Pianist Barbara Lister-Sink and cellist Evan Richey played music by Ludwig van Beethoven, and James Allbritten opened an event on Thursday with a call-and-response of the first four notes of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.
The nearly 150 people attending called it right back to him at a press conference at the Milton Rhodes Center for the Arts to announce a yearlong celebration of Beethoven’s 250th birthday.
Over the coming year, at least 32 arts organizations will present 50 events in Beethoven Rocks Winston-Salem, part of a worldwide effort — led by the city of Bonn, Germany — to recognize the contributions of Beethoven to music and art.
David Neill, president of Mercedes-Benz of Winston-Salem, said that he had been looking for a project that would benefit the community as a way to celebrate his company’s 50th anniversary year, so he leapt at the chance to be the presenting sponsor of Beethoven Rocks.
“Art is the fabric that weaves us together and makes this a great community,” Neill said.
Everybody knows the scowl but few are aware of Beethoven’s sweetness, said David Levy, a world-renowned expert and music professor at Wake Forest University, who dressed as the subject of his scholarship and devotion at the press conference.
“His encroaching hearing issues gave him the appearance of not being social, but he actually loved being around people,” Levy said. “Beethoven’s story is one of overcoming and coping with obstacles and still accomplishing amazing things.”
Beethoven’s upbringing was harsh, Levy said, his father was an alcoholic, his mother died and left him to raise his two younger brothers.
“In his Ninth Symphony, part of the text says, ‘Be embraced, you millions,’ and that is what is happening here — 32 organizations are collaborating to celebrate his music and his influence.
“It’s an artistic response to what is going on in the world.”
The first event, Beethoven’s Liederabend, will be Jan. 16 at Wake Forest University. It will feature Steven Scheschareg, a bass-baritone from Vienna, Austria, and Peter Kairoff, pianist, chair and professor from the WFU Department of Music. The concert is free.
Matthew Troy, director of the Piedmont Wind Symphony, said that his orchestra will play a piece called “Extreme Beethoven,” by Johan de Meij, in its March concert.
“It’s really a pastiche of a lot of famous Beethoven themes,” Troy said. “A contemporary extrapolation of those themes.”
Piedmont Opera and the Winston-Salem Symphony will collaborate on “Fidelio,” Beethoven’s only opera, in the fall, Allbritten said.
Eileen Young, director of Salem Band, said that her group will play Beethoven’s “Turkish March,” with a trumpet solo by David Teague at Hanesbrands Theatre, also in the fall.
The Moravian Music Foundation owns a copy of the original edition of a set of parts of Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony, known as the Pastoral, as well as other early editions and arrangements of Beethoven’s music, which they plan to feature in chamber music concerts.
“This collaboration is a grassroots effort that brings people together who are involved in every aspect of the arts in our community, including music, film, dance and literature,” said Mary Beth Johnson, one of the organizers of the effort and chief operating officer for the Winston-Salem Symphony.
“We’re still hearing from groups, and even businesses, that have heard about our plans and want to get involved,” Johnson said.
Plans call for at least one event to be scheduled each month of 2020, Allbritten said.
In his 56 years, Beethoven composed 722 works in all the main genres of concert music, including symphonies, concertos, string quartets, piano sonatas and opera. He straddled both the classical and romantic periods, working in genres associated with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart such as the piano concerto, string quartet and symphony, while providing a precursor to Romantic composers such as Hector Berlioz and Franz Liszt with programmatic works such as his Pastoral Symphony and Piano Sonata “Les Adieux.”
“It’s interesting to note the older and more isolated he got, the more profound his artistic output was,” Levy said. “There’s something in Beethoven that touches everyone.”