Beethoven's hometown revives the composer's works and vision each year
September 9, 2011
This year's Beethovenfest runs from September 9 to October 9 and highlights the 200th birthday of composer Franz Liszt. Along with Beethoven himself, Liszt was a major pioneer of modern concert tradition.
It's a tradition dating back 166 years: in 1845, Franz Liszt organized a three-day music festival in Beethoven's home town to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the master composer's birth. It was an absolute novelty at the time to celebrate a deceased composer's day of birth with a concert series.
Liszt wasn't just a gifted composer and virtuoso. He was also a skilled culture manager and an inspiration for the current director of Bonn's Beethovenfest, Ilona Schmiel.
"Of course it's a gift to have someone like Franz Liszt as a predecessor and founder of the festival. As a composer, he was a superstar, and he idolized Beethoven," Schmiel told Deutsche Welle.
"Although he had become wealthy by virtue of being a piano virtuoso, he always wanted to give something back to society," she added.
A mammoth event
One of the concerts that the visionary cultural manager Franz Liszt organized in 1845 in honor of Beethoven, and in which he himself participated as a pianist and conductor, will be repeated this year on October 7, 2011 in the Bonn Beethovenhalle.
Performing on period instruments, the ensemble Concerto Köln will present a "mammoth" program, typical of the mid-19th century, featuring Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, his Coriolan Overture, the "Harp" Quartet and the Fifth Piano Concerto, among other works.
"Zukunftsmusik" is the motto of this year's Beethovenfest. It's a phrase that evokes multiple associations. Literally, it translates to "music of the future," but in a broader sense, the term is often used to suggest visions or hopes about what the future may hold.
"Zukunftsmusik" also hints at the style of composition that Franz Liszt helped establish together with Richard Wagner. Known as the New German School, it represented a major cultural movement and produced new genres like the symphonic poem.
Another program of extraordinary proportions will celebrate Liszt on September 24. The "Liszt Night" will illuminate a wide variety of the facets of the composer's cultural heritage and work. Ten concerts are set to explore Liszt's Hungarian roots and the folklore of his homeland as well as the composer's works for piano, organ, orchestra and his songs. Festival-goers can look forward to the Roma and Sinti Philharmonic and the Gypsy Devils with Paul Gulda and Goran Bregovic.
They'll be joined, in the overall festival, by stars from the world of classical music including violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter and pianists Helene Grimaud, Murray Perahia and Arcadi Volodos. The event will also play host to three orchestras in residence: the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen with conductor Paavo Järvi, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra under conductor Manfred Honeck and the London Symphony with conductors Sir Colin Davis and Sir John Eliot Gardiner.
A number of well-known soloists will also make their Beethovenfest debut this year, like German violinist Julian Rachlin and the Latvian organist Iveta Apkalna.
Still just a dream...
In total, the festival will host 62 concerts in 24 venues throughout Bonn and the surrounding area. For now, a new hall for the Beethovenfest remains "Zukunftsmusik," even though the international standard of the festival has outgrown the current Beethoven Hall. Complete financing for a new venue hasn't yet been secured.
The federal government has pledged 39 million euros ($56 million) for the construction of a new concert hall and local sponsors like the Deutsche Post have also offered support. However, Bonn's mayor Jürgen Nimptsch has put off plans for a new Beethovenfest home for some time. As such, his statements expected at the fest's opening on September 9 are hotly anticipated by event insiders.
An eleven year tradition will continue in 2011 as the festival takes up the international future of classical music by co-hosting the orchestra campus project together with Deutsche Welle. Each year a youth orchestra is invited to Bonn to perform as part of the event. Last year, Sinfonica Heliopolis from Brazil was the guest of honor, and concert-goers can look forward to hearing the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq this time around.
The mostly Kurdish and Arabic musicians will perform on October 1 in the Beethovenhalle, with the performance transmitted live at the town square. Ilona Schmiel finds the orchestra's background particularly interesting.
"It's amazing to see this classical orchestra put together from members from across Iraq, where classical music doesn't have a long tradition," Schmiel said.
"It's my impression that the young people living there have a yearning not just to build up their country together but also to find a musical language in which they can communicate - a language in which all boundaries can be overcome."
Schmiel is convinced that that's an important message to send in times of political turmoil.
"If the Campus project can help change the view of such a country, then there's a lot more going on then just making music."