After 30 vocal performances of Beethoven’s Ninth, Peter Van de Graaff still gets excited about it.
“I never get tired of the piece. It’s just so incredible,” said Van de Graaff. Van de Graaff, a bass who is fluent in several languages, has accompanied the Czech Philharmonic, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Houston Symphony. He has worked with Christopher Wilkins, Robert Page and Joseph Silverstein.
And next weekend, the Chicago native – along with three other renowned singers – will be in Wichita to perform Beethoven’s iconoclastic Ninth and Vaughan Williams’ “Serenade to Music.” The four artists will join with the Wichita Symphony Orchestra, the Wichita Symphony Orchestra Chorus, Friends Universitys Singing Quakers (Saturday ), and the Bethel College Concert Choir (April 6) to present the Orchestra’s classical season finale.
Ludwig Van Beethoven’s work uses Friedrich Schiller’s “Ode to Joy” in his symphony, while Ralph Vaughan Williams uses words from William Shakespeare. Vaughan Williams’ 12-minute “Serenade to Music” sets the stage for the longer 65-minute Beethoven classic.
“It’s (Vaughan Williams’ work) like a perfect appetizer,” said Daniel Hege, the Wichita Symphony Orchestra’s music director and conductor. “At times it’s hauntingly beautiful.”
The first time Van de Graaff sang Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony was for the Utah Symphony. He fondly remembers the majesty of the piece and said that each time he sings the role he feels different.
“It is the most amazing ending of any piece ever written,” Van de Graaff said. “You can’t help but get chills when you sing it.”
Although he has sung Beethoven’s work many times, Van de Graaff said, because of this symphony, the concert with the WSO will be the highlight of his season.
Van de Graaff believes the pairing of Vaughn Williams’ and Beethoven’s pieces is brilliant. He has only sung “Serenade to Music” three times with an orchestra.
“It takes your breath away. It’s so beautiful,” Van de Graaff said. “The music brings tears to your eyes. Shakespeare is speaking about the power of music, and how great it is, and how it moves you.”
Van de Graaff, who also hosts a classical radio show based in Chicago, has worked with Hege before. He enjoys the conductor’s command of the orchestra and his style.
Barbara Shirvis, soprano; Barbara Rearick, alto; and Matthew Di Battista, tenor, will join Van de Graaff onstage. Shirvis sang for a decade with the New York City Opera, taking roles in “The Magic Flute” and “Mikado.” Rearick has performed with the Chicago Symphony, the Spokane Symphony and at Carnegie Hall. She has sung the roles of Lucretia and Maddalena and is a member of the voice faculty at Princeton University.
Di Battista has sung in Italy, France and Portugal, as well as with Opera Theatre of St. Louis, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Metropolitan Opera. Di Battista was trained at both Boston University and the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.
Along with the soloists, the Orchestra will bring in three choirs. The Wichita Symphony Orchestra Chorus will play both nights while Friends University Singing Quakers will join in on Saturday evening, and Bethel College Concert Choir will perform April 6. This will mark the first time WSO is performing “Serenade to Music,” while the Ninth was last performed in 2007.
“The connective tissue between the two pieces is quite notable,” Hege said. “Both Vaughn Williams and Beethoven adjusted the text to fit their work. They are both poetic and pictorial.”