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Culture

Beethoven Enters the Modern Era in Bonn

Classical music fans from around the world are descending on Bonn, Germany, for the annual Beethoven Festival. But festival goers expecting to hear Beethoven’s classics are in for a surprise.

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His music rings out through the centuries: Ludwig van Beethoven.

Every year the former German capital on the Rhine opens up its concert houses and stages and plays tribute to its most famous son, Ludwig van Beethoven. For three and a half weeks, the city hosts a variety of events dedicated to the composer’s music. For classical fans, many of whom have traveled half way around the world, the International Beethoven Festival is a highlight on the music calendar.

This year the festival, which kicked off on Sept. 20 with a performance by the Oslo Philharmonic, will feature 54 different events scattered throughout the city and nearby venues. The program encompasses everything from the traditional classical-romantic repertoire to premiers of new works.

Stadt Bonn Beethovendenkmal

Beethoven's memory is everywhere in his birthtown of Bonn -- here as a statue in the city center.

In the past, the festival organizers have placed great emphasis on attracting world famous orchestras, conductors and soloists to perform Beethoven’s greatest masterpieces. This year will be no different; several renowned orchestras will be participating in the events, including the Berlin Philharmonic and the Concertgebouw Orchester from Amsterdam. Six Beethoven symphonies, all five piano concertos and a complete cycle of the 16 string quartets are featured on the program.

Beethoven Festival in Bonn vom 20.09.-15.10.2003

Beethoven Festival in Bonn from Sept. 20 to Oct. 10, 2003.

Charting new territory

Less the classical music fan fear a one-composer festival, the organizers have decided to highlight composers Beethoven is perceived to have influenced. This year the spotlight is turned to the modernism of the Second Viennese School and its composers Alban Berg, Arnold Schönberg and Anton von Webern.

Franz Willnauer, the festival’s director, believes such a combination of old and new will present both a "challenge to audiences" and a step into new territory for the festival.

"We’ve given our concept an underlying theme that is unusual and challenging but bound to generate interest among music lovers even far outside of Bonn," says Willnauer, whose five-year tenure comes to an end this year. Despite breaking new ground by offering music from the Second Viennese School, the director views the more modern composers as Beethoven’s heirs. "Arnold Schönberg and his circle regarded their retrospective glance at the Viennese classics, and especially Beethoven, as a deep-seated obligation... Our ambition was to bring these connections to the surface," the director explains in the festival's Web site.

For the festival’s director, the most important aspect about hosting the annual event is the opportunity to present Beethoven not as a figure from a museum, but rather as a "great innovator, who has influenced composers over the centuries."

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