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Released February 25, 2004


HATTIESBURG -- Four professional vocalists, some with local ties, will join The University of Southern Mississippi Symphony Orchestra to perform what is believed to be one of Ludwig van Beethoven's greatest masterpieces, his Ninth Symphony.

This performance also celebrates the opening week of Mississippi's latest international exhibition, "The Glory of Baroque Dresden." In addition to the guest soloists, the orchestra will unite with the Hattiesburg Choral Union, the Delta State University Chorus, and the Millsaps College Singers at 8 p.m. March 6 at Thalia Mara Hall in Jackson, following a preview concert in Hattiesburg at 7:30 p.m. March 4 in Bennett Auditorium on the university campus.

Under the baton of Dr. Jay Dean, musical director for the Symphony Orchestra at Southern Miss, the quartet of soloists include native Mississippian Dr. Maryann Kyle, Jackson resident Lester Senter Wilson, LSU's voice/opera division chair Robert Grayson, and Austria native Benno Schollum.

Beethoven joined a host of other composers in 1785 who raced to put Friedrich Schiller's ode "An die Freude" ("To Joy") in musical form. So strong was the ode's theme of world brotherhood and enlightenment that many young and idealistic composers of the time were immediately drawn to its message.

Beethoven's version, although it lay unfinished for three decades and subsequently became his last symphony, was different from the rest-it has been hailed as "perfect" and "sublime." The music is of unprecedented difficulty, especially for the solo vocalists.

Kyle, a soprano and assistant professor of voice at Southern Miss, can attest to the difficulty of the piece. "The vocal range, its high range in particular, can be quite challenging to the vocalists, as well as the fluctuating dynamic levels. There are times when our voices must be quite loud and then quickly quite soft."

Under Dean's direction, the Southern Miss Symphony has performed some type of musical event for every major exhibition that has been presented in Jackson during the last decade. Thus, being no stranger to the concept of what these exhibits can do for Mississippi's cultural image, Dean had no difficulty in selecting a piece that best personified the intent of unity through exchange.

"Beethoven's Ninth Symphony is one of the two most well-known choral and orchestral works in the world," Dean explained. "The whole message of the piece is brotherhood, freedom and unity. And, that is what all these exhibitions have been about-in terms of unifying humanity and nationalities."

Kyle emphatically proclaims Beethoven's Ninth Symphony as one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written, even with all its technical bravado. "It's one of those pieces that even if you don't know Schiller's text or of what we are singing, he created an uplifting, exciting piece that fills you with joy and happiness."

Kyle has sung leading roles with numerous opera companies, including the Chattanooga Opera, Des Moines Opera, East Tennessee Opera, LSU Opera, Gulf Coast Opera, and of course, the opera program at Southern Miss. She appeared as Micaela in Carmen, opposite internationally renowned mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves and as a guest soloist of the Miami Festival, opposite famed bass-baritone William Warfield.

In addition to her duties as vocal instructor at Southern Miss, she is the director of the university's Southern Opera and Music Theatre program

Senter Wilson, a native of Louisiana and a mezzo-soprano, began her career with the Rossini heroines in La Cenerentola, The Italian Girl in Algiers, and The Barber of Seville. She has performed with opera companies in New Orleans, New York, Charleston (S.C.), Grand Rapids (Mich.), Knoxville, Shreveport, Jackson, and Memphis, to name a few and with numerous symphony orchestras, nationally and internationally. She made her New York debut with a piece commissioned for her.

Recently, Senter Wilson completed the recording of two CDs, one called Somebody's Darling, a collection of music from the Civil War, and another called The Owl and the Pussycat, which includes other songs from the collection of Mrs. Jefferson Davis. The music for both CDs came from the collection at the Mississippi State Museum.

Tenor Robert Grayson is a Kirkpatrick Endowed Professor at LSU and has enjoyed a 30-year career as a leading tenor with many opera companies, including a decade as a leading tenor at the New York City Opera in Mefistofele, Carmen, Norma, La Boheme, Madame Butterfly, Tosca, and La Traviata. He was also part of a recording of Antony and Cleopatra by New World Records that received a Grammy Award for best classical recording.

During his tenure at LSU, Grayson has been widely credited with revitalizing the quality of LSU Opera artistically and programmatically. He returned to the voice studio last fall, where he intends to add to his catalogue of working professional singers, several of whom are now performing with companies in New York City.

Born in Klagenfurt, Austria, baritone Benno Schollum studied singing at the Vienna Music Hochschule (now the University for Music in Vienna). Having founded the Franz Schubert Institute in 1978, he is a permanent member of the teaching staff, specializing in diction.

Despite concentrating on his teaching career, Schollum has a varied stage repertoire that includes many operetta and opera roles as well as a large part of the Classical-Romantic Lied and oratorio repertoire.

Thus, with a choir of more than 250 singers, a full orchestra and four talented guest soloists, the greatest challenge Dean faces is having everyone fit on stage.

The "glory" begins in Hattiesburg March 4 as the Southern Miss Symphony presents a preview concert to a home crowd at 7:30 p.m. at Bennett Auditorium in Hattiesburg as part of the Symphony's 83rd season, sponsored by BancorpSouth. Tickets for the March 4 Hattiesburg performance are $18, $16 and $14.

Tickets for the Jackson opening week performance at 8 p.m. March 6 at Thalia Mara Hall are $35, $25, and $15. For tickets to either concert, call the Southern Miss Ticket Office at (601) 266-5418 or 800-844-8425, or visit

Tickets are also available for a special March 6 VIP package, that includes a reception, a private viewing of the exhibition, and concert admission. The package cost is $75 per person. For tickets and information, call the Symphony Orchestra office at (601) 266-4001.



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March 4, 2004 12:57 PM