The role of Beethoven’s final symphony in social change

03/21/2014 9:24 AM

08/08/2014 10:34 AM

Beethoven’s colossal masterpiece has played an integral role in uprisings and social reforms from Tiananmen Square in China to the dismantling of the Berlin Wall. The work has drowned out oppressors, revitalized protesters, and inspired musicians.

The documentary “Following the Ninth: In the Footsteps of Beethoven’s Final Symphony” examines the music’s role in several international movements. The film is being presented by the Tallgrass Film Association in conjunction with the Wichita Symphony Orchestra at the Orpheum Theatre on Wednesday.

When director Kerry Candaele first heard Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 he wanted to find out everything he could about both the music and the composer.

“I became a convert. I felt like I needed to knock on people’s doors and ask them if they had Beethoven in their life,” Candaele said.

Eventually, Candaele realized that this symphony was not just a beautiful piece of music but a catalyst for change. “Every day I would get stories about Beethoven and the music,” Candaele said.

The director traveled from his home in California to Chile and met people who marched in protest, and the prisoners who heard the inspirational music. Clips from the Chilean protest under Augusto Pinochet’s regime, Tiananmen Square in China and Leonard Bernstein conducting the work in Berlin are all a part of the documentary. In the film, Candaele demonstrates how art can become a catalyst for reform and a magnet for solidarity.

“Life is so much about chance,” Candaele said. “There are lots of accidents in this film.” The accidents are interviews, film footage and sound recordings that Candaele did not expect to obtain. These little gems are woven throughout the film that came out just under one year ago.

“It’s a compelling film that speaks to the universal language of this music,”said Donald Reinhold, the executive director of the Wichita Symphony Orchestra. “It shows the way that the music inspires humanity to the noble values that we all aspire to.”

After the film showing, Candaele with remain for a question and answer period with the Symphony’s music director and conductor Daniel Hege. Hege will lead the Wichita Symphony Orchestra in Beethoven’s Ninth the following week, April 5 and 6, at Century II.

Reinhold compares Beethoven’s infamous symphony to a masterpiece of art, saying that one wants to revisit the almost 200-year-old work over and over.

“It’s one of the significant landmarks of western civilization,” Reinhold said. “Besides being one of the most popular symphonies ever written, it’s one of those pieces that you revisit. It’s a work that continues to grow on us each time we hear it.”

Candaele used several Japanese orchestras in the documentary to perform Beethoven’s work. After working on the film for more than six years, Candaele said he never got tired of the music. In fact, he wrote a book, “Journey’s with Beethoven,” about the entire experience. “It still gives me goose bumps when I hear it,” Candaele said. “I love Beethoven’s music.”

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