Berkeley Symphony caps 50th season with epic Beethoven’s Ninth remix

June 12 performance reimagines masterpiece with new text by U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith, plus new work by Berkeley composer Jimmy Lopéz Bellido.

Berkeley Symphony music director Joseph Young at a performance in Zellerbach Hall in 2020. Credit: Dave Weiland

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Berkeley Symphony will cap off its 50th anniversary season with an epic, modern take on Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. “Symphonic III: Rejoice” reimagines the original symphony — considered one of the world’s greatest works of art and a radical call for freedom and fraternity — by including new text by former U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith that transforms it into a contemporary exploration of joy, equality, freedom, and belonging. This unforgettable season finale is Sunday, June 12, at UC Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall.

When: Sunday, June 12 at 4 p.m.

Where: UC Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall

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Beethoven’s Ninth was the first symphony from a major composer to include vocals in the final movement, setting Freidrich Schiller’s poem, “Ode to Joy” to music. Smith’s new text, which was commissioned by Carnegie Hall for the recent 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth, is a reimagining of that poem. Berkeley Symphony uses the revitalized version of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony to create a greater sense of belonging for all while exploring current cultural demands.

Former U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith wrote new text for Beethoven’s Ninth, reimagining the masterpiece for a modern audience. Credit: Rachel Eliza Griffiths

Before audiences are treated to the iconic masterpiece, they will hear a new work, “RISE,” by Berkeley’s own, composer Jimmy Lopéz Bellido. Inspired by a poem from Irish philosopher George Berkeley, after whom the city of Berkeley is named, “RISE” is a celebratory work honoring the symphony’s milestone anniversary season.

“As the final performance of our historic season, ‘Rejoice’ reflects how we work to create a sense of belonging through music, while honoring Berkeley Symphony’s legacy of innovation and inclusion,” says Joseph Young, Berkeley Symphony’s music director. “By presenting the classical favorite of Beethoven’s Ninth alongside the exciting new work of a celebrated composer of our generation, we hope that ‘Rejoice’ will set the stage for the next 50 years of sharing music that resonates with our communities.”

Celebrating 50 years

Berkeley Symphony is unique among Bay Area and American orchestras for its commitment to innovation, community and excellence. Founded in 1971 in the intellectual and artistic nexus of Berkeley, California, the orchestra is committed to performing, premiering and commissioning new music that reflects the cultural diversity and heady creative climate of its home city.

Berkeley composer Jimmy Lopéz Bellido’s “RISE” honors Berkeley Symphony’s 50th anniversary. Credit: Franciel Braga

In its 2019-2020 season, Berkeley Symphony entered a new era under Young’s leadership. He is the orchestra’s fourth music director in its 50-year history. In addition to building on the orchestra’s artistic innovation, creativity and adventurous programming, Young is committed to amplifying the voices of underrepresented composers and artists as well as continuing to tell diverse stories that reflect the local Berkeley community.

Throughout this anniversary season, Berkeley Symphony deepened its commitment to presenting unique and accessible musical experiences for all ages. 

Berkeley Symphony welcomed audiences at Downtown Berkeley’s Front Row Festival in April, where it performed with a multi-generational orchestra featuring its own musicians alongside students from the Young People’s Symphony Orchestra, Berkeley High School Orchestra, and Young Musicians Choral Orchestra. The symphony also continued “Music in the Schools” — a public school program that includes 200 in-class sessions led by symphony musicians that reach 4,700 elementary students across the Berkeley Unified School District — and “Reading is Instrumental,” a free video series created in partnership with the Berkeley Public Library.

As Berkeley Symphony looks ahead to the next 50 years, the organization is gearing up for its highly anticipated 2022-23 season. Set to feature innovative concerts, sweeping scores and vital voices, the 51st season promises another thrilling year of reimagined classics and fresh orchestral pieces.

This story was written and paid for by Berkeley Symphony, which presents unique and accessible musical experiences that respond to the shifting needs of our community. We believe that music is a living art form that must resonate with the cultural demands of our time and place. By courageously exploring diverse avenues of music and education, we create a greater sense of belonging.