Front Row Reviewers

Nov 3, 2023 | Reviews

Utah Symphony Explores the Highs and Lows of Humanity with Beethoven’s Ninth

Front Row Reviewers

Front Row Reviewers

Utah Symphony’s Press Release published on Front Row Reviewers
Beethoven’s Ninth, led by Creative Partner David Robertson
Featuring A Semi-Staged Excerpt Berg’s Wozzeck

Utah Symphony | Utah Opera (USUO) is poised to deliver an exceptional musical experience orchestrated by Creative Partner David Robertson, who has masterminded a program that transcends
conventional classical concerts. Two evening performances will take place on
Friday, November 3 and Saturday, November 4 at 7:30 PM at Maurice Abravanel
in downtown Salt Lake City.

“We are searching beings by nature. The famous “Ode to Joy,” as penned by Schiller and set in tones by Beethoven, comes after the struggle to heed the better angels of our nature. Bruckner’s motet is a model for the human condition of doubt, Berg’s demonstration of empathy holds up a mirror for us to reflect upon, and Beethoven radically resets the idea of what true unity might mean.” David Robertson, conductor

Robertson’s innovative program takes audiences on a transformative journey toward
Beethoven’s idealized vision of the human experience through the majestic Ninth
Symphony, featuring the iconic “Ode to Joy” chorus. What sets this performance apart
is its unique juxtaposition of music that explores the human condition in its entirety, from
Bruckners Christus factus est and its profound spirituality, to the stark depiction of the
grimmest sides of humankind (and our ability to empathize with it) in Act III from Alban Berg’s
Wozzeck, performed in a semi-staged production with costuming and props
provided by Utah Opera. Together, these elements create an unforgettable concert
that aims to show Beethoven’s masterpiece in a new context and inspire listeners to
seek a better version of themselves.
“We are searching beings by nature. The famous “Ode to Joy,” as penned by
Schiller and set in tones by Beethoven, comes after the struggle to heed the
better angels of our nature,” says David Robertson. “Bruckner’s motet is a model for
the human condition of doubt, Berg’s demonstration of empathy holds up a mirror for us
to reflect upon, and Beethoven radically resets the idea of what true unity might mean.”

Announced as USUO’s inaugural Creative Partner in December 2022, David
Robertson’s appointment affirmed the organization’s artistic caliber and its creative
direction. As Creative Partner, Robertson assumes a multifaceted and influential role on
the artistic leadership team—developing projects and performances that deeply engage
the community and redefine the boundaries of classical music performance.
For the 2023-24 season, Robertson has developed and will lead three
programs—Beethoven’s Ninth (which will deepen the audience’s understanding of this
favorite masterpiece while also pulling together the organization’s symphonic and
operatic sides); Schumann’s “Rhenish” Symphony (an exploration of works that paint
images of America, Finland, and Germany, demonstrating how a sense of “place” is
represented in music); and Jiji Plays Rodrigo’s Guitar Concerto (a program that extends
beyond the stage into the broader Utah community with the Guitar Celebrations
festival). In his first of three performances this year, Robertson’s leadership promises to
continue the legacy of USUO, further solidifying the organization as a cultural beacon in
the region.
In the first half of the program, with Bruckner’s Christus factus est and Act III from
Berg’s Wozzeck, Robertson invites the audience to confront the spectrum of human
emotions and experiences. Bruckner’s composition explores themes of spirituality and
introspection, sung by members of the Utah Symphony Chorus, guiding each
listener toward inner reflection. Then, the presentation of Act III from Berg’s Wozzeck
takes audience members into the darkest recesses of the human psyche, offering a
haunting portrayal of human suffering.

