Austin's Throwing a Big Bash for Beethoven in 2020
The classical community is lighting 250 candles for this musical superhero
You want to party in 2020? Then get to wherever Austin's classical musicians are, because they have a serious shindig underway that's gonna last all year long. That's the kind of party that's called for when your birthday boy hits 250, and the "boy" marking that monumental milestone is one of the most beloved in the classical realm: Ludwig van Beethoven. These musicians are so excited about the composer's 250th that they're programming special events and concerts of his music throughout 2020.
Now, you may be wondering why anyone but these Schroeder wannabes should give an eighth note about Ludwig van B's b-day. I mean, you know "dun dun dun DUNNNN." What else is there to know?
Ah, reader, thinking you know Beethoven because you know the Fifth Symphony is like thinking you know the Beatles because you know "Yesterday" or Duke Ellington because you know "Sophisticated Lady": The individual work is undeniably great, but it barely scratches the surface of great work that the artist produced – and not just great but unprecedented, innovative, work that changed the way music was made and heard.
You don't have to take my word for it. People with much more authority on the subject will tell you the same, among them Butler School of Music Professor of Piano Anton Nel, who is renowned as an interpreter of Beethoven and has recorded the composer's complete sonatas for piano and cello and variations.
"To me, Beethoven has always been one of the first composers who really broke the mold," Nel says. "He's 'my' revolutionary, groundbreaking superhero whose music is unbelievably forward-looking and moving.
"He's a fascinating person to study, and we can learn so much about him from his letters and sketchbooks. In his scores, too, he is one of the first composers to give very clear and precise instructions as to how he wants his music played. I feel that Beethoven's music reaches all listeners through its power and beauty."
See, he's a musical Superman – though he also has his Clark Kent side, as Austin Symphony Orchestra Music Director and Conductor Peter Bay notes: "Beethoven has always seemed godlike to me in so many ways. But I can't get over his earthly challenges, his brazen determination to communicate to all of us in the greatest musical terms despite a crippling handicap.
"I often think about the time he wrote his Second Symphony, a work with such great humor, high spirits, and hardly a sad moment; it seems to me one of his most hyperactive pieces. It was also a time he was considering suicide, dealing with the gradual loss of hearing. This and more he spelled out to his two brothers in a touching letter often referred to as the Heiligenstadt Testament. 'But what a humiliation when one stood beside me and heard a flute in the distance and I heard nothing, or someone heard the shepherd singing and again I heard nothing, such incidents brought me to the verge of despair, but little more and I would have put an end to my life – only Art it was that withheld me, ah it seemed impossible to leave the world until I had produced all that I felt called upon me to produce, and so I endured this wretched existence.'
"Despite all this, how could he possibly write such uplifting, positive music? His humanity, his desire to write music which inspires us to keep going no matter what might be ailing us, is just one quality that continues to draw me closer to the man and his music."
If that vulnerability and resolve strikes a chord in you and sparks a desire to hear more of this man's music, Austin is providing a bounty of options, everything from works he composed in the 25th year of his life to pieces from his final few years.
Bay and Nel are teaming for a major part of the local Beethoven250 celebration: Nel will play all five of Beethoven's piano concertos with Bay and the ASO over two nights, June 18 and 19. That's just a month after ASO joins forces with Conspirare's Symphonic Choir to take on Beethoven's Ninth Symphony – the one that ends with his magnificent choral Ode to Joy. And on Feb. 16, Nel has a solo recital at the Butler School's Bates Recital Hall in which he'll play multiple piano works.
But wait, there's more! The Austin Chamber Music Center, which celebrates Beethoven's birthday with a concert every year and which has been featuring a work by Beethoven in each concert this season, will devote its March 28 concert fully to the composer: Beethoven and the Infinite will feature ACMC Artistic Director Michelle Schumann and the Attacca Quartet playing a cello sonata, a quintet, and a string quartet.
While you might not be able to hear an infinite amount of Beethoven's music in Austin this year, you can hear enough to know more of what makes this composer both a musical hero and a man worth throwing a great, great party for.
Beethoven 250th Celebrated
Anton Nel, piano: Beethoven
Sun., Feb. 16, 4pm.
Bates Recital Hall, 2406 Robert Dedman Dr., UT campus.
Austin Chamber Music Center: Beethoven and the Infinite
Sat., March 28, 7:30pm.
First Unitarian Universalist Church, 4700 Grover.
Central Texas Philharmonic: Symphony No. 9
Sun., April 19, 4pm.
Klett Center for the Performing Arts, 2211 N. Austin Ave., Georgetown.
Austin Symphony Orchestra: Symphony No. 9
Fri., May 15 & Sat., May 16, 8pm.
Dell Hall at the Long Center, 701 W. Riverside.
Austin Symphony Orchestra & Anton Nel: Beethoven250
Thu., June 18 & Fri., June 19, 8pm.
Dell Hall at the Long Center, 701 W. Riverside.