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Ode to joy and to the genius behind it

By Chen Nan | China Daily | Updated: 2020-11-21 10:57
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Conductor Li Biao. [Photo provided to China Daily]

In the year of the pandemic, a grand anniversary has delivered much needed musical solace in an event that will reach its climax next month.

What on earth do you give someone for their 250th birthday?

Ludwig van Beethoven's gift to the world was his magnificent music, so what better way to return the compliment when that special day arrives in December than to play the full repertoire of his symphonies and concertos?

Trouble is that there are not enough hours in a day, let alone days in a week, to achieve that task, so the man who has given himself the mission of completing it, the conductor Li Biao, decided to get in early with a string of concerts.

It began on Sept 2 and stretched over a number of performances until Sept 20, during which he conducted the Beijing Symphony Orchestra Forbidden City Concert Hall as it played: Symphony No 7 in A major Op 92; Symphony No 5 in C minor Op 67, also often known as The Destiny; Symphony No 2 in D major Op 36; Piano Concerto No 5 in E flat Op 73, also known as Emperor; and Piano Concerto No 2 in B Flat Major Op 19.

That in a sense was just the first movement, and the series will reach its grand finale at the same venue when the orchestra plays a 12-hour performance called the Beethoven Marathon in the Forbidden City Concert Hall.

The history books are silent on when Beethoven was born, but we do know he was baptized on Dec 17, 1770, in Bonn, Germany, so in fixing Dec 12 for that anniversary finale, the organizers may not be that wide of the mark in relation to the maestro's birth date, in all likelihood the day before he was baptized.

On the morning of Dec 12 four solo pianists, Xu Hong, Huang Yameng, Sheng Yuan and Zou Xiang, will perform: Piano Sonata No 6, Op 10 No 2; Turkish March Op 76; Fantasia for Piano, Op 77; Six Bagatelles, Op 126; and Piano Sonata No 32, Op 111.

In the afternoon, chamber music concerts will be performed by more than 10 musicians, including the pianist Tan Xiaotang, the violinist Huang Bin, and the violist Liu Zizheng, performing repertoires such as sonata for violin and piano No 8 in G major, Op 30, No 3; sonata for cello and piano No 4 in C major, Op 102 No 1; and sonata for violin and piano No 5 in F major, op 24, also known as Spring Sonata.

In the afternoon a concert for children will be held with musicians performing music pieces by Beethoven for beginners, such as Bagatelle No 25 in A minor, better known as To Elise.

In the evening the audience will be treated to a performance by the Beijing Symphony Orchestra and a chorus of the Beijing Musician's Association, including: Triple Concerto in C major, Op 56; Fantasia for Piano, Chorus and Orchestra in C minor, Op 80.

The event will be crowned with the timeless fourth movement of Symphony No 9 in D minor, Op 125, Ode to Joy.

"When we gave the first concert of the series on Sept 2 only 50 percent of the seats were available to the audiences, because of COVID-19 control measures," Li says.

"Though the concert hall was not full, the reception from the audiences was overwhelming."

Since Sept 25 the seating capacity in movie theaters, theaters and concert halls has been raised to 75 percent, further generating interest in the performing arts.

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