Music for God

The Choral Symphony Laxson Auditorium/Cascade Theater May 14-15

Ever climbing fresh heights, the North State Symphony reached a new peak this past weekend with two magnificent sellout performances of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony at Chico’s Laxson Auditorium and Redding’s Cascade Theater. Brilliantly directed by Kyle Wiley Pickett, the symphony, University Chorus and the A Capella Choir were in top form for this incredibly difficult and physically draining musical marathon.

Writers are often at a loss to describe this work, the apotheosis of classicism and the linchpin of nascent romanticism, first conducted by a totally deaf Beethoven (who had to be stopped and shown the cheering audience), because it so clearly surpasses any verbalization.

It opens with a kind of cosmic sunrise, blending hints of expansiveness with birdsongs, dark explosions suggesting larger themes and uneasy anticipation. The “Second Movement,” with its scurrying triplets, mixes otherworldly scamperings with a quasi-pastoral second theme, while the “Third” takes us into the sublime of rolling meadows punctuated by three-note hints of what’s to come.

I see the great “Fourth Movement” as following the Hegelian principle of growing one’s understanding through combining opposites into syntheses, which then combine with other bits of life into ever-larger syntheses. Thus, out of the disparate confusion of the universe, the tunes of the first three movements are rejected, the tune hinted at in the woodwinds is accepted by the cellos and basses, permeates the orchestra but then stumbles and must be joined by a voice that, proving insufficient, must be joined by a quartet and then a chorus, whose serious loudness must be countered by an out-of-the-silence jaunty people’s march and so on, until the whole carries us, following Schiller’s words, upward to a place “vor Gott,” before God.

We don’t get to stand before God in this life, but no work suggests that possibility better than this.