The Bryan Symphony Orchestra at Tennessee Tech University begins its 50th anniversary season with the kind of program generally only found in large cities: the world premiere of a work commissioned for the occasion and a gigantic composition performed for the first time locally: in this case, Beethoven's "9th Symphony, Choral."
The performance begins at 3 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 7, in TTU's Wattenbarger Auditorium. Tickets are $32 for adults and $27 for seniors 65 and up. Call 931-525-2633 for availability. The performance is sponsored by Bank of Putnam County, with additional funding through the Tennessee Arts Commission under an agreement with the state of Tennessee.
Opening the Oct. 7 performance is "Costumes of the Sky," a colorful work for wind ensembles and percussion written by Greg Danner, Tennessee Tech's resident composer and a member of the Bryan Symphony horn section. Inspired by a poem by former Tennessee poet laureate Clara Cox Epperson, "Costumes of the Sky" will be performed by the BSO's wind, brass and percussion faculty musicians: the members of the Cumberland Quintet, the Brass Arts Quintet and percussionist Eric Willie. "Costumes of the Sky" is rich in tonal color, a reflection of the poem's depiction of sunset and dawn.
There's a particular resonance in premiering 'Costumes of the Sky' in Putnam County, where Clara Cox Epperson lived most of her life, says BSO Music Director Dan Allcott.
"Epperson was one of those people who insisted that the arts were as important here at home as in big cities," Allcott says. "Cookeville has a much richer cultural environment today thanks to Epperson and other community members over the years who have worked hard to nurture the arts."
In the classical music repertoire, Beethoven's 9th is stratospheric – and a celebration of art and humanity. It employs a large orchestra, as well as a chorus and four vocal soloists for the final movement, which is the setting for the Friedrich Schiller poem "Ode to Joy." The symphony itself, at 70 minutes, was the longest of its time; in fact, it is said that it inspired the length of today's compact disc – that music CDs needed to have the capacity to contain an entire performance of the 9th Symphony.
"Beethoven's 9th is the first hugely romantic symphony," says Allcott. "He had gone well beyond writing 'occasional' music; he was writing for posterity. It's an incredibly personal symphony, and the words of the poem make it altruistic – a surprising gesture from a composer whose personal tragedies prevented him from relating very well to other people. When we hear those voices at the end, shouting for joy, we're amazed by Beethoven's capacity to rise above his pain. It's a final testament to who Beethoven really was – and to the desire to find universal brotherhood."
Allcott, who has begun his 10th season with the BSO, has conducted the first eight of Beethoven's symphonies multiple times, but this is his first opportunity to conduct the 9th.
"It's almost as if the BSO has been waiting to do this work," he says. "It is for us a big effort – it was always on a list of two or three pieces we considered to celebrate our 50th season. It's a stretch for us, artistically and financially – and it is also a very appropriate celebration of this organization. It's a good symbol of what art needs to do – to overcome obstacles with joy and embrace our community – to give a gift to our community. I've conducted more difficult works, but nothing more profound than this."
Joining the BSO onstage for the performance are 130 singers from the Tech Chorale and Cookeville Mastersingers, directed by Craig Zamer, director of choral activities at Tennessee Tech. Guest soloists well-known to the BSO audience include Diane Pulte, from "The Marriage of Figaro" in 2009; Shana Blake Hill, from "Madama Butterfly" in 2008; Ryan Taylor, from "Carmina Burana" in 2007; and new to the BSO, tenor Nathan Munson.
A number of BSO performance-related events are scheduled between now and Oct. 7:
• Audience members in the Upper Cumberland can tune in to "BSO Backstage" on public television station WCTE-TV (Ch. 10 on Charter cable in Cookeville and Ch. 22 on Dish and Direct satellite). An original WCTE production hosted by Desiree Duncan with guests Allcott and Laura Clemons, interim executive director of the Bryan Symphony Orchestra Association, the program broadcasts at 8:30 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 27; at 9:30 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 29; at 5:30 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 30; and at 8:30 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 4.
• Cumberland County hosts a preview concert luncheon beginning at 11 a.m., Wednesday, Oct. 3, at the Palace Theater on Main Street in Crossville. Cost is $10 and payable at the door. Call 931-484-6133 for reservations by Monday, Oct. 1.
• On the day of the concert, Sunday, Oct. 7, Catherine Godes of the TTU music faculty will give a free preview lecture at 2 p.m. in Room 223 of the Bryan Fine Arts Building. The concert itself begins at 3 p.m. A post-performance reception takes place in the lobby, hosted by Sean and Michelle O'Neil, followed by dinner at Mauricio's Italian Restaurant near the TTU campus, 232 N. Peachtree Ave. Call 931-525-2633 for dinner reservations by noon, Saturday, Oct. 6.
The only professional Tennessee symphony outside a metropolitan area in the state, the BSO gives its subscription and education performances in Wattenbarger Auditorium, the concert hall of TTU's Bryan Fine Arts Building, located at 1150 N. Dixie Ave., in Cookeville. Learn more at www.bryansymphony.org.