Historic concert at Huntington Center was, as its title would implies, a joy

The Toledo Symphony made its Huntington Center debut with a choir of more than 1,000 voices.
The Toledo Symphony made its Huntington Center debut with a choir of more than 1,000 voices.

Beethoven’s Ninth is the world’s most beloved sing-along symphony. Nestled within its fourth and final movement lies the composer’s bold gift to mankind: Ode to Joy. The hymn’s soaring melody has been heard around the world, not just in concert halls but in shopping malls, public plazas, even war zones.

Last Sunday, the Toledo Symphony brought Ode to Joy to Huntington Center. For the popular downtown arena, it was a classical launch, a magnum of one of music’s finest vintages cracked over the Huntington’s bricks and bones. More than 1,000 singers of all ages contributed to the moment. Some 3,000 citizens showed up to savor it.

It was Toledo Symphony Day, proclaimed Toledo Mayor D. Michael Collins. At 3:30 p.m., it was sunny and bustling in downtown Toledo. A Mud Hens game ground on just around the corner. Remote control airplane enthusiasts gathered in nearby SeaGate Center. Outside the Huntington, hundreds of chatty ticketholders waited patiently for doors to open as more folks piled off TARTA buses along Jefferson Avenue.

PHOTO GALLERY: Click here for more photos from the Ode to Joy concert

It was a an urban visionary’s dream come to life. Certainly, it was a moment that would have thrilled Paul Block, Jr., the late publisher of this newspaper and an avid supporter of downtown development.

Inside, the arena bustled with final prep: Singers from 30 choirs filed into seats inside the arena, their robes and costumes a colorful backdrop for the black-clad TSO players. All had been there since just past noon, for the single rehearsal, led by Stefan Sanderling, author of the idea for this huge project.

“We decided to present the largest music production ever in northwest Ohio,” said Michael Thaman, Owens Corning CEO, longtime Toledo Symphony board member.

The Huntington and its manager, Steve Miller, are used to big productions: Walleye Hockey games, monster truck rallies, traveling rock and country shows, puppeteers, wrestling matches.

Except for hockey, these shows pull up and unload, set up, do their thing, then depart, fat paychecks in hand to be deposited far from Toledo.

This was entirely different, something Mr. Miller had been wanting since he arrived, a big show with deep local roots.

Plus, it would pull a very different crowd to his hall.

Everyone dug in to make it happen – from the TSO’s small but sturdy staff to choral directors at high schools and colleges in many of northwest Ohio’s 17 rural counties to seasoned adult choirs like Masterworks and Toledo Choral Society.

ProMedica, which hopes to relocate its headquarters to the historic steam plant on the Maumee River a few blocks away, agreed to cover costs up front. Determined fund-raising proceeded.

“With the exception of our 2011 Carnegie Hall debut, I cannot recall a time of such heightened enthusiasm and community pride in the Toledo Symphony and the region we serve,” said Kathy Carroll, TSO president and principal cheerleader.

As ticketholders — some about to hear the TSO for the first time — filed in, the Huntington crew couldn’t help but notice how friendly and calm they were.

It was a fine reunion for regulars, many of whom hadn’t set foot inside the downtown arena before. Beer with Beethoven? Why not?

On the arena floor, 13ABC anchor Tony Geftos worked the crowd, introducing Toledo Steel, the Caribbean-style drummers from the Toledo School for the Arts, and interviewing TSO bassoonist Gareth Thomas and major backers Dick Anderson and Randy Oostra.

As the symphony players entered the arena, WGTE-FM music director Brad Cresswell gave knowing but casual comments: Beethoven was the first to include choral music in a symphony, for example.

Then, it was time for Maestro Sanderling’s decisive downbeat.

Up on the Jumbotron screen – what a wonderful addition to the performance – images of symphony sections and soloists flashed, often in time with the progression through the 9th’s four movements. Hunkered down in a van outside the arena was Bob Bell, the TSO’s former president and arts guru, giving cues to two roving cameramen on stage.

Finally, around 4:45 p.m., came the centerpiece of the event, the namesake for this Ode to Joy: A Community’s Celebration of Music.

In a classical version of The Wave, the multitude of singers rose and lifted their voices in the memorable, powerful music with Friedrich Schiller’s poetry: “Joyful, joyful, we adore thee.”

No doubt Ellie Seifried, a great local singer and music enthusiast, in whose memory this concert was presented, was smiling up in heaven, perhaps even singing along.

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