Beethoven's era was marked by revolution and unrest in Europe - features reflected in his work. A Beethovenfest symposium examined the interplay between music, freedom and utopia from centuries past to today.
Can music be a path to utopia? Symposium participants considered the issue
"Into the Open - Utopia and Freedom in Music" is the motto for the 2010 Beethovenfest, but the meaning behind the phrase is difficult to pin down. That's why this year's festival featured a day long symposium, where music scholars, managers, composers and artists explored concrete ways in which music connects with utopia and freedom.
Looking at intersections between music history and the idea of utopia was the theme of a presentation by Dr. Ulrich Mosch of the Paul Sacher Foundation in Basel, one of the most renowned institutes for contemporary music.
Mosch noted decisive turning points in the history of music, when new forms of expression emerged, including the liberation of music from language, the concept of "absolute music," Arnold Schoenberg's atonal compositions, serialism in the 1950s and John Cage's rejection of any sort of organized sound.
Mosch's presentation laid a foundation for the conversations and questions that arose during the symposium, like the issue of how new music can be introduced to audiences and into a concert repertoire where tradition dominates.
Connecting audiences and new music
musikFabrik is a Cologne-based ensemble that performs contemporary music
Thomas Oesterdiekhoff, Director of the musikFabrik ensemble, and Jens Cording, Project Manager for Music at the Siemens Foundation in Munich, spoke about concepts and projects that aim to bring new music to wider audiences.
Jan Mueller-Wieland and Peter Ruzicka also offered insight into the same question by discussing how they find a place between tradition and innovation as composers. Ruzicka said he shares the view of philosopher and musicologist Theodor W. Adorno that the true purpose of art is "to do things that we don't understand."
Two works by Luciano Berio performed at the symposium served to illustrate utopia in music. Salome Kammer, a star vocalist on the contemporary music scene, stirred the audience with her interpretation of Sequenza III. The work dates to 1965 and showcases the human voice being led into unconventional modes of expression, with gestures also playing an important role. Hannah Weirich performed Berio's Sequenza VIII (1973) as an instrumental counterpart to Kammer's performance.
A dream realized
The symposium also introduced two international projects that make it clear just how music can bring about utopian realities. One featured project was a documentary film titled "Kinshasa Symphony" that portrays an orchestra of largely self-taught musicians in the Congo, one of the poorest and most politically unstable countries on earth, as it performs works like Beethoven's Ninth Symphony and Carl Orff's Carmina Burana.
The documentary also looks at the shocking realities of daily life in the Congo. Armand Diangienda Wabasolele, founder and director of the Kinshasa Orchestra, explained in the film how he was able to implement his vision for the orchestra despite enormous difficulties - a moving example of reality becoming utopian.
From slums to symphonies
Beyond the city's skyscrapers and financial centers are Sao Paulo's slums
Impoverished areas in Sao Paulo, Brazil offer another surprising example of ideals being realized through music. A youth orchestra has emerged there that now heads off on international concert tours and appears with renowned soloists. Edilson Venturelli, Director of Sao Paulo's Sinfonica Heliopolis, explained just how the ensemble came to thrive under extremely difficult social circumstances. The orchestra is part of the Instituto Baccarelli, a private organization that provides music education to children and youth in Sao Paulo.
The Sinfonica Heliopolis got a substantial boost from Deutsche Welle through the invitation to the DW Orchestral Campus during the Beethovenfest in Bonn. It can be heard live there on October 4 under conductor Roberto Tibirica and with prominent soloist Schlomo Mintz. The concert will also be available on DW's podcast page for download.
Marcos, a young man from a ghetto in Sao Paulo, plays cello in the orchestra. For him, music is everything.
"Without music, I might not even be alive. I live in a slum, and many of my friends are already dead. Many people have told me to stop because I have no future as a musician. They think it would be better to look for a normal job. But I love music, and I don't know how I could quit. When you've fallen in love with something, that's a special thing," Marcos said.
Utopia can become reality, even in the most trying circumstances. That was perhaps the symposium's most important conclusion - and one that encouraged participants to use music to improve the lives of those around them, wherever they live.
Author: Norbert Hornig (gsw)
Editor: Rick Fulker