A season of revolution: The Beethovenfest 2016 | BTHVN2020 | DW | 07.09.2016
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A season of revolution: The Beethovenfest 2016

"Revolutions" is the motto of the Beethovenfest, a musical extravaganza held this fall in the composer's city of birth. Meanwhile, Bonn is racing to renovate its concert hall before the Beethoven anniversary year 2020.

"Beethoven grew up in the echo chamber of the French Revolution," says Beethovenfest Director Nike Wagner. It was a formative time for him, just as the October Revolution of 1917 impacted a generation of Soviet composers.

Even the Arab Spring five years ago - whose long-term effects on the Middle East, Europe and the world have yet to be seen - had a musical side.

Wagner explained how that all ties together, underscoring that each of the 59 festival events planned from September 9 to October 9 will have a connection to the motto, "Revolutions."

"Music and art have never existed in an ivory tower," she said in an interview with DW.

Rolf Rische and Nike Wagner at the press conference for the 2016 festival, Copyright: DW/M.Müller

Nike Wagner with Rolf Rische, head of DW's culture department; DW is the festival's main media partner

The Beethoven brand

Exactly 171 years after the first Beethovenfest in Bonn, the marketing potential of the city's most famous son is still not fully exploited, says the city's new mayor, Ashok Sridharan, adding that his mid-term goal is to firmly establish the "Beethoven brand" in Bonn. The goal post is the year 2020, which marks 250 years after the birth of Ludwig van Beethoven.

The "echo chamber of the French Revolution" resonates most clearly in one Beethoven opus: his Symphony No. 3, the "Eroica," which expanded and redefined the genre of the symphony. The work is getting ample play on the lineup with a performance by the West German Symphony Orchestra under Marek Janowski, complemented by renditions of Franz Liszt's piano adaptation, Beethoven's own Eroica Variations for piano and a version for jazz trio.

Nike Wagner's penchant for examining a theme in depth is apparent in a "Day of Bagatelles," when winners of the Telekom Beethoven Competition will perform bagatelles by Beethoven and a number of other composers. "Bagatelle" means "trifle," but the listener is meant to go away convinced that these works are anything but that. On another weekend, the genre of the piano trio is explored in multiple chamber music concerts.

Teodor Currentzis, Copyright: RBB

Greek-born Russian conductor Teodor Currentzis draws younger audiences to concerts

Expressly international

The big names in the autumn music event come from far afield. In two performances, one of Russia's major orchestras, the Ural Philharmonic from Yekaterinburg, will cast a light on composers before and after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. Russian pianist Boris Berezovsky features there and in a solo recital. Coming from Perm in central-western Russia, Greek-born conductor Teodor Currentzis will lead the Mahler Chamber Orchestra in a program of Beethoven and Schoenberg.

France is sending its period instrument ensemble "Les Siècles" and the "Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse," the latter joined by German pianist Christian Zacharias. The Beethovenfest opens with the Czech Philharmonic, led by Jiri Behlolavek, and will close with the London Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Sir John Eliot Gardiner.

The Campus-Project - a joint effort of the Beethovenfest and Deutsche Welle - revolves this time around music from Mexico. In addition, the "Revolutions" motto is the point of departure for Turkish pianist Seda Röder, rendering "Songs of Spring" - a multi-media presentation with works by composers from the countries of the Arab Spring.

German artists seem to be in the minority on the playbill, but ears will be perked up for an appearance by the Bavarian State Orchestra, led by a conductor who will influence music life in Germany for years to come: Kirill Petrenko, future music director of the Berlin Philharmonic.

Home base Beethoven Hall - for now

Music is not the only art form on the program; the Beethovenfest has also invited the Lucinda Childs Dance Company from New York. In "Rituals from the Fringe," artists in the fields of dance, performance, composition and film will present a new, collective and interdisciplinary work after two weeks of inspiration in Bonn's Museum of Art.

Among the 23 venues in and around the city, the Beethoven Hall is still the home base this season. What happens afterwards is already causing headaches; beginning in October, the hall will be closed down for two years of extensive renovation.

Beethoven in a cartoon drawing, Copyright: Fotolia/freehandz

Beethoven is supposed to be No. 1 in Bonn

How can a festival of this stature manage without a symphonic concert hall? Not even its director can offer a detailed perspective, but remains hopeful, saying, "As in nature, we will assimilate the colors of the environment and see what can be done."

The Beethovenfest seems to be on solid footing in financial terms at least, its total budget of 4.6 million euros ($5.2 million) bolstered by public funds and corporate underwriting.

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