It is worth noting that the opera Wozzeck was loosely based on a true story of a murder
in 1821, just a few years before Beethoven composed his Ninth Symphony in 1824.
According to records, Johann Christian Woyzeck, a Leipzig wigmaker who later became
a soldier, jealously attacked Christiane Woost, a 46-year-old widow with whom he had
been living. The rash act resulted in Woost’s death. Due to the shocking nature of this
event and highly publicized trial, Beethoven almost certainly was aware of this
sensationalized incident. Seemingly, he then wrote his Ninth Symphony as if in direct
contrast to the horror that humankind seemed capable of. Rather than dwell on the
demoralizing tale, one could argue that Beethoven deliberately chose to highlight the
great lengths that individuals go to in order to help one another with the uplifting and
supporting words of the composition.
This semi-staged production will feature a host of incredibly talented artists including
Utah native Celena Shafer (soprano) as Marie, Deborah Nansteel (mezzo) as
Margret, Chad Shelton (tenor) as the Captain, and Zachary Nelson (baritone) in the
title role of Wozzeck.
The genius of Robertson’s programming lies in the stark contrast between these first
two pieces and the grand finale—none other than Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9,
known for its “Choral” movement that features the famous “Ode to Joy.” A true
masterpiece of the classical repertoire, this symphony exudes an overwhelming sense
of joy and unity. Members of the Utah Symphony Chorus will once again join the
ensemble, making this performance a profound celebration of the human spirit.
By juxtaposing the hopeless and bleak with the joyful and celebratory, Robertson
enables audience members to appreciate the breadth of human existence. In doing so,
he encourages listeners to contemplate the potential for personal growth and
unity—both individually as well as a community. The inclusion of the vocal soloists and
the Utah Symphony Chorus in both halves of the program further underscores the
transformative nature of the performance from the contemplative and somber moments
of the first half to the ultimate exultation in the epic finale. With a talented ensemble of
artists and the masterful leadership of David Robertson, this performance is sure to be
an unforgettable musical journey that inspires the audience to seek a better version of
For more information, please visit
Friday, November 3, 2023 7:30 p.m., Saturday, November 4, 2023 7:30 p.m.
Abravanel Hall, 123 W South Temple, Salt Lake City, Utah
BRUCKNER: Christus factus est
BERG: Act III from Wozzeck
BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 9 “Choral”
· USUO mobile app
· By Phone: USUO Patron Services, (801) 533-NOTE (6683)
· In person: 123 W South Temple, Salt Lake City, Utah
· ArtTix outlets
Season Sponsor for Utah Symphony | Utah Opera is the George S. and Dolores Doré
Eccles Foundation. The Utah Symphony expresses its gratitude to Masterworks
Series Sponsor O.C. Tanner and Conductor Sponsor Brian Greeff and Detgen Greeff.
About Utah Symphony | Utah Opera
Utah Symphony | Utah Opera connects Utah communities through great live music and
is the flagship arts organization of the Intermountain West. USUO’s 87 full-time
symphony musicians and five opera Resident Artists perform for more than 450,000
citizens in Utah and the Intermountain region each year, presenting more than 175
symphonic and chamber music performances; week-long runs of four full operas; and
music education programs for students and adult learners. The organization’s statewide
service includes tours featuring outdoor performances against the backdrop of Utah’s
natural beauty as well as education offerings—most recently, the six-stop Music
Elevated Tour in August 2023.
Founded in 1940 and one of just 16 year-round orchestras in the U.S., the Utah
Symphony performs at downtown Salt Lake City’s Maurice Abravanel Hall, at its Deer Valley Music Festival in Park City, in Utah Opera productions, and at venues throughout the state of Utah.
The symphony has embarked on seven international tours and performed at Carnegie Hall in 2016 in honor of its 75th anniversary season. The orchestra’s celebrated recording legacy includes more than 100 recordings; in April 2023, its latest album featuring Messiaen’s Des canyons aux étoiles—a work inspired
by three scenic Utah locations—was released to great critical acclaim. Thierry Fischer, who led the Utah Symphony as Music Director from 2014 to 2023, was named Music Director Emeritus beginning in the 2023-24 season.
Since 1978, Utah Opera has provided citizens with distinguished and entertaining
productions at Salt Lake City’s historic Janet Quinney Lawson Capitol Theatre—showcasing emerging and established artists, celebrating traditional works, and championing new works and the American operatic tradition. Utah Opera is one of just six opera companies in the U.S. with full production capabilities, including in-house costume design and set-building; the company currently has costumes for 50
productions and 19 full sets in its inventory. Utah Opera’s Resident Artist program is
nationally recognized for providing invaluable career-training opportunities for
professional singers and pianists.
USUO leads in music education, with interactive and immersive education programs
that engage and inspire tomorrow’s musicians and music-lovers. In the community and
in classrooms, these programs serve more than 91,000 students annually and reach
every school district in Utah on a three-year rotation.

Media Contact: Megs Vincent, Communications Manager
Utah Symphony | Utah Opera | (801) 869-9021

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