2020 marks the 250th birthday of Beethoven, one of the most iconic and recognisable – both musically and visually – figures in classical music. In a fitting tribute to the much-mythologised figure, the Barbican is hosting a year’s worth of Beethoven events, kicking off with the two-day Beethoven Weekender. In his lifetime (the late 18th and early 19th century), the tempestuous composer was a radical champion of individual expression in an age of violent social change.
Naturally, first on the agenda is a performance of Beethoven’s complete symphonies. Introduced by Beethoven specialist and Classical FM host John Suchet, five of the UK’s finest orchestras will take audiences on a symphonic journey from Beethoven’s game-changing First Symphony through to the glorious Ninth. Performers include the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic.
In a more intimate section, the Carducci Quartet highlight the larger-than-life man behind the music in an exploration of Beethoven’s tumultuous relationships. Combining extracts from his intensely passionate letters with some of his most profound music, they will touch on the feuds, great loves, and the composer’s struggles with encroaching deafness, which he suffered from completely by 1816.
Along with classical performances, a group of young and groundbreaking musicians step up to the challenge of reinterpreting the legendary music – appropriately enough, as in his own time, Beethoven was widely considered a radical innovator. Young composers and performers reinvent the Pastoral Symphony in the verdant surroundings of the barbican Conservatory, while the ground-breaking musical collective s t a r g a z e present composer-provocateur Matthew Herbert’s 21st-century response, which moves from electronic installation to flashmob.
Aside from the phenomenal musical offerings, the Barbican will host the Beethoven-Haus Bonn’s fascinating touring exhibition BTHVN. Gaze upon Beethoven’s personal objects up close – including the composer’s own violin, ear trumpet and sketch books – as well as Andy Warhol’s iconic Beethoven screenprint, a tribute and acknowledgement from one artistic genius to another.
Beethoven Weekended 1–2 February 2020; for full schedule, go to barbican.org.uk
Barbican Centre, Silk Street, London, EC2Y 8DS
Tickets £45, barbican.org.uk