Symphony rings in New Year with laughs, gasps, and the “Ode to Joy”
Vintage cabaret rivals highbrow tradition in Oregon Symphony’s delightful New Year Celebration
With near certainty we can presume that cabaret and Beethoven’s Ninth have never (ever) been programmed back to back, but this unlikely pairing is precisely the model that’s made the Oregon Symphony’s annual Ode to Joy: New Year’s Celebration a smashing success—and a splendid good time.
Since its debut three years ago, audiences have celebrated the New Year alongside the Oregon Symphony with a festive performance of Beethoven’s magnificent Ninth Symphony, preceded by something a little less traditional but no less exhilarating. In 2013, it was Pink Martini’s Thomas Lauderdale who led a cavalcade of his closest friends in an evening of spontaneous and zany entertainment; last season, the Ninth was opened by hometown hero and national jazz sensation Esperanza Spalding. And this season? The Symphony welcomes cabaret diva Meow Meow, whose edgy dramatics and glamorous flair has sold out halls across London, Melbourne, New York, and other cities where the once-underground art form is enjoying a surging revival.
Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is an obvious fit—what better way to turn over the proverbial new leaf than with a grand-scale display of pure jubilation? It’s triumphant “Ode to Joy” finale has been used for decades to mark victory, to denote nationalism and pride, and, having appeared on soundtracks from A Clockwork Orange to Die Hard, to evoke elation in pop culture. Its effect on listeners is clear. Cabaret, on the other hand, known for its impromptu laughs, cheap thrills, and participatory nature, is emotionally provocative. It’s instinctive, unstructured, and totally unrestrained. It’s about channeling the energy of art and audience alike to unbutton a buttoned-up society; as much as cabaret will delight your senses, it also wants to challenge them—it wants to make you squirm.
So while the juxtaposition of mainstream classical music with dive-driven cabaret may at first seem perplexing, both Beethoven’s Ninth and Meow Meow’s act share a trait befitting of any festivity meant to restore and renew: they have the power to transcend barriers—political, social, cultural, artistic—and create a truly authentic, forward-looking experience. As always, the Oregon Symphony’s New Year’s Celebration entangles two traditions; this time it’s the refreshing frankness of boundary-pushing cabaret and the decided optimism of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” and it perfectly hits the mark.
The Oregon Symphony’s Ode to Joy: A New Year’s Celebration runs December 29-30 at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall (7:30 pm). Tickets start at $45. Reserved seats and information at OrSymphony.org, or call 503-228-1353