To celebrate Beethoven’s 250th birthday this year, conductor Marin Alsop shares six reasons why the composer is really worth listening to – and more relevant today than ever.
Alsop was due to conduct a reimagined version of Beethoven’s most famous symphony at the Royal Festival Hall in April 2020, but the event could not take place due to the coronavirus crisis. The Beyond Beethoven 9 concert was part of a global project adding new text and interstitial music to Beethoven’s Symphony No.9 to amplify its message for today’s world.
Read on to discover Alsop’s take on the musical genius.
Beethoven’s philosophy of unity, tolerance, joy and optimism is more needed today than ever before.
In December 2019 I embarked on a year-long project, in partnership with Carnegie Hall, called All Together: A Global Ode to Joy with performances scheduled on six continents with 12 different orchestras, featuring nine newly created texts for our 21st-century listeners.
My idea was to celebrate the essence of Beethoven, musical genius and citizen of the world, in a way that would reinvigorate him for today’s audiences.
In light of our current world situation, this project has become a metaphor for the journey we all find ourselves on – we are all in this together, united, for the moment at least, in fear and uncertainty.
We can see glimmers of the goodness and kindness of humanity all around us. People reaching out to help each other; looking out for the elderly and compromised; turning their attention to producing goods that are suddenly needed.
This is, I hope, only the beginning of the goodness that Beethoven believed so wholeheartedly in.
Beethoven is usually remembered of course for his musical talent and work, but what is less known about Beethoven is that he was a fervent idealist.
Beethoven has long been a hero of mine; can you imagine what it would have been like to know, in your early 20s, that you would gradually lose the one thing you cared so much about and so desperately needed: your hearing?
Of course, this realisation was devastating, but his unwavering commitment to his artistic purpose in life kept him not only moving forward but pushing himself creatively like never before.
It is truly fitting that Beethoven, an artist who suffered and overcame extraordinary hardship, would be so integrally connected to this year of unprecedented human challenge.
In many ways, I believe that his inability to hear resulted in an inner creativity that defied history and enabled him to transcend all boundaries.
Symphony No.9 was composed after a ten-year pause in symphonic composition for
Beethoven and by then, following the rules mattered even less to him. This is a symphony composed by an outlier, a rebel, a leader.
My mentor, Leonard Bernstein, performed Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony when the Berlin Wall came down, changing the word ‘Freude’ (joy) to ‘Freiheit’ (freedom).
This moment and statement by Bernstein made a huge impression on me and, when I approached Carnegie Hall about partnering with me to bring a new version of this iconic moment to life, they enthusiastically came on board.
Beethoven’s music and message have never lost relevance, and it is crystal clear that we need the Ninth Symphony – with its message of joy, optimism, goodness and unity – now more than ever.
The Ninth Symphony is a journey that culminates in the ‘Ode to Joy’, joy being the most powerful uniting emotion we have as human beings.
Together we will endure, overcome and be joyous again.
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