In September, Bonn's annual Beethovenfest opens to show that "Art has a mind of its own." In the spirit of Beethoven, the festival focuses on musicians who push creative boundaries and offer unique music.
The 2012 Beethovenfest takes its starting point from a quote by the composer:
"True art has a mind of its own," Beethoven wrote in 1820. "It cannot be forced into flattering molds."
Ilona Schmiel, director of the Beethovenfest, said she and her team deliberately chose artists and ensembles who do not feel compelled to stick to the mainstream, and instead create their own brand of art. That's why new music, new approaches and new formats - like a choreographed concert that brings dance and music together - will be on center stage at the event.
Bold folk music
Clarinetist David Orlowsky and his trio, for instance, have developed what they call world chamber music. Their sounds stem from Orlowsky's love of klezmer music. Under the title "Chronos," the trio will present adaptations and original compositions at an unusual place: a local storage hall for street cars.
Spark, a self-styled band that zigzags across musical genres, will play folk tunes on the flute, violin, cello and piano. The result is a fusion of German ballads and British all-time favorites, and of the Russian psyche and the Mediterranean zest for life, all with a touch of Bavarian influence thrown in.
The festival will also showcase less well-known artists, such as guitarist Aniello Desiderio from Naples, who, together with his brothers, offers a distinctive take on Astor Piazzolla's version of "The Four Seasons" by Antonio Vivaldi.
Schmiel said she believes small formations like those featured at the festival could revolutionize the concert business - and could also prompt interest in major works and orchestras.
"They are the ones who make it incredibly exciting to focus again on Arnold Schönberg's 'Gurre-Lieder' from 1913 and to imagine how this opulent work could end up becoming Schönberg's most successful," the festival director said. "It's about these areas of tension - how do established stars and how do young musicians address their musical roots."
The Beethovenfest will once again look at things from the lighter side in 2012, poking fun at classical music and the industry behind it.
In an unusual combination, the piano and violin duo Igudesmann & Joo will be joined by pianist Manny Ax to perform Beethoven's Violin Sonata No. 5. The concept: Hyung-ki Joo does not realize a second piano player will be competing with him on stage, and hilarity ensues. Their take on Beethoven's Sonata No. 5 for Violin and Piano can be enjoyed in early September.
There will be also be the works one would expect at a Beethoven festival. Andras Schiff will begin a Beethoven piano sonata cycle in Bonn, and the Borodin Quartet is set to start a cycle of Beethoven's string quartets. Schiff's two-year cycle will close at the 2013 festival, while the quartet will wrap things up in 2014.
The Philharmonia Orchestra under Esa-Pekka Salonen is playing a further cycle: all of Beethoven's symphonies. For his five-concert debut in Bonn, the Finnish director and composer will host evenings featuring two of the symphonies each along with a special composition from the continents of Asia, Australia, Africa, Europe and the Americas.
Bremen's Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie (German Chamber Philharmonic) will give two concerts - one under the direction of Paavo Järvi, the other under that of Herbert Blomstedt. The Bayerische Staatsorchester (Bayern State Orchestra) with Kent Nagano will again perform at the festival situated along the Rhine River, as will several other orchestras.
A festival within a festival
The 2012 Beethovenfest will be celebrating the 100th birthday of John Cage, who was a must-have composer given the festival motto, said Schmiel.
"In the 20th century, Cage called everything that had occurred in music before that time into question," she said. "He asked questions that surely had not been answered, even today."
"He revolutionized music life, the business and even methods of performance and was a trailblazer for many things which could not come to fruition until the 21st century," she added.
A special evening celebrates Cage with performances of his works. Among them: a solo piano version of the American composer's "Concert for Piano and Orchestra," the "Sonatas and Interludes," "Bird Cage," "Music Walk," "4'33'' - a work consisting of silence - and the "Music Circus," in which only a beginning and end point are fixed on paper.
The Freyer Ensemble and four actors as well as the Ensemble Spinario with four singers will perform selections from Cage's "Song Books" at Bonn's Art and Exhibition Hall of the Federal Republic of Germany. They are formats presented in the Cage tradition of melding music with visual art.
Young people in focus
Young people have long played a key role in the festival, and that will be the case in 2012 as well. Schmiel said she finds it exciting to discover new talent, to get young musicians involved in the festival, and to cultivate their gifts.
One project that fosters those goals is the Orchestra Campus, now in its 12th year at the festival and co-sponsored by DW. Youth orchestras from partner countries travel to Bonn, rehearse and ultimately reveal the results of their work in performances of works by Beethoven and others. The Turkish National Youth Philharmonic Orchestra will be the guests of honor in Bonn this year - the second Turkish youth group to take part in the event. Audiences can also look forward to the premiere of a work commissioned by DW - "The Traffic" by Turkish composer Mehmet Erhan Tanman.
Over 2,000 artists offering 65 concerts at 27 venues are on the program of this year's Beethovenfest in Bonn. Visitors can look forward to getting swept away by this musical journey from Beethoven's time, through to the present - open to anyone with "a mind of their own."
Author: Conny Paul / als
Editor: Greg Wiser / Jessie Wingard