If you’re a Beethoven fan, or just an admirer of classical music in general, Winston-Salem is the place to be in 2020. The immortal composer turns 250 this December, and classical music lovers around the world are eager to celebrate this exciting anniversary.
Last week, the Elias String Quartet, a group from England, performed nine of Beethoven’s string quartets as part of the Secrest Artists Series. If you didn’t go to those concerts, you really missed out on something special. Complete Beethoven string quartet cycles are relatively rare — free ones even rarer — and the Elias Quartet performed the pieces with amazing polish and energy. Thankfully for those of us who weren’t able to make last week’s performances, the Elias Quartet will be back in October to complete the cycle. Every one of the concerts in the fall will feature a quartet from the early, middle and late periods of Beethoven’s life, ensuring that listeners can experience the composer’s stylistic development in each concert.
However, the Secrest concerts are not the only amazing Beethoven-themed events happening in Winston-Salem this spring. There are a variety of exciting concerts and activities planned throughout the city, ranging from traditional symphony concerts to dance events and film screenings.
Perhaps the most exciting event coming up is the Winston-Salem Symphony’s Beethoven Celebration concert, which will be held on April 5 at 3 p.m. and April 7 at 7:30 p.m. at the Stevens Center. The concert will begin with the overture to Beethoven’s only opera, Fidelio (fun fact: he wrote four different overtures to this opera, in a classic example of his characteristic perfectionism), and continue with his Sixth Symphony, popularly known as the “Pastoral.” The Sixth Symphony is unique in that it is the only programmatic symphony that Beethoven wrote. That means that it tells a story, in this case illustrating scenes in the countryside (including a dramatic storm), unlike his other symphonies, which are “absolute” music with no explicit narrative qualities. With the Sixth Symphony, you can really hear the scenes Beethoven is trying to depict, with each movement given a descriptive title. The concert will conclude with the “Mass in C,” one of the composer’s greatest choral works. “The Mass” is a rare treat, often overshadowed by Beethoven’s more popular pieces for chorus and orchestra, such as the “Missa Solemnis” and, of course, the Ninth Symphony. Despite its bad initial reception — the person who commissioned it, Prince Nikolaus Esterházy II, was extremely disappointed at the premiere — it is now considered to be one of Beethoven’s most heartfelt and direct pieces.
For those who aren’t particularly interested in a symphony concert, there are other events happening around Winston-Salem. If you’re here during spring break, there are two dance events on March 13 and March 14 at 8 p.m. at Hanesbrands Theater: “Dancing Beethoven, Chopin, Rachmaninoff, Rakowski.” If movies are more your thing, the 1994 film Immortal Beloved, starring Gary Oldman, will be playing every day at 12:30 p.m. at the UNCSA Main Theatre from March 26 to April 5.