spotlight section. I got a chance to talk with composer Froelich about his commissioned piece.
He wrote “A Beautiful Spark” (which takes its title from the Friedrich Schiller poem set to music by Beethoven) in about two months, setting out to do more than just a traditional series of variations. “I did try to find ways of bringing my own voice,” he says. “I didn’t want to write a piece that is not me.”
At various times in the piece, different instruments — and skill-level groupings of players — offer fragments of the “Ode to Joy” theme. At first those fragments might be hard to put together. By midway through the piece you really start to hear the melody coming through — but maybe not in the way you’d expect it. “It’s a very exciting piece overall,” says music director Thomas Loewenheim. “You can hear Beethoven 9 but it definitely sounds like Ken Froelich, which I think is brilliant.”
One thing that intrigues me about the piece is the way it’s written for different skill levels, with the more advanced students tackling the more difficult parts, while younger and less experienced players handle simpler fare. But all the parts are important. Without the parts played by the younger players, something is missing, Loewenheim says. With them, the piece becomes three-dimensional.