Beethoven's 9th crowns Greater Bridgeport Symphony's 70th season

“For me, it’s an honor to be conducting the Greater Bridgeport Symphony Orchestra.  I love making music and so do the musicians. They are so generous with their instruments. They care so much and enjoy what they do,” said Eric Jacobsen, the orchestra’s conductor and a much-honored cellist.

Eric Jacobsen has been with the orchestra a couple of years, but his presence, style and enthusiasm have  given the orchestra  new energy and dedication that can be heard and felt as they play. This is their 70th season and the Dec. 12 program, Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, with the Mendelssohn Choir of Connecticut and the Fairfield University Chamber Singers, is a stunning choice. Soloists that evening will be soprano Sara Heaton, tenor Alex Richardson, mezzo soprano Nerea Berraondo, and bass-baritone Stephen Bryant.

Mark Halstead, a successful architect and an exuberant music lover, is the orchestra’s operations director. He tells this bit of musical history:  “Beethoven was completely deaf when he wrote the Ninth Symphony. His productivity, despite his deafness, is one of the musical mysteries that defies explanation. Beethoven conducted the premiere of the symphony, though it had been recorded and dubbed before. When the music ended, Beethoven was still conducting.  He was gently turned to face the audience and receive applause. It was a very touching moment.”

The 9th Symphony was written when Bridgeport was an affluent, fashionable city. It has since gone through many rough times and is now aiming to become a great place to live and work again. Success of the Greater Bridgeport Symphony is key to this endeavor. Rebuilding the importance of culture and the arts is a determined work-in-progress for Bridgeport’s future.

The symphony’s performers are a mix of ages, styles and varied experiences. “This is not a ‘pick-up’ orchestra, but  members of a loyal  group of supremely talented men and women. The remarkable ingredient is their relationship to music, their mastery of their instruments and devotion to their orchestra. Conductor/cellist Eric Jacobsen is only 33 years old, but a resume of his achievements, honors and awards is mind-boggling. He is the founder, with his brother Colin, a violinist, of The Knights, an adventurous orchestra, and Brooklyn Rider, an inventive string quartet. He has played all across this country as well as Cologne, Shanghai, Azerbaijan, China, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, Switzerland and more.

“He is exactly what we needed. Dec. 12 is his ninth concert with us and audience reaction has been tremendous. He is the kind of conductor who will occasionally stop a rehearsal and ask his musicians ‘How do you feel about this? ‘ That makes such a difference,” said Halstead.

“An orchestra grounds a community,” he said, “and we in turn must never let our artistic side down. I love the symphony and I’d do anything for it. We are interested in bringing the experience of live, classical music to a younger audience. There is a connection between the music that has survived centuries and much of contemporary music and that can be an exciting discovery.”

The fact that the orchestra has grown and survived, reaching its 70th year is a testament to the superiority, stamina and pride of everyone who is connected to it. Underneath it all is the belief that music of  the past is as moving and stirring today as when it was created. Supported by many generous sponsors and individuals, it is an indispensable example of the immortality of brilliant composers and their interpreters.

For tickets to the 70th Anniversary concert of Beethoven’s Ninth at the Klein Auditorium in Bridgeport at 8.p.m., visit The Greater Bridgeport Symphony Orchestra website or call 203-576-0263. The Klein Auditorium is at 910 Fairfield Avenue, Bridgeport.