After concluding a successful month-long marathon of top-notch concerts - director Nike Wagner's debut -, the Beethovenfest looks ahead to the Beethoven Year 2020.
After the last variation in the finale of Ludwig van Beethoven's "Eroica" Symphony, strong applause broke out for the Bamberger Symphony Orchestra under conductor Juraj Valcuha. Earlier, Arabella Steinbacher had played the solo part in Erich Wolfgang Korngold's Violin Concerto, a virtuoso showcase of the Hollywood composer's film melodies.
But the ultimate work of musical variations was the first piece on the evening's playbill, the humorous and strangely distorted "Variations Without a Fugue" by Argentine composer Mauricio Kagel, which recalls a work by Johannes Brahms - who, for his part, based his variations on a theme by George Frideric Handel. The result: variations on variations.
The Beethoven Hall was sold out, and at the subsequent reception, Bonn's Mayor Jürgen Nimptsch dubbed the season a resounding success, with 32 of the 54 concerts sold out and 34,000 tickets sold - 87 percent of the total available. With 36 percent of the budget coming from municipal funds, the mayor had a stake in the festival's success.
Wagner does Beethoven
This was the first season bearing the artistic signature of Nike Wagner. Concentration on an overall theme and an interdisciplinary approach are the catchwords of this director, who wants her festival to stand out for individual programming and to be more than just a stop on the international tours of top orchestras.
In effect, the "Variations" motto found its expression in a wide variety of works with theme and variations, cover versions and in varied sounds, such as those served up by the enthusiastically-cheered period instrument orchestra Anima Eterna from Bruges.
Where the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra gave a comparatively run-of-the-mill rendition of Gustav Mahler's Ninth Symphony on the festival's second evening, both orchestras-in-residence - Anima Eternea and the Budapest Festival Orchestra - stood out, the latter with a take on Mahler's Seventh not to be outdone for fresh audacity and dynamic contrasts.
Headliners in the chamber concerts included composer/clarinetist Jörg Widmann and his violinist sister Carolin Widmann - and star cellist Sol Gabetta.
Beyond the concert routine
A symposium titled "Listening" explored the concert ritual from Beethoven's time to the present. Exploring other art forms, evenings of dance included a performance by the Goteborg Dance Company - and in another performance titled "Landscape," pianist and composer Francesco Tristano served up the music: Bach's Goldberg Variations and his own works. The dance element of the evening didn't particularly fit, however, and choreographer Saburo Teshigawara's limited vocabulary of movements proved mildly irritating.
Commissioned by Deutsche Welle, a new composition by Chinese-Mongolian artist Zulan was cheered in the Beethoven Hall - and her band "Mongolism" generated a blend of film music, world music and avant-garde sounds to a captivating, almost rock beat.
The five-year plan
With the 250th anniversary of the birth of Ludwig van Beethoven coming up in 2020, a multi-year project was initiated in past season. Each year, the Beethovenfest commissions a new piece, with the respective composer asked to make artistic reference to a work by Beethoven.
This year's world premiere, "Quando ci risvegliamo" (When We Awaken) by Italian composer Salvatore Sciarrino could hardly be compared to the work of reference - Beethoven's Choral Fantasy. The delicate and sensitive composition was worth a listen nonetheless - twice. The project stipulates that the new music be repeated in the same concert, and all six will be recapitulated in the target year 2020.
Athough clearly successful, the Beethovenfest hardly has room for expansion. Nonetheless, director Nike Wagner, who turned 70 this year, has a personal goal, expressed in an interview with DW: "My dream would be for audiences to trust Beethovenfest programs and that people will say, 'Ms.Wagner has done a good job up to now, I've never been disappointed. Let's go back!' I'll be happy if a curious and open spirit prevails here in Bonn and in the region - as in any city where people try to do exceptional things."