Nov 5, 2017

FACING THE MESSAGE OF BEETHOVEN

Beethoven spent his childhood and adolescent years in the electorate of Cologne; in Bonn. He was breathing a new air of freedom, as the elector of Cologne, Maximilian Franz, the brother of the Emperor of Austria, encouraged the spirit of enlightenment and independent thinking. It’s fascinating to think that Beethoven’s first impulses towards becoming a musician happened in this environment, and in this location close to where we are based, in Cologne.

He was from early on acutely aware of the fact that he was the sole successor to Mozart and Haydn, and he was conscious of his role in bringing music forwards and of developing the symphonic format. Beethoven is an important composer for both the past and the future, for even today, the orchestral symphonic tradition always goes back to him: his music provides a source of meaning and purpose for the symphonic idea. We can hear the connections, or Beethoven’s message of what a symphony is, in the music of all composers who wrote symphonies after him – most obviously Brahms, Bruckner and Sibelius, but we can also hear his motivic messages in Mahler and Schoenberg’s music.

I think every orchestra, whether it is chamber or symphonic, period or modern, Romantic or Classical, has to have its own perspective on Beethoven. When I started performing Beethoven’s symphonies with the WDR Symphony, the idea of making a complete recording cycle started developing in my mind. The idea also had a positive response from the orchestra, and together we decided that our performances should be documented.

Our musical collaboration was actually developing through performing Beethoven’s symphonies, and the conviction we felt in performing his work was also reflected in our performances of other composers’ music. In the past, I was always the most happy with the performances of Beethoven’s music with chamber orchestras – notably with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra many years ago – and these experiences gave me the courage to try his music also with symphony orchestras without compromising his message, style, or characters. Now after eight rewarding years with the WDR Symphony, I feel that the time is right to record this cycle, with this orchestra.

To me, Beethoven has always been a symbol of what a single individual with great strength and independence can contribute to this world. He has always held this meaning for me, but I feel that his music has become even more relevant today, when we need to strengthen the values of humanity and culture more than ever.

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