This year's Beethovenfest runs from September 9 to October 9 and highlights the 200th birthday of composer Franz Liszt. Along with Beethoven himself, Liszt was a major pioneer of modern concert tradition.
"Zukunftsmusik" is the motto at the 2011 fest
It's a tradition dating back 166 years: in 1845, Franz Liszt organized a three-day music festival in Beethoven's home town to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the master composer's birth. Beethoven, who had died in 1827, was also honored with a statue on Bonn's central market square.
Liszt wasn't just a gifted composer and virtuoso - he was a skilled culture manager and an inspiration for the current director of Bonn's Beethovenfest, Ilona Schmiel.
"Of course it's a gift to have someone like Franz Liszt as a predecessor and founder of the festival. As a composer, he was a superstar, and he idolized Beethoven," Schmiel told Deutsche Welle.
"Although he had become wealthy by virtue of being a piano virtuoso, he always wanted to give something back to society," she added.
Past and future stars
Franz Liszt (1811-1886) was the original founder of the Beethovenfest
"Zukunftsmusik" is the motto of this year's Beethovenfest. It's a phrase that evokes multiple associations. Literally, it translates to "music of the future," but in a broader sense, the term is often used to suggest visions or hopes about what the future may hold.
"Zukunftsmusik" also hints at the style of composition that Franz Liszt helped establish together with Richard Wagner. Known as the New German School, it represented a major cultural movement and produced new genres like the symphonic poem.
At the Liszt Night on September 24, the Beethovenfest will present all facets of Liszt's body of work in ten concerts across five venues.
Hungarian folk music was a source of inspiration for Liszt. As such, the festival has invited musicians influenced by Eastern European traditions like the Frankfurt-based Roma and Sinti Philharmonic as well as the Gypsy Devils featuring Paul Gulda and Goran Gregovic.
They'll be joined by stars from the world of classical music including violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter and pianists Hélène Grimaud, Murray Perahia and Arcadi Volodos. Renowned orchestras like the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra under conductor Manfred Honeck are on the program, along with the London Symphony with conductors Sir Colin Davis and Sir John Eliot Gardiner and the Budapest Festival Orchestra with Ivan Fischer.
A number of well-known soloists will also be making their Beethovenfest debut, like German violinist Julian Rachlin and the Latvian organist Iveta Apkalna, who won an ECHO Prize in 2005 as instrumentalist of the year.
Head of the Beethovenfest since 2004, Ilona Schmiel
In total, the festival will host 62 concerts in 24 venues throughout Bonn and the surrounding area. For now, a new hall for the Beethovenfest remains "Zukunftsmusik," even though the international standard of the festival has outgrown the current Beethoven Hall. Financing for a new venue hasn't yet been secured.
But the Beethovenfest itself has a healthy financial base. The city of Bonn's contribution was increased by 400,000 euros ($562,000) for a new total of 1.6 million euros, around a third of the total budget.
Organizers hope to earn another third of the money needed for the festival from ticket sales on 45,000 seats, while the final third comes from sponsors.
Special guests at the Orchestra Campus
Deutsche Welle, a major festival sponsor, co-hosts the annual Orchestra Campus. 2011 will be the 11th year in which a youth orchestra from another country will be invited to perform in Bonn as part of the Campus program.
The National Youth Orchestra of Iraq hails from all corners of the country
This year, the guest is the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq, founded in 2008 by Kurdish and Arab musicians. Their concert on October 1 in Bonn's central market square will be streamed live online.
The performance by the young Iraqis is just one more reason this year's Beethovenfest will be extraordinary, said festival director Ilona Schmiel.
"It's amazing to see this classical orchestra put together from members from across Iraq, where classical music doesn't have a long tradition," she said.
"It's my impression that the young people living there have a yearning not just to build up their country together but also to find a musical language in which they can communicate - a language in which all boundaries can be overcome."
Schmiel is convinced that that's an important message to send in times of political turmoil.
"If the Campus project can help change the view of such a country, then there's a lot more going on then just making music."
Author: Rick Fulker