"Eigensinn," or strong-mindedness, was the motto of the Beethovenfest in the composer's city of birth. It's a motto that spoke to Beethoven fans, but also invited visitors to think about the meaning of art.
Why would a person - in our age of maximal media distribution - head to a concert hall to listen to musicians play repertory works from bygone centuries? The Beethovenfest 2012 offers an answer by presenting one-of-a-kind, unexpected and unheard of formats. This year's motto "Eigensinn" (Strong-mindedness) reflects the artists selected for the program. But it also stems from a sentence Ludwig van Beethoven wrote in a notebook in 1820: "True art has a mind of its own; it cannot be forced into flattering molds."
At first glance, the motto is a bit unwieldy. It's difficult to translate and even carries negative connotations. Festival head Ilona Schmiel was well aware of that in an interview she gave DW. "A democracy lives from compromise," she said. "The forces in Beethoven's time that were beginning to establish a middle-class civil society were, at the same time, very oppressive for art. And it's those artists who tried their entire lives to grow and to sharpen and deepen their views that history considers the most successful."
Big names, individual approaches
At the 66 events running from September 7 to October 7, 2012, a number of artists are appearing who certainly live up to this year's festival motto. They include the young Latvian conductor Andris Nelsons at the opening concert; 85-year-old maestro Herbert Blomstedt, who conducts a performance of Beethoven's "Missa solemnis;" and conductor and composer Esa-Pekka Salonen, born in 1958, who is at the podium for all nine of Beethoven's symphonies as the festival concludes.
A program featuring these three generations of conductors illustrates how much individual interpretations can diverge along with the differences in their personal histories.
Arnold Schönberg further developed Beethoven's ideas
Cage, Schönberg, Beethoven
"Cage Night" at the Beethovenfest honors a composer who arguably embodies this year's motto of strong-mindedness above all other modern composers: American John Cage. The 100th anniversary of his birth fell on September 5, 2012. To mark it, eight concerts are performed in three venues along Bonn's Museum Mile. Guests can stroll from one to the next - a happening in a sense Cage surely would have appreciated.
"I believe Cage will still have potential for a thousand years because those are creative blueprints that can be used in every age," said Susanne Kessel, who helped create the concept for the Cage tribute, which doesn't just present Cage's works but develops his revolutionary ideas further. "When you bring in everyday life, Cage remains contemporary and always sounds different."
A second composer who further developed Beethoven's approach to art is Arnold Schönberg. The Austrian avant-garde composer's "Gurrelieder" is on the program, and the festival's wide-ranging side program includes him in the exhibition "Beethoven and Schönberg."
"Being strong-minded only makes sense if you stand for something. Beethoven and Schönberg stand for truth in expression. They stand for an immense honesty in artistic work," explained Christian Meyer, director of the Arnold Schönberg Center in Vienna. "And the rewards of being strong-minded have been borne out, even if something else was popularly desired."
Fresh from Vienna: a vegetable orchestra
Uneaten but not unheard
In a sense, concert formats can also embody the quality of "Eigensinn." One unusual approach at the Beethovenfest is a choreographed concert, in which the soloist, orchestra and a dance troupe bring Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" to life both musically and physically. The formats even range into the bizarre with the show "Peppers, Zucchini & Co." in which the Vienna Vegetable Orchestra from Austria uses edible objects to create music - with the help of amplification. The result spans the musical spectrum from classical to electro, and the opinion so far seems unanimous that it's very palatable.
Unusual for a festival with Beethoven's name in it is a performance by rapper Samy Deluxe and the Tsunami Band as part of an award-winning project in which 10 high school students are charged with taking care of all aspects of managing a concert.
A festival without a home
Festival organizers may be getting closer to their dream of seeing a new concert hall built in Bonn - a mid-sized city that has to compete with many other cultural centers in the densely-populated region. It looked as though it was time to give up. But now Bonn's mayor, Jürgen Nimptsch, has awakened new hope, saying, "I am absolutely in favor of building it because we would otherwise be missing an opportunity that the whole world envies us of having. That's why I think it must happen."
But the private initiative doesn't depend solely on the mayor's approval, Nimptsch pointed out: "In the coming weeks, we'll need to create a legally secure basis for obtaining credit."
Looking ahead to the the 150th anniversary of Beethoven's birth in 2020, the politician even named a concrete date. "If you want to have an opening a year before the birth year, in order to test out the new venue, then we would have to submit a request for preliminary planning permission in the first half of 2013 to get the whole process going," he said. "And that's what we want to do."