Experiencing the Beethoven’s Ninth live, as performed in its pure symphonic grandeur, should be on everyone’s bucket list. This is why: there are so many shamelessly bad performances and spin-offs of “the Ninth,” that it is an absolute joy to hear it live, as Beethoven composed it. No. 9 unquestionably earns the irrefutable title of “timeless.” (And our culture doesn’t just go and throw that word around carelessly, does it?) One of the first pieces that I’d learned to play on the piano was an easy version of “Ode to Joy” in the key of C. I thought I was really amazing…I was playing Beethoven. This was a piece that even a rudimentary pianist such as myself could play and my audience (as in, those who kindly nodded their heads and indulged me) could actually recognize. Having had a lifetime of cheap imitations, I truly appreciated an outstanding—and authentic—performance of “Ode to Joy,” as played and sung by the fabulous professionals in the PSO and the Mendelssohn Choir. It moved me to tears. It’s that spectacular.
But what is it about “Ode to Joy” that makes it so timeless, so unmistakable? I love to watch other audience members during concerts (because, yes, I am completely creepy like that). Some smile, some close their eyes (and no, they are NOT sleeping!), some partake in cavity-inducing hand holding…no matter what the observation tradition may be, each individual in Heinz Hall brings her/his own set of backgrounds and memories. Though we are all hearing the same music, each audience member is having a unique experience. No. 9 makes everyone so…happy. And that could be why it’s considered to be “timeless.” It gives us all a “we’re all in it together, so let’s try to like each other” feeling. How is it, then, that Beethoven was able to compose a piece of work that strikes the same cords of happiness in so many listeners? Giving “joy” a soundtrack was surely quite an arduous challenge for Beethoven, as his hearing was gone, and his own joyful moments were few, I’m sure. I can’t even begin to theorize as to how, but I do know that Beethoven’s Ninth is truly joy manifested, an ecstatic elation of the soul. Add that to your bucket list.