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What surprised the Beethoven Festival in 2022 – DW – 19.09.2022

From gentle overflows to impressive orchestral parts: in the finale of the Beethoven Festival, Hector Berlioz’s “Fantastic Symphony” kept the audience in suspense. Finally, applause! No wonder, because the orchestra played the symphony without notes for a whole 45 minutes. The tradition of the festival, where every year the musicians choose one piece to perform exclusively from memory.

For three weeks, musicians from all over the world, with different identities, different physical abilities, from different cultures and musical genres, held about 100 different and unusual concerts for the audience. Artistic Director Steven Walter is delighted with the success of the festival, which is being held for the first time under his direction: “We are very pleased. It was a great combination of a wide range of formats, great concerts and audience emotions.”

New formats

Performing from memory gives listeners a new experience of listening to music, says conductor Nicholas Collon in an interview with DW: “We’ve been playing from memory for eight years now, and it changes the way you think about a piece.” This allows the musicians to communicate with each other and with the audience in an unusual and unique way without having to look at the sheet music. “We’re not looking to put on a show and impress. Learning by heart helps you understand the music more deeply,” says Collon.

Quartermaster Stephen Walter
Quartermaster Stephen WaltherPhoto: Neda Navaee/Beethovenfest

And yet, the “wow effect” is evident, which is consonant with the position of artistic director Steven Walter, who is sure that modern listeners have different expectations for concerts than 150 years ago. “The event component will continue to accompany Beethovenfest in the future. Anything that is unique will appeal to the audience,” he says in an interview with DW.

New sounds in an unusual setting

One of the special musical events of the festival was a concert in the dark, which, together with the Berlin quartet “Vision String Quartet”, was prepared by participants who have vision problems. In complete darkness, music is perceived much more powerfully. Much to the delight of the audience, the quartet performed the music from memory.

A very unusual musical experience could be felt at a height of 162 meters – in a skyscraper in Bonn, where visitors could literally feel the music in high-speed elevators. Several floors of the Deutsche Post DHL headquarters hosted an evening of classical and contemporary music concerts, and some of them were held at dizzying heights in every sense.

Political notes

Music in the understanding of the artistic director of the Beethoven Festival reflects current political and social problems, so it sounds about war, climate problems, racism and diversity.

Thus, the musicians of “Podium Esslingen” performed arrangements by the African-American composer Julius Eastman. The style of his work refers to minimalism and post-minimalism. In a 1976 interview, he said of himself: “What I want is to be fully myself: fully black, fully musician, fully homosexual.” He died in 1990 at the age of 50 from excessive alcohol and drug use. Currently, his music is experiencing a rebirth.

A peace concert was held on the Deutsche Welle campus with the participation of musicians from Germany, Ukraine and Belarus. Among them was the Belarusian “Free Choir”, created in the fall of 2020 from professional musicians who could not stay away from the events taking place in the country. Alexander Lukashenko called the choir an enemy organization. In order not to be recognized, the band members wear masks. “Lukashenko is literally hunting us,” says one of the choir members.

The theme of diversity will continue to accompany the Beethovenfest team on many levels. “It’s also important to learn how to communicate in a variety of ways. I think that’s one of the main reasons why classical music can’t be made accessible,” says Walter. c The team is trying to reach a wide audience using simple language and a variety of media. “In the end, this is our goal: we manage to move the Beethoven Festival to the center of society,” says the head of the festival.

You can listen to the concerts on our Youtube channel “D.W. Classical Music”

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