Bristol celebrates 250 years of Beethoven
Written by Edward Christian-Hare
2020 marks the 250th anniversary of the birth of a truly titanic musical mastermind: Ludwig van Beethoven. Perhaps no other figure, before or since, has as much demonstrated how human life may be redeemed through art.
As celebrations of his music take place across the world, St George’s Bristol are offering plenty of local Beethoven concerts. On Friday 24th January, the renowned pianist Angela Hewitt will perform three sets of variations from the Beethoven catalogue, in addition to some selections by Bach.
Continuing with Beethoven’s solo piano works, James Lisney is playing the late sonata in A flat, in the second of his ‘Endgame’ concert series on Wednesday 5th February. These performances explore the mature piano writing of Beethoven, Haydn, Schubert and Chopin.
And of course, you couldn’t possibly celebrate Beethoven without his symphonies. On Sunday 15th March, the BBC National Orchestra of Wales are performing the mighty ‘Eroica’, as well as the concert aria Ah! Perfido (Ah! Deceiver). The programme includes Richard Strauss’s Metamorphosen, itself including part of Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’.
The Bristol Metropolitan Orchestra are playing the indomitable fifth symphony, along with Liszt’s second piano concerto, on Sunday 22nd March. Rachel Starritt, the pianist, is a student at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama, and will also be playing an improvised jazz piece after the concerto.
On Tuesday 24th March, St George’s Bristol’s Orchestra in Residence, Aurora Orchestra, will be performing Beethoven’s sixth symphony ‘Pastoral’, entirely from memory. This continues their unique memorised performance of whole symphonies, and showcases their unusual talent, in a programme that includes Mozart’s A major piano concerto K488, and Harrison Birtwistle’s Cortege for 14 musicians.
Beethoven’s glorious ninth symphony is then making its inevitable appearance on Saturday 9th May, when the Bristol Classical Players perform it alongside Wagner’s Meistersinger Prelude and Vaughan Williams’s ‘Toward the Unknown Region’. A carefully prepared programme, Wagner took great influence from Beethoven, particularly his ninth symphony, and it was in fact the only work except his own that he conducted towards the end of his life. And Vaughan Williams’s hymn to transcendence covers similar themes to the ninth, as a setting of a poem by Walt Whitman that celebrates those who achieve grandeur.
Scaling back down to chamber music, the Takacs Quartet are performing Beethoven’s String Quartet Op 135 on Thursday 14th May. The programme includes Haydn’s String Quartet Op 54 No 2, and Mendelssohn’s Op 13. As Op 135 was Beethoven’s last string quartet, and indeed his last major work, we can expect a thrilling but emotional rendition from one of the world’s most acclaimed string quartets.