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Beethovenfest 2021 takes off

Anastassia Boutsko
August 23, 2021

This year's festival in Bonn opened with a marathon of the famous composer's symphonies and a benefit concert for flood victims.

Classical performers at the Beethovenfest 2021 opening concert.
Opening concert at the Beethovenfest 2021Image: Barbara Frommann

In 2020, Beethovenfest was forced to cancel the spring and fall festival seasons due to the coronavirus restrictions.

It was supposed to have been a special year, marking the composer's 250th birthday. Thanks to the Beethoven Jubilee Society (BTHVN2020), some events are taking place this year.

The original festival motto, "Auferstehn, ja auferstehn!" (Resurrect, yes, resurrect), turned out to be a prophetic one: From August 20 to September 10, 2021, the Beethovenfest Bonn is literally "resurrecting" with 54 concerts in Bonn — the pandemic allowing, of course.

Iconic symphonies

On the opening weekend of the Beethovenfest, five world-class ensembles presented the entire cycle of the composer's symphonies. The nine works, each of which is an icon of European music, form the symbolic core of Beethoven's artistic legacy.

The Ninth was interpreted by the orchestra Le Concert des Nations, under legendary conductor and orchestra founder Jordi Savall.

The French Baroque ensemble Les Talens Lyriques under Christophe Rousset played Symphonies No. 8 and No. 7, and the Hungarian National Philharmonic, conducted by Stefan Soltesz, presented Symphonies No. 6 and No. 4.

The Flemish B'Rock Orchestra, led by Alessandro de Marchi, performed Symphonies No. 2 and No. 5, and the Austrian ORF Radio Symphony Orchestra, under Michael Boder's direction, concluded with Symphonies No. 1 and No. 3.

DW presented the festival's opening concert as a charity event. Donations will go to people affected by the recent devastating floods in the Bonn area.

Beethoven and variations

The festival program offers quite a few rare gems, including Beethoven's nine symphonies in Franz Liszt's transcription for piano. The Orchestre des Champs-Elysées under Philippe Herreweghe and the Vienna Philharmonic, conducted by Herbert Blomstedt, will also pay homage to Beethoven.

This year's grand finale is Mahler's mighty Resurrection Symphony, which also inspired the festival's theme, presented by the Mahler Chamber Orchestra conducted by Maxime Pascal.

As pianist in residence, Marino Formenti will perform three evenings at the Beethoven House, the Lyon Opera Ballet will devote itself to Beethoven's string quartets, and director Romeo Castellucci will create a "Pavane for Prometheus" in a disused indoor pool, "the most interesting place in Bonn," according to festival director Nike Wagner.

Viktoriabad indoor pool in bonn Bonn
A special venue for a classical concert: Viktoriabad in Bonn Image: Sonja Werner

Campus — around the world in 20 years

In cooperation with Deutsche Welle, Beethovenfest Bonn continues its successful Campus Project of previous years. In 2021, the youth encounter project celebrates its 20th anniversary and invites young musicians from all over Europe to Bonn to develop a challenging program along with the members of Germany's Federal Youth Orchestra.

The focus is on 20th and 21st century spatial compositions. The musicians led by conductor Johannes Kalitzke sit in groups around the audience — a unique sound experience.

Another highlight: the world premiere of the DW-commissioned work "Entlang der Lieder" (Along the Songs) by the young Turkish composer Zeynep Gedizlioglu, who has been making a name for herself internationally.

Zeynep Gedizlioglu,
Turkish composer Zeynep GedizliogluImage: Dan Safier

The World Conference Center Bonn concert hall is currently allowed to seat 500 guests.

DW and its partner stations will be broadcasting numerous concerts on the radio and online on the DW Classical YouTube channel.

Beethoven, humanist superstar

Ludwig van Beethoven is the most frequently performed of all classical composers. Why is the composer so popular around the world even today, 194 years after his death?

 Nike Wagner stands in front of a microphone
It's Nike Wagner's last season at the BeethovenfestImage: Barbara Frommann

The question is easy to answer for Nike Wagner, who opens her last season as artistic director of the Beethovenfest on August 20.

"It's because of his commitment to humanity," she told DW. "Beethoven is not a narcissistic composer or a purely lyrical composer working from an ivory tower. He says 'I,' — but that encompasses 'we,'" Wagner says, adding she knows of no other composer like that.

The musician, born in modest circumstances in Bonn, has a message that hasn't lost in urgency in the face of the crises of today's world, for instance the dramatic situation in Afghanistan.

We're once again dealing with "dictatorships, oppression and a reactionary 'rewinding' of the achievements of civilization," says Beethovenfest festival director Nike Wagner.

Beethoven, she points out, "stands for the idea of freedom, equality, brotherhood. His work can only be understood as an appeal to humanity and humanity."


This article has been adapted from German.