Written by Mike Nelson:
As one who holds a Master’s in Music from Westminster Choir College, one of the nation’s leading choral institutions, it stands to reason that Dr. Ryan Board — at some point in his career as an internationally acclaimed conductor and singer — would have performed one of classical music’s milestone choral works, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9.
But life is not always reasonable, or logical. Which means that New West Symphony’s presentation of Beethoven’s Ninth on November 19 and 20 — joined by Pepperdine University’s Concert Choir, the Arete Choir of Thousand Oaks, and guest soloists — will be the first time that Board, Pepperdine’s director of Choral Activities, will perform the Ninth.
“It is a considerable feat, I guess, that I’ve avoided this piece,” smiles Board, who has conducted topflight ensembles performing major choral works all over the world. “And I’ve performed Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis [composed at the same time as the Ninth] multiple times. But I am eager and excited to do the Ninth, especially with New West Symphony.”
And it isn’t as if Board is unfamiliar with Beethoven or his Ninth, which broke new ground when it premiered in 1824 and soon became the standard-setter for the choral symphony.
“It’s fun to try and understand Beethoven,” Board observes. “He was an ornery, thorny and interesting musical and historical figure. I like how provides a window into his struggle through this piece that takes us on an interesting and exciting journey.
“He sets out a stalwart beginning, and then you hear his personality take over. Ultimately, he’s developing the text, focusing on the fact that, somewhere up above, there is surely a loving father. And the way he tries to master the traditional forms of music, yet break them down to serve the texts, is fascinating.”
Board agrees with Maynard Solomon, the late musicologist and Beethoven biographer, who said the Ninth is unified by its stark contrasts. “It’s tense and aggravated,” Board notes, “and then you come from these darker emotions to joy. It was really revolutionary for his time. And after he did it, everyone else said, ‘How can we surpass what Beethoven has done?’ And they couldn’t.”
Having earned his BME from the University of Northern Colorado BME, and his DMA from the Conservatory of Music and Dance at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, Board has directed choirs at prestigious venues for numerous regional, national and international events including the American Choral Directors Association’s conventions, the Prague Choral Festival, and the Piccolo Spoleto Festival’s Spotlight Series. An avid conductor of choral-orchestral literature, he has conducted works ranging from J.S. Bach’s St. John Passion to Arnold Schoenberg’s A Survivor from Warsaw.
Now in his 13th year at Pepperdine, Board directs two major ensembles: the Concert Choir, comprised of 60 to 65 students, both music and non-music majors (90 to 100 in non-pandemic years), and the “top tier” Chamber Choir, ranging from 24 to 36 students.
“Because of Covid, we’re kind of rebuilding at this time,” he says. “And because some of our students are involved in other campus musical performances, we’ll have about 40 members of the Concert Choir performing Beethoven, combined with Arete.”
It will be the first but “hopefully not the last” time that Pepperdine’s choral ensemble has sung with New West, and Board welcomes the opportunity for many reasons.
“New West, Sasha (Gurevich, NWS general manager) and Michael Christie [NWS Music Director and Conductor] have been great in reaching out to us,” he says. “And although we have a tight schedule at Pepperdine and our musicians are always busy, I wanted very much to do this.”
“When you consider the educational opportunity for college students to get into a great hall with a great professional orchestra and a top conductor in Michael Christie, it’s a catalyst for a great experience. And when you combine all of this with one of the great works of the Western musical canon, well, now you’ve been to the mountaintop. And our students will want more. That’s the power of education.
“So I see this as a way to enlighten our students. They may not know or appreciate it yet, but they will when they see all the moving parts working together — choir, soloists and orchestra. And Beethoven won’t disappoint.”
Join us November 19-20th for our Ode to Joy performances in Thousand Oaks and Camarillo, click to purchase your tickets!