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DW Festival Concert: Beethovenfest Bonn 2021

Anastassia Boutsko
November 16, 2021

After a whole year of suspended activity due to COVID restrictions, the Beethovenfest was back in Bonn this year, with an impressive lineup of artists.

Herbert Blomstadt conducts an orchestra
94-year-old Herbert Blomstedt at the Beethovenfest Bonn 2021Image: Barbara Frommann/Beethovenfest 2021

Beethovenfest Bonn 2021

In this episode of Deutsche Welle Festival Concert, we hear two legendary symphonies recorded at the Beethovenfest in Bonn. We'll also listen to Franz Schubert's "Unfinished" Symphony, referred to as his 7th symphony in the German-speaking world, but his 8th symphony among English speakers.  

The concert took place on September 5, and it was a real highlight of the 2021 Beethovenfest. One of the world's most famous orchestras was onstage: the Vienna Philharmonic. It was their first time ever performing at the festival, and only the second time that they'd performed in Bonn.

What made the concert even more special was that Herbert Blomstedt conducted it. The Swedish conductor celebrated his 94th birthday in July, which can be hard to believe when you see him conducting. He took the stage with small but lively steps, conducting the entire concert while standing — and from memory.

Franz Schubert
Austrian composer Franz Schubert lived from 1797 to 1828Image: Rischgitz/Getty Images

"This music from Schubert and Bruckner — this is the kind of music that sends light into the deepest reaches of the soul […] And every person discovers it in their own way […] We heard the same music, but how you experience it depends on what we bring to the listening process.

"You don't need to be a university professor to understand this. But you must listen carefully and be open," Blomstedt says.

The 'Romantic' Symphony

The first piece of music in this episode is Anton Bruckner's 4th symphony, also known as the "Romantic" symphony. It's the horns in particular that create vivid scenes of hunting in the woods.

Anton Bruckner stands alongside Beethoven, Brahms and Mahler as part of the Vienna Philharmonic's core repertoire. You can hear how Bruckner simply fits the ensemble. But this wasn't always the case, as Herbert Blomstedt recalls.

"The Vienna Philharmonic [once] refused to perform any of Bruckner's early symphonies because they were too long, too complicated. The philharmonic concerts in the 1860s and 70s were only supposed to last one hour, and that was impossible from the get-go." 

An orchestra performing without notes

The 'Unfinished' Symphony

The second piece of music in this episode is Franz Schubert's 7th Symphony, referred to as the 8th Symphony in the English-speaking world. Franz Schubert, on the other hand, was just 25 when he wrote two movements of a symphonic work in B-minor. He never returned to it, even though he lived another six years.

"No one can really say 100% why it was never finished. There are multiple reasons. For me, the most important reason is that he was striving for a great symphony in the style of Beethoven […] He was like an idol to Schubert, and Schubert wanted to write symphonies that were as great as Beethoven's.

"I think he set this symphony aside because it wasn't what he actually wanted it to be. It's beautiful, it's quite an accomplishment, but it wasn't what he was looking for. He wanted to write something greater!" Herbert Blomstedt says.

'Four daughters'

The last piece in this Deutsche Welle Festival Concert features one of Blomstedt's special orchestras, the Staatskapelle Dresden, in a recording from 1984. The performance also features Dresden-born pianist Peter Rösel playing the first two movements from Karl Maria von Weber's Piano Concerto No. 1 in C-major. The concert was conducted by none other than

the Swedish conductor himself.

When Blomstedt talks about "his" orchestra, he's not referring to the Viennese ensemble, but to one of three orchestras that shaped his life and career over many years: the Staatskapelle Dresden, where he was principal conductor from 1975 to 1985; the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, where he was music director from 1985 to 1995; and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, which he led from 1998 to 2005.

Still, the Vienna Philharmonic — which does not have a music director or a principal conductor — also has a special place in Blomstedt's heart. He once compared these four orchestras to his four daughters: Each is different and each is deeply loved.

That's all in this edition of DW Festival Concert. Join us next time with our program host, Cristina Burack.

Performances featured in this DW Festival Concert:

1. Anton Bruckner,  Symphony No. 4 in E-flat major, "Romantic," op. 11, WAB 104

Performed by: Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra

Conductor: Herbert Blomstedt

Recorded by Deutsche Welle (DW) in the WCCB, Bonn, on September 5, 2021

Cristina Burack
DW Festival Concert host Cristina BurackImage: Privat

2. Franz Schubert, Symphony No. 7/8 in B minor, "Unfinished," D 759

Performed by: Vienna Philharmonic

Conducted by: Herbert Blomstedt

Recorded by Deutsche Welle (DW) in the WCCB, Bonn, on September 5, 2021

3. Karl Maria von Weber, Concerto for piano and orchestra No. 1 in C major, op. 11, J. 98, Allegro, Adagio

Performed by: Staatskapelle Dresden

Piano: Peter Rösel

Conductor: Herbert Blomstedt

CD: "Carl Maria von Weber," LC: 6203

Produced at Deutsche Welle with sound engineer Thomas Schmidt, producer and Russian show host Anastassia Boutsko, and host Cristina Burack. Text and production by Gaby Reucher.

Edited by: Manasi Gopalakrishnan