There is some music that you can feel in your soul. Beethoven's Ninth Symphony is one of those pieces.
Beethoven was surely tormented by music his entire life, as he wrote this final symphony when he had gone completely deaf. He couldn't hear the music, except in his own mind. And, perhaps, his soul.
The Billings Symphony's Saturday evening performance of the great composer's final symphony started late. The show was sold out, and people waited in the lobby trying to finagle their way into seats. Symphony executive director Sandra Culhane distracted the restless audience while the latecomers were seated.
And then the lights fell, and the concert began.
The first three movements, lovely as they are, were merely a prelude to the passionate fourth movement, featuring the iconic "Ode to Joy." The balance between the winds and the strings was even, as always, and conductor Anne Harrigan clearly felt the passion of the music - even with a few nods to the audience, like a coy shrug during a caesura in the second movement.
But the audience, and the symphony, were clearly waiting.
And the final movement was worth waiting for.
Guest soloists were baritone Jan Michael Kliewer, a music professor at Northwest College in Powell, Wyo.; tenor Jeffrey Kitto, who has performed with the Rimrock Opera and was a founding member of The Clintons; contralto Anne Kania of Shepherd, best known for her one-woman show performed throughout New Zealand and the United Kingdom, "Remembering Kathleen Ferrier"; and soprano Lisa Lombardy, a member of the Yellowstone Chamber Players as a violinist and solo singer for the Rimrock Opera and the Billings Symphony.
They could not have been better chosen. The human voice is a remarkable instrument, and Kliewer, Kitto, Kania and Lombardy are remarkable musicians.
The four singers strode onto the stage for the fourth movement, which began fiercely, with the emphasis on the low strings and the timpani. Then, the strains of "Ode to Joy" filled the theater, resonating from the cellos and double basses. The melody moved into the higher instruments, the violin section taking it over seamlessly, elegantly.
Then Kliewer's sonorous voice rose above all - even Harrigan stopped to smile at the sound - and the other soloists joined him, finally culminating with the orchestra and symphony chorale together. The only way to describe the effect is this: beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.
The symphony earned a well-deserved standing ovation from the audience, most of whom left the Alberta Bair Theater with smiles on their faces and a song in their souls.