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Firelands Symphony takes on Beethoven's Ninth

Tom Jackson • Jan 27, 2013 at 5:40 AM

Although the guy who wrote it was deaf and couldn’t hear what he’d written, it’s the most famous piece of classical music in the world.  And it’s coming to Sandusky.

Firelands Symphony Orchestra will play Ludwig van Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 16 at the Sandusky State Theatre.

Conductor Carl Topilow, in his fifth season at the orchestra’s helm, said he wouldn’t have taken on the piece in his first season.

“I think the orchestra is ready for the challenge,” he said.

It will also be a piece everyone can enjoy, said Laura Pedersen, a soprano who is one of the four singers featured at the concert.

“There are some things that are universal,” Pedersen said.

She also has a message for people who aren’t sure they like classical music: “Trust me. This is a winner.”

Depending upon the tempo the conductor chooses, the Ninth lasts about 65 to 75 minutes.

The orchestra will have about 60 musicians onstage, up from the usual 50 to 55 musicians, said Jamie Steinemann, executive director of the Firelands Symphony.

There will also be four vocal soloists: tenor Timothy Culver, a Kent State University voice professor who has sung opera in Ohio and Italy; mezzo-soprano Samantha Renea

Gossard, who has performed in Aspen, at Severance Hall in Cleveland and at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.; baritone Timothy LeFebvre, an Oberlin College music professor who has sung with many orchestras, and Pedersen, who has sung in Panama, Germany and throughout the U.S.

About 100 singers from the Terra Choral Society will also be featured.

“We’ve just got to make sure we can fit everybody on the stage,” Topilow said.

Topilow has already held a separate rehearsal with the four singers.

This illustrates his careful approach, Pedersen said. Singers get plenty of time to rehearse an opera, but they often get little rehearsal time before signing with an orchestra.

“I was so grateful,” she said.

The all-Beethoven program will have an unusually brief first half. The orchestra will perform the overture to Beethoven’s ballet, “The Creatures of Prometheus,” and a selection from his oratorio, “Christ on the Mount of Olives.” The oratorio piece will give the Terra Choral Society another piece to sing, Topilow said.

Michael Shirtz, the director of the Terra Choral Society, will make sure his singers are ready, Steinemann said.

“He’s been rehearsing with them all of January,” she said.

Even people who aren’t experts on classical music will likely recognize “Ode to Joy,” the song that closes the symphony, Steinemann said.

Topilow makes the decisions about what the orchestra will play, although he does listen to other orchestra officials, she said.

When he told Steinemann that he intends to do Beethoven’s Ninth this season, she asked him if the orchestra and the audience was ready for it.

“He said he wouldn’t have suggested it if he didn’t think we were ready for it,” she said. “He really felt this was a program that needs to be heard by our community.”

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