Drama and familiarity: In any performance setting, they become an unrivaled combination. Place them at the end of a concert season, and you have the makings of a monumental parting shot.
That is what the Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra has planned Friday for a sold-out 2013-14 finale. It will bid adieu with one of the most popular, commanding and critically lauded works in any classical repertoire: Ludwig van Beethoven's Symphony No. 9.
"We don't say Beethoven's Ninth Symphony," said Philharmonic music director and conductor Scott Terrell. "We say Beethoven 9 because it's so famous. There is no way Beethoven 9 is not an event. It's not just any piece. It's that piece."
The choral symphony will team the Philharmonic with 150 vocalists from the Lexington Singers, Lexington Chamber Chorale and Kentucky Bach Choir along with four featured soloists. Completed in 1824, Symphony No. 9 has long been one of the world's most frequently performed works. Its most familiar passage comes during the fourth movement, a jubilant section built around Friedrich Schiller's poem Ode to Joy.
But Terrell says it is the music's inherent drama that fascinates him, along with the opportunity to discover what drove Beethoven to create it.
"Everybody comes at Beethoven 9 with a different point of reference," he said. "A lot of people know the piece. But like The Messiah, there have been many, many interpretations of Beethoven 9. For me, the issue has not necessarily been the logistics of putting it together with the chorus. The bigger challenge for me is getting people to buy in to the way I view the piece that the composer intended.
"This is the first time I've conducted the piece, so that's sort of a big deal. You don't quite realize how incredible a work it is until you begin to organize your thoughts around it. It's an astounding piece of music. It's a bit daunting, as well. ...
"But I firmly believe that in this particular symphony you need to be absolutely in line with what you think Beethoven is after dramatically: where he was in his life, his deafness that had set in, his struggling with the whole symphonic form late in his life. In the end, it's a question what he was after."
Enhancing the majesty of Symphony No. 9 will be its placement in a program full of contrasts. The symphony will take up all of the concert's second half. The first will be dominated by the more ethereal Three Songs for Soprano and Orchestra by contemporary Argentine composer Osvaldo Golijov. Opening the evening will be another classical staple: Claude Debussy's agelessly lovely Claire de Lune.
"Beethoven 9 offers an intense sound world that doesn't relent," Terrell said. "So I thought what was really important was balance in the overall program. So with Golijov, there is less angst than with Beethoven. But it's also a sonic world that you can't just dive into right out of the gate. From the listener's point of view, you need something to serve as a sort of wine to start the evening with, as it were.
"Claire de Lune serves the purpose of just letting everyone exhale before we start what will be a pretty exciting but emotionally intense evening."