Photos – Daniel James Grant

Arguably the pinnacle of Beethoven’s immense list of musical achievements, his ninth and final symphony was one he never heard, as he was profoundly deaf by the time it premiered in 1824. Two hundred years after the premiere of Beethoven’s colossal work, WASO’s sold out concerts this weekend at the Perth Concert Hall are testament to the enduring appeal of his Symphony No.9.

While the audience came hungry for the main meal of Beethoven 9, we were offered a delectable first course with the debut of ARIA-winning composer James Ledger’s The Last Thing. Conducted by Alpesh Chauhan, an advocate for new music and here on his first visit to Perth from the UK, The Last Thing is based on a trio of poems by Irish author Paula Meehan

Ledger chose the theme of death and the emotions it evokes – he spoke briefly about the new work before adding that he would normally say, “I hope you enjoy this performance” but tonight felt it was more appropriate to say, “I hope you are moved by this performance”. Ledger composed it for orchestra and soprano, with Sara Macliver’s weighty performance worthy of the heavy subject matter.

After digesting this thought-provoking piece during the interval, the audience was re-seated and fell silent for the much-anticipated performance of Symphony No.9. This symphony was also inspired by a poem – one that fascinated Beethoven for over 20 years. ‘An die Freude’ (Ode to Joy) was a revolutionary call for freedom – a call to peace and harmony for all humankind that has resonated throughout the centuries. Ecstatically received at its premiere, with a purported five standing ovations, it has been an anthem for freedom and peace ever since, with audiences drawn to its emphatic and triumphant message of hope.

The first movement hits hard, with its bold and commanding notes, the sheer energy of the whole orchestra at work creating a sense of violence and vigour. Then we were swept along with the scherzo before being soothed by the serenity of the third movement and its reflective tenderness. The last movement, the Ode to Joy, is a masterpiece within a masterpiece. A tune so simple that most children can hum it but when filled out and interwoven with seemingly disparate elements, it builds to a glorious series of crescendos, along with the astonishing addition of four vocal soloists and a chorus. The chorus bursts of “Joy! Joy!” filled the hall, with the WASO Chorus and UWA Symphonic Chorus joining forces to lift the roof.

Enthralling from start to finish, Beethoven’s Ninth is a transcendent experience – an uplifting call to hope, unity and friendship that resonates deeply in our post-pandemic world. An ode to joy.

Event details

WASO presents
Beethoven 9

Conductor Alpesh Chauhan

Venue: Perth Concert Hall | 5 St George's Terrace, Perth
Dates: 3 – 4 May 2024

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