Beethoven barge baptized — all aboard? | Music | DW | 20.03.2020
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Beethoven barge baptized — all aboard?

Ludwig van Beethoven moved from Bonn to Vienna at the age of 22. Following in his footsteps, a barge is tracing the route he took, inviting people in 14 cities on board for unusual music events.

It was a bittersweet moment for Beethovenfest director Nike Wagner. She had the honor of ceremoniously smashing the bottle of champagne over the freshly-dedicated Beethoven barge less than 24 hours after the spring edition of her own festival had been cancelled due to the coronavirus scare.

"I was terribly sad and shocked of course," she told DW. "But we're all sitting in the same planetary boot, and in principle, it was the right decision. We can only try to subdue and delay the spread of infection until a vaccine is found. I feel sorry most of all for the musicians, whose livelihoods are at stake. We can only look to heaven and ask: What on earth is going on here?"

With Ashok Sridharan looking on, Nike Wagner holds the rope with a bottle of champagne, ready to baptize the ship (DW/R. Fuller)

Nike Wagner received moral support from Bonn's mayor Ashok Sridharan

Bonn's regular Beethovenfest will go ahead as planned in September, but the 10-day spring edition, a special feature of the Beethoven anniversary year, met the same fate as many other large-scale events in Europe. But with room for 200, the barge falls under that threshold and is scheduled to go on at this point.

Ludwig van Beethoven was born 250 years ago. At age 50, MS Jenny is also getting on in years, but renamed the "BTHVN2020 Musikfrachter" (Music Barge), she's set to embark on an unusual cruise — after being dedicated on Thursday, March 12 in Bonn, the composer's home town.

Listen to audio 00:21

Even the ship's horn intones the famous motif from Beethoven's Fifth

From coal to culture

Jenny once bore the weight of coal transports on European water highways but is now carrying culture. Freshly repainted and remodeled as a floating stage, she's a product of the Beethoven Anniversary Society.

Very roughly tracing the route that Beethoven once took from Bonn to Vienna, the six-week cruise from March 12-April 20 will go from Bonn on to Koblenz, then to Mannheim, Heidelberg, Mainz, Frankfurt am Main, Mittenberg, Bad Mergentheim, Weikersheim, Regensburg, Passau, Linz, Krems and finally Vienna — Beethoven's last and most important home.

A group of people board the ship, wearing jackets on a sunny day (DW/R. Fuller)

All aboard!

The barge will drop anchor for performances on board and on land, usually incorporating local musicians. But the playbill also includes workshops, music theater and interactive projects with audience participation.

If everything goes according to plan…

Day one on Bonn's riverbank was crowned by a piece of music theater titled "It Had to Be! — Almost a Love Story," while other events include improvisation workshops that do things like rendering Beethoven's "Eroica Symphony" in reggae rhythms.

After going ashore in Vienna six weeks later, the barge will host "Fridays for Beethoven," a performance by school students in tandem with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra based on sounds and ideas from Beethoven's "Pastoral Symphony." The Vienna program also includes a film workshop and all-night on-board concerts.

Inside the ship, a gathering of people stands around tables and chairs with colorful LED screens on both sides and at the rear (DW/R. Fulker)

Room for about 200 people

That is, in light of the corona pandemic, if all goes according to plan. "We're in close contact with the authorities along the route to Vienna," said Malte Boecker, head of the Beethoven Anniversary Society. "All the scheduled events are still in agreement with what is permitted."

Genre bending and border breaching

The idea for the Beethoven barge came from Dirk Kaftan, Bonn's general music director and principal conductor of the Beethoven Orchestra.

Dirk Kaftan, in a jacket, holds a microphone and gives a speech in front of a colorful, abstract backdrop

Dirk Kaftan's musical concept is inclusive

He soon found a suitable partner in the Berlin organization "junge ohren" (Young Ears), a music organization network that among other things focuses on bringing classical music and elements thereof to a wider public.

Describing the schedule of events, Kaftan is pleased: "It includes all genres. It addresses all age groups and sectors of society. There's an intercultural dialogue on this ship. And it simply has music beyond categories or pidgeonholes."

The Beethoven Barge was festively christened on the morning of March 12. Some 30 hours later, the trip was cancelled due to the acute coronavirus crisis. The team was despondent — but not for long. With a maximum four musicians going on board, they are performing, recording — and posting online. A big net event is planned for later this month. We'll keep you posted.

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