Universal appeal of joy and unity in Beethoven’s best

Updated: Mar 16, 2020


Ode to Joy | March 28 | Thalia Mara Hall | 7:30 pm

This culminating concert of the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra’s diamond anniversary season — Ode to Joy — wraps up the Bravo series with a glorious finish in Beethoven’s 9th symphony and its themes of universal brotherhood and understanding.

That strong thread winds through the music onstage, and behind the scenes, too. MSO, a core arts anchor in the capital city, connects with our local community with lead-up events and a performance that’ll feature five guest choirs — 240 voices strong! — and four international and national guest soloists.

“The piece speaks of things that are as vitally important to us today, as they were in Beethoven’s time — brotherhood, unity and peace among all peoples,” says Michael Beattie, MSO president and executive director. Beethoven’s 9th, his last complete symphony, was also the first by a major composer to use voices in a symphony. The words sung in its final movement are from Friedrich Schiller’s poem “Ode to Joy”.

The concert, 7:30 p.m. on March 28 at Thalia Mara Hall, also includes Arvo Pärt’s minimalist masterpiece, “Fratres” (Brothers).

Related events start as early as Tuesday, March 10, when MSO joins the Mississippi Museum of Art’s monthly Art Night. The 6 p.m. program focuses on the concert’s “Ode to Joy” finale with comments by Maestro Crafton Beck, “Lift Every Voice and Sing” (known as the black national anthem) and Gwendolyn Magee’s art quilt “Our New Day Begun”, from her series inspired by the anthem. “The themes in ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’ connect with themes in ‘Ode to Joy,’ especially as they relate to a diverse community with a painful past”, Beattie says.


On March 17, join Maestro Beck for a screening of the powerful documentary “Following the Ninth”, and the global impact of Beethoven’s masterpiece and its role as an inspiring anthem of liberation, from the struggles at Tiananmen Square to the fall of the Berlin Wall. The screening is 7 p.m. on March 17 at the Millsaps College Christian Center, McMullan Lecture Hall. Refreshments to follow. Event is FREE and open to the public.

Beethoven’s 9th unifies in both song and substance for the five guest choirs — Mississippi Chorus and choirs from Mississippi College, Millsaps College, Tougaloo College and Jackson State University — as it brings together a diverse set of backgrounds, ages and more for the choral symphony. The size of the work and forces required offer a unique opportunity.

“In Crafton’s translation, Beethoven even says, ‘This is a kiss for all humanity,’ and that is certainly the mood of the music,” says Mark Nabholz, who directs the Mississippi Chorus and the MC Singers. “It’s just so exuberant and powerful and positive — remarkable considering the composer’s personal struggles with deafness", he says.

“That’s the overwhelming feeling the chorus is trying to convey — that sense that we’re all in this together, let’s get along.” Nabholz draws, too, on his own experience as a chorister with this work. “As I’ve been telling the Mississippi Chorus and my students, it really is a life-changing experience”.

Tougaloo College Concert Choir Director Karl Twyner, says his singers are having fun with “Ode to Joy’s” German, while striving to capture Beethoven’s rhythm and intent, plus the piece’s emotional power. “I use the analogy of almost a love story..… When the choir breaks into spontaneous shouts, it’s like a wedding reception attitude, there’s so much joy there”.

The operative word is “freude” (“joy” in German), Millsaps Singers Director Jonathon Trotter tells his students. An abiding sense of brotherhood is at the work’s core, and it’s a frequent topic for the choir, too — “the idea that it’s the bonds we make with each other that is the important part of choral music; the strength of the ties with the singers around you...… This piece about joy and brotherhood represents everything we’re about as a choir”.

The concert’s guest soloists find the same joys and hopes in this timeless work that’s not only considered Beethoven’s ultimate creation, but also one of the greatest achievements in Western music.

Othalie Graham, soprano | Christin-Marie Hill, mezzo-soprano | John Pickle, tenor | Luis Ledesma, baritone

“I am so excited to return to the Mississippi Symphony and the dynamic conductor, Maestro Beck”, says soprano Othalie Graham, hailed for her thrilling timbre, power and appearances with Toledo Opera, Opera Carolina, Detroit Symphony Orchestra and more. "Beethoven 9th has the universal appeal of joy and unity. This is the ultimate feel-good piece and I always feel uplifted when I sing it".

Mezzo-soprano Christin-Marie Hill, celebrated for her powerful, warm-hued voice, has performed with the symphonies of Atlanta, Boston, Arkansas and more. “The global landscape has changed massively since I sang my first Beethoven 9th symphony”, Hill says. “With each passing year, the message of this piece —  that we are called to a higher humanity and a greater sense of unity — resonates ever more deeply for me."

“It is a joyous reminder that community and fellowship is one of our greatest purposes in life and essential to our happiness”.

Baritone Luis Ledesma and tenor John Pickle complete the soloist lineup for this grand concert — a fitting finale for the diamond anniversary season and a celebration of MSO’s enduring spirit and deep community ties.


3.28.20 / Thalia Mara Hall / 7:30pm / Jackson, MS

General Admission Tickets $27 & up: buy here >

Students/children (ages 4-18) $5 

Concert program:

  • Arvo Pärt, Fratrês (Brothers)

  • Ludwig Van Beethoven, Symphony No. 9 in D minor, op. 125 Othalie Graham, soprano Christin-Marie Hill, mezzo-soprano John Pickle, tenor Luis Ledesma, baritone Jackson State University Concert Choral Millsaps Singers Mississippi College Singers The Mississippi Chorus Tougaloo College Concert Choir

Concert generously sponsored by:

Selby and Richard McRae Foundation

Wells Fargo

This project is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts