Beethoven: Celebrated across the globe | Music | DW | 17.12.2019
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Music

Beethoven: Celebrated across the globe

In 2020, the world will be celebrating the famous classical music composer, Ludwig van Beethoven, with exciting projects and orchestras big and small.

Anyone taking a trip around the world in 2020 could probably go from country to country and hear Ludwig van Beethoven's entire oeuvre in various versions. From New York to Shanghai, from Sao Paulo to Cape Town, in Moscow and throughout Europe, musicians will be performing his string quartets, piano works, violin sonatas, songs and of course the nine symphonies.

Musicians in Turkey, Iraq and India will also be just as involved in projects and performances centering around Beethoven's music. Indeed, cooperative projects across the continents are bringing together people who love Beethoven's music, who share his values of freedom and brotherhood. As the composer put it in Ode to Joy — "All men become brothers."

From Bonn out into the world

The epicenter, however, for the anniversary celebrations is in western Germany, in Beethoven's native city of Bonn. The BTHVN Beethoven Jubilee Society that initiated several large projects and is funding some 300 others is based in the city on the Rhine river. "We cooperate with many international players," said artistic director Malte Broecker. "With the British Royal Philharmonic Society and the Shanghai Performing Arts Festival, we commissioned China's Tan Dun to compose a piece for the Ninth Symphony." Tan Dun is scheduled to perform at the Beethovenfest in Bonn in the fall and to go on tour with Beethoven's Ninth and his own composition entitled The Nine.

Ludwig van Beethoven was born in Bonn and lived there for 22 years before moving to Vienna, where he spent the rest of his life.

Beethoven's grave in Vienna at night, lit up and surrounded by flowers (Getty Images/AFP/J. Klamar)

Beethoven's grave in Vienna

Special exhibitions in both cities pay tribute to Beethoven the composer and Beethoven the man. The Beethoven House in Bonn and Vienna as well as national archives and libraries in Europe and the US are making rare Beethoven autographs and letters accessible to the public. Radio and television stations including the BBC, Radio France, Arte and Germany's Westdeutscher Rundfunk plan to broadcast audio and video gems from their archives.

Beethoven's legacy is overwhelming. No wonder he is considered the world's most famous classical composer of all time, with his Ninth Symphony on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The composer was completely deaf when he wrote that work.

Most popular works

That's not all. A glance at leading orchestras' programs shows the Ninth to be the most frequently performed work in Beethoven's anniversary year. Renowned orchestras in Paris, Chicago, Tokyo, Sao Paulo and Hong Kong plan to perform all nine symphonies. Greek star conductor Teodor Currentzis and the Musica Aeterna orchestra from the Russian city of Perm are performing in Vienna, Salzburg and at the Beethovenfest in Bonn.

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra with conductor Riccardo Muti is scheduled to perform Beethoven's piano sonatas as well as his symphonies. Music lovers can enjoy the entire scope of chamber music and solo concertos in Paris with world famous conductors and musicians, including Daniel Barenboim, Philippe Jordan and the Vienna Philharmonic and Sir Simon Rattle with the London Symphony Orchestra.

Classical music lovers in San Francisco, Hong Kong, Beijing, London and Hamburg can look forward to Anne-Sophie Mutter and Lambert Orkis, performing Beethoven's most famous violin sonatas.

Anne-Sophie Mutter playing with the Vienna Philharmonic(Salzburger Festspiele/Marco Borrelli)

Anne-Sophie Mutter playing with the Vienna Philharmonic

Beethoven overkill

"Beethoven, a Monster Birthday" wrote the French daily Le Figaro, warning of a real "gridlock." In fact, famous performers, conductors and orchestras in the world's major concert halls are literally handing each other the baton.

Moscow has organized a festival dedicated to both Beethoven and 19th century Russian composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky, whose 180th birthday celebration coincides with the Beethoven festivities next year. The Russian festival starts on February 22 at Moscow's new Zaryadye concert hall.

Deutschland Abschlusskonzert Beethovenfest 2019 | Tschajkowski-Orchester Moskau (DW/B.Frohmann)

The final concert at Beethovenfest 2019: with Moscow's Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra

"Ladies versus Beethoven" is the title of an orchestra festival at the Stockholm Konserthuset concert hall, which is presenting Beethoven's nine symphonies with works by important female composers.

The world comes together

Another highlight: US-American Marin Alsop, Music Director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the Sao Paulo State Symphony Orchestra, will be on the road with "All Together," a project that will take her to five continents to conduct the Ninth Symphony with orchestras in New Zeeland, the US, Brazil, England, Austria, Australia and South Africa.

Orquestra Sinfônica de São Paulo with Marin Alsop (OSESP)

Marin Alsop conducting the Sao Paulo State Symphony Orchestra in Berlin

What is special about this project is that in each performance, the final chorus, the Ode to Joy, will be sung in the respective local language. In Sydney, indigenous people will present their traditional music as part of the performance. The series ends with a concert at Carnegie Hall in New York in December 2020, with 250 singers from all over the city and guest artists from various genres.

Beethoven, the nature lover

Beethoven loved nature and country life, so the Beethoven Jubilee Society Bonn also initiated the global"Pastoral Project" in cooperation with the Bonn-based UN Climate Secretariat.

"In the Sixth Symphony, also known as the Pastoral Symphony, Beethoven reflects the relationship between man and nature," said BTHVN project manager Elvin Ruic. "In times of Fridays for Future and climate change, we looked at the relationship between man and nature today." It's an issue that affects the whole world, Ruic argues, adding that Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony "praises creation, but also urges its protection."

Beethoven Pastoral Project poster (Beethoven-Haus Bonn und solarseven/Shutterstock.co)

Beethoven loved nature

International artists were invited to explore these thoughts in art and music and to upload videos on the BTHVN project site. Deutsche Welle is set to show a documentary about the project on World Environment Day, June 5, 2020.

The "other" Beethoven

"The other Beethoven(s)" — Germany's worldwide cultural institute network, the Goethe Institute, is looking at the great German composer's works from a non-European perspective. Beethoven was interested in "exotic" sounds from Asia and the Orient, brought to Europe during the era of colonial rule. In turn, classical music made its way to non-Western countries.

Ludwig van Beethoven composing at the piano (picture-alliance / akg-images)

Beethoven at work

The Goethe Institutes in India and Istanbul have tackled an "Eastern Variations" project — musicians are playing the second movement of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony with traditional Indian and Turkish instruments. Iranian Mahdis Kashani composed songs for voice and piano that follow along the lines of Beethoven's An die ferne Geliebte (To the Distant Beloved) song cycle.

The Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra regularly plays Beethoven's Egmont Overture; it is part of the orchestra's standard repertoire. German and Iraqi artists are working on music to reflect a new dialogue between the past and the present, music in which ideals like freedom and overcoming violence play an important role. The results will be presented next year in concerts and installations in the respective countries.

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