The Boise Philharmonic gave a stunning and powerful performance of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 to a sold-out Morrison Center on Saturday. With slightly more than 300 musicians and vocalists on stage, it was as close as the orchestra can get to an "Ode to Joy" wall of sound.
The Ninth is one of those classical works that becomes a touchstone for audiences and orchestras. Like Gustav Mahler's Fifth, which the philharmonic aced in 2008, its epic quality also makes it a milestone.
For the Boise Philharmonic, its Master Chorale and the combined choirs of the College of Idaho and Northwest Nazarene University, this was a spectacular achievement.
They captured all the musical nuance, color, vocal power and emotional expression in the music, leaving the audience floating on an inspired high.
The musicians coalesced into a seamless force with the melodies and themes rolling from bass to violin effortlessly. Music director Robert Franz conducted like a dancer, pulling out layer upon layer of musical contrasts. Together they executed exact timing and perfect tone.
Four excellent solo vocalists led the choirs. Guest baritone Derrick Parker introduced the iconic "Ode to Joy" melody with his rich, bright baritone that filled the concert hall. This was Parker's second performance in Boise. In 2000, he sang Figaro in Opera Idaho's "Le Nozze di Figaro."
He was joined by soaring tenor Christopher Bengochea and delightful sopranos Emily Newton and Michele Detwiler. A Metropolitan Opera artist, Newton sang in bell-like tones. Boise's Detwiler wove her honeyed mezzo through the melody with ease.
You can see Bengochea and Newton perform in Opera Idaho's "Pagliacci" on Friday and Sunday.
Led by director James Jirak, the chorale and choirs were impressive. Perhaps the most amazing aspect of the program was Franz's brilliance in juxtaposing the Ninth against Beethoven's Symphony No. 1: "The alpha and omega of Beethoven," as Franz told the audience in his opening remarks.
The contrast between the two symphonies played back to back gave insight into the composer's trajectory and showed how far he pushed the symphonic form in his lifetime. Nothing was the same after the Ninth. And if audiences were awestruck and confused by it in 1824, the audience Saturday was rapt and enlightened.
Dana Oland: 377-6442, Twitter: @IDS_DanaOland