Sunday, April 29th, at the Coronado Performing Arts Center, the Rockford Symphony Youth Orchestra takes on perhaps the biggest challenge in its 47–year history. The orchestra gives a concert that features the finale of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony number 9, known as “The Ode to Joy.” The ensemble will be joined by Highland Community College Choirs, Kantorei, the Singing boys of Rockford, and guest soloists for the performance .
The piece is considered a challenging work for a professional ensemble, much less a youth orchestra. So why did RSYO Director Daniel Black Black want to take on such a monumental work?
“We’ve done for the last few years a side-by-side performance between members of the youth orchestra with the Rockford Symphony," he says, "and for this year we’re doing an all-Beethoven concert, including excerpts from the 9thSymphony. And I was thinking to myself, well the 9thsymphony that’s the only one that uses everyone in the youth orchestra but you know, it’s crazy to program that with the youth orchestra. But then I started thinking about it, and thought, well, if we could find the choirs, if we could get enough singers, we could probably get some young professional soloists from the Chicago area… The wheels kept turning and I made some calls to choir directors in the area, and before I knew it, I was getting really excited, and then I finally realized, we've just got to do it."
Black says there are a lot of moving parts in such an endeavor. And there’s a lot tricky passages for the players. But that hasn’t been the hardest thing for them. Black says, “The challenge of the performance is not so much in the technical difficulty of it, but rather in the expressive maturity of that piece. That’s not typical youth orchestra kind of flashy music. It’s very, very deep and it goes down to the heart of, I think, humanity. And that’s not something young musicians are used to expressing through music.”
Black says rehearsals having been going better than he’d dared hope. He says the players have been working hard, practicing their parts and listening to recordings to give them a sense of how everything fits together. Black says the directors of the choirs that will join the orchestra for the performance - Highland Community College’s Allen Redford and Kantorei’s Joel Ross -have also been working very hard with their troops to meet the many challenges the piece presents to singers. He says he’s pleased with the results. And he thinks this will be a very exciting concert. “There is a certain energy that you get from a bunch of young musicians that have never done this music before, and they’re discovering it almost as they’re performing it," he says, "and that’s something that you can’t really reproduce. Even the best professional orchestras have done Beethoven 9 many times, and although they’re great musicians, there’s added energy, there’s added juice, and I think it’s going to be a special event. There’s a buzz around the orchestra about this piece.”
For Black, this concert represents something of a milestone. He says a number of people told him tackling Beethoven’s blockbuster was just too much for young players. At one point, he says, he would have agreed with them. But that’s not the case anymore, and he very happy about it. “When I started three years ago, I don’t think there’s any way that we could have taken on this project," he says, "The level has really, really risen. There’s some real artistic momentum with the group. There’s different kinds of energy in the rehearsal, different seriousness about making sure you’re part s prepared. And that’s allowed us to take on a project of this scope. That’s been really interesting to see and to be a part of, and very, very satisfying.”