posted on: Wednesday March 7, 2012
Alanna Smith ’14/A&E Staff
The preparations for the concert tribute to Ruth Simmons, president of Brown University for 11 years, began months ago, and due to the grand logistics of the event, they certainly needed to. The plan was ambitious: to combine singers from Providence College and Brown University with a full symphonic orchestra to perform the entirety of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9. This is a piece known for its complexity and large number of instrumental and vocal solos, and for its famous fourth movement, known to many as “Ode to Joy.”
The air was thick with excitement this past Saturday night, March 3, as the students began to arrive at the Veterans Memorial Auditorium, tune their instruments, and warm up their voices. Most of them had spent every night of the previous week rehearsing for the event. While the focal point of the concert was Beethoven’s Ninth, they had also prepared several other pieces. The orchestra would open the concert with Verdi’s “La Forza del Destino,” a piece played at the inauguration of Simmons. A smaller chorus composed of Brown students and singers from PC’s I Cantori would sing pieces by Bruckner and Brahms.
The orchestra and chorus gathered on the stage just before 8 p.m., but the lights did not dim until every seat in the audience was filled. The performance was sold out; almost 1,900 people gathered to view the concert. The music did not start immediately, as several speakers gave short speeches in tribute to Simmons, including Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse. Once Paul Phillips, director of the Brown orchestra, walked onto the stage, all murmuring ceased in the crowd, and the show started.
The concert sped past in a blur of glorious sound. After the orchestra finished the Verdi, Dr. T.J. Harper of Providence and Frederick Jodry of Brown took turns conducting the chorus. After a brief intermission, everyone once again gathered on the stage. Counting both the choir and the orchestra, “everyone” meant nearly two hundred student, faculty, and guest performers. A hush came over the audience, and Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony began. The first three movements were lovely. Performed only by the orchestra, there were beautiful solos from the woodwind, strings, and brass sections. Finally, after waiting patiently for an hour, the chorus stood up from their onstage seats and began to sing. If the orchestra was impressive, the sound of the orchestra combined with the singers was majestic. The fourth movement also included four specially-hired professional vocal soloists, which added to the magnificence of it all. Before the last notes of the piece even died out, the applause began– and turned into a 10-minute standing ovation. The event was something that both Providence College and Brown University should be very proud of, and the choral directors from both schools have expressed interest in joining forces again in the future. “Ode to Joy” was a fitting farewell to one of Brown’s most hard-working presidents, and an expression of hope for more future musical collaborations to come.