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Big plans for the Beethoven anniversary year

Rick Fulker
March 7, 2019

Another stone has been laid in the mosaic of the coming Beethoven anniversary year. At the International Trade Show (ITB) in Berlin, the Beethovenfest Bonn is giving a sneak preview of its special lineup.

Beethoven statue in Bonn
Image: picture-alliance/imageBROKER/H. Schmidt

Germany's president, government and parliament have all declared honoring the 250th anniversary of Ludwig van Beethoven's birth a "national assignment." Public subsidies have been flowing to the Beethoven Anniversary Company under the project name BTHVN2020, so the composer will be celebrated nationwide next year — but nowhere more than in Bonn, the city of his birth.

The Beethoven House recently announced its year-long series of special events. Now the Beethovenfest is also offering a glimpse of its own anniversary program at the International Trade Show (ITB) in Berlin on Friday. 

Twice the Beethovenfest

Usually lasting three weeks in September, the festival will this time have spring and fall editions.

The springtime fest landed a coup with Teodor Currentzis and MusicAeterna. The Greek-Russian conductor and the period instrument orchestra he founded from the Russian city of Perm will perform all nine of Ludwig van Beethoven's symphonies. With performances by Currentzis acclaimed as fresh, radical and uncompromising, the five concerts in March 2020 are certain to be a highlight of the Beethoven year.

Additionally, five works commissioned by the Beethovenfest from the five past years will get repeat performances. The composers from Austria, Germany, Russia, France and Italy were each asked to write a new work based on or inspired by a work by Beethoven. All five compositions will be repeated in March by big-name orchestras from the five respective countries.

Title page to Beethoven's Symphony No. 9
The Ninth has been missing from Beethovenfest programs for years, but in 2020 will be given three performancesImage: picture-alliance/akg-images

Wagner, Liszt, Beethoven

The main season from September 4 - 27, 2020 will offer a re-encounter with Beethoven's symphonies, this time in adaptations for piano by Franz Liszt. The roster of performers includes Boris Bloch, born in Odessa and making his home in Germany, Konstantin Scherbakov from Russia and the famous French-Cypriot pianist Cyprien Katsaris.

The fall season will begin with a sensationally rare kind of event however: a guest performance in Bonn by none other than the Bayreuth Festival Orchestra. The program will consist of a single work: Beethoven's Ninth, a work adored by Richard Wagner and nearly the only non-Wagnerian piece of music ever to be performed in the Bayreuth Festival Theater.

Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner on the program reveal the signature of Nike Wagner, the festival's artistic director since 2014, a great-granddaughter of Bayreuth Festival founder Wagner and a great-great-granddaughter of Franz Liszt.

Anne-Sophie Mutter stands in front of a microphone
Anne-Sophie Mutter couldn't say no to BeethovenImage: Bruno Fidrych

A central theme of the 2020 Beethovenfest will be "Fidelio": Alongside a performance of Beethoven's sole opera, three other operatic works on a similar subject by his contemporaries will also be presented.

The big names on the festival program include the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra with star violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter, the Accademia di Santa Cecilia from Italy with its conductor Antonio Pappano and the pianist Igor Levit. 

The programs of the Beethovenfest and the Beethoven House in Bonn are only part of the activities in the coming anniversary year. Other plans are to be announced in the weeks and months to come.