Share story

Asked for his “take” on Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, Seattle Symphony director Ludovic Morlot chuckles, then asks “Have you got a lifetime for a response?”

If anything is worth a long, long answer, it’s Beethoven’s last completed symphony, which received its world premiere in Vienna in 1824.

The deaf composer was in attendance.

Strong emotions are evoked by the Ninth, which broke classical-music rules by incorporating a chorus in its final movement.

This week, save 90% on digital access.

With its exhilarating “Ode to Joy” finale, the Ninth has been a fixture in Seattle Symphony’s end-of-the-year programming for a long time, always culminating in a thrilling New Year’s Eve performance followed by dancing in Benaroya Hall’s lobby and a countdown to midnight.

This year’s concert, scheduled mere hours before the arrival of 2013, will feature Morlot conducting the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, Seattle Symphony Chorale, soprano Nicole Cabell, mezzo-soprano Susan Platts, tenor Clifton Forbis and bass Eric Owens through the deeply stirring piece.

The Dec. 31 event will also star the brilliant young British pianist Benjamin Grosvenor performing Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2.

That’s a remarkable program to ring out 2012. But there’s an alternative: Morlot, who will, for the first time, be conducting the Beethoven work for Seattle audiences, has also paired it for Dec. 28-30 concerts with Astor Piazzolla’s “The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires,” a set of tango compositions written between 1965-70.

“The Ninth is usually paired with something like Rachmaninov or Wagner,” Morlot says. “Being in a holiday mood, I just wanted a contrast to that.”

Reflecting on his previous experiences conducting the Ninth — the last time was in his native France — Morlot says, “It’s such a monster of a piece. One feels really small approaching it. I work on it quite differently from other Beethoven symphonies. Usually I try to stay away from recordings of music I’m about to conduct. But there isn’t a piece of music with more possible readings or points-of-view. In order to make up my own mind, I spend a lot of time listening to it as done by everybody.”

As for “The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires,” Morlot says “It’s great music. We’ll be using the arrangement by Leonid Desyatnikov, which plays the seasons in opposite order from the way it’s usually done. I like the idea of going from spring to winter, autumn and summer.”

Desyatnikov also incorporated hints of Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” and turned the composition into a work for solo violin and orchestra.

Seattle Symphony’s principal second violin, Elisa Barston, will be handling solo duty. But it’s likely the audience will be transfixed by Cirque du Soleil tango dancers Eva Lucero and Patricio Touceda.

“It’s very lively, moody and sensual music, and a lot of fun to play,” says Barston. “I have a lot of freedom and can play around with it quite a bit. Piazzolla uses elements of the tango, but he didn’t necessarily intend his music to be done to dance. We’re adding that, and it’s just gorgeous. Having the tango element paired with the obvious joy and celebration of the Ninth is genius.”

Tom Keogh:

Custom-curated news highlights, delivered weekday mornings.