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Symphony set to celebrate Beethoven's 'Ode to Joy'

Beethoven wasn't in the best of circumstances when he wrote his famous Ninth Symphony ("Ode to Joy").

He was completely deaf, he didn't have any love relationship, he had poor health and a strained relationship with his nephew.

"The extraordinary thing about Beethoven - the reason he is beloved - is that despite all these difficulties, he was able to give us music that was extraordinarily positive," said Modesto Symphony Orchestra Music Director David Lockington, who will conduct the piece at the Gallo Center for the Arts next weekend. "Most of his music carries a spirit which is the celebration of life."

Beethoven's Ninth Symphony is distinctive because at the time it was completed in 1824, it was the longest ever written and features singers, Lockington said. It is set to the text of a Friedrich Schiller poem that expresses humanist enlightenment ideas.

The work promotes peace and is a reaction to the spread of Napoleon's forces through Europe, Lockington said. During Beethoven's time, Napoleon's forces twice occupied his hometown of Vienna.

"It's his response to war that we're seeing 12 years after Napoleon was deposed and sent to Elba," Lockington said.

The Modesto program will feature soloists Esther Heideman (soprano), Katherine McKee (mezzo), Thomas Cooley (tenor), Kevin Deas (bass), the Modesto Symphony Orchestra Chorus and the California State University, Stanislaus, Concert Chorale and Chamber Singers.

Also on the program is Francis Poulenc's "Gloria," set to Latin text from the Roman Catholic Mass. The piece was composed 50 years ago.

The work has a lot of different qualities, Lockington said, with some fanfare parts and some humor to it. Some of the work sounds like it could come from vaudeville, while other parts are very moving. But all of it is built around one main idea.

"This is celebrating the glory and power and the majesty of God," Lockington said. "This is a very spiritual work."

Both the Beethoven and Poulenc works celebrate life and encourage audiences to relish this experience of being alive, Lockington said.

WHAT: Modesto Symphony Orchestra: "Ode to Joy"

WHEN: 8 p.m. May 15-16

WHERE: Rogers Theater, Gallo Center for the Arts, 1000 I St., Modesto

TICKETS: $30-$70

CALL: 338-2100

ONLINE: www.galloarts.org

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