Bonn’s BTHVN 2020
By Monique Burns
Relatively few Americans have ever visited Bonn. You might have heard about the former West German capital on the news. But chances are you’ve never experienced the city unless you were a German bureaucrat in a past life.
That’s all about to change.
For a full year, from mid-December 2019 through mid-December 2020, Bonn is throwing its doors open to visitors from around the globe as it celebrates the 250th birthday of favorite son Ludwig van Beethoven, the world’s most frequently played classical composer.
BTHVN2020 events will be held throughout Germany and the world, but Bonn will be the focus of the celebration. In December 1770, Ludwig van Beethoven was born in that graceful city along the Rhine and spent the first 22 years of his life there.
Just in time for Beethoven’s 250th birthday, Beethoven-Haus Bonn, the maestro’s actual birthplace, is also throwing open its doors to the world. Or, rather, it’s reopening, after a long, meticulous reconstruction by award-winning Zurich firm Holzer Kobler Architekturen.
Centrally located in Bonn’s Old City, Beethoven-Haus displays the world’s largest collection of the composer’s memorabilia, including original portraits, musical scores, vintage instruments and even his ear trumpets. In the pink Baroque house with green shutters where Beethoven was born, one of several adjacent museum properties, the permanent collection is scheduled to reopen in September 2019. Thoroughly re-imagined, it’s organized by themes like “Beethoven and Bonn,” “Work-Life Balance,” and “Illness and Deafness.”
Opening in December 17, 2019 in an adjoining building is a new listening room, complete with headphones, allowing visitors to hear five pieces Beethoven composed in Bonn, and a new 40-seat Music Room for lectures, films and short concerts on historic keyboard instruments. There’s also a new climate-controlled Treasury Room with Beethoven’s hand-written scores.
In the building’s new Special Exhibition Hall, the inaugural exhibit, “In Bester Gesellschaft,” or “In Good Company,” December 17, 2019–April 26, 2020, traces the story behind artist Joseph Stieler’s iconic 1820 Beethoven portrait depicting the scowling maestro, with wavy grey locks and a flowing red cravat, holding the manuscript of his mass, the “Missa Solemnis, Op. 123.”
Across the street, another building will house a new café, ticket office, cloakroom and lockers, rest rooms and educational facilities. To the joy of music fans, the Beethoven-Haus’ acoustically renowned Chamber Music Hall, built in 1989, has remained open throughout reconstruction.
As for BTHVN2020, the “Beethoven Anniversary Year” or “Beethoven Year of Discovery,” if you’re not a classical-music fan, you’re probably wondering what could possibly interest you.
And, if you’re planning a vacation with family, particularly children, you’re probably wondering how you could possibly sell the idea of spending your time in Germany listening to classical music.
Fortunately, BTHVN2020, organized by a consortium of German federal, state and local cultural organizations, has planned a huge and incredibly varied slate of activities—musical and non-musical—guaranteed to appeal to people of all ages and inclinations.
Along with concert-hall performances of Beethoven classical music, special events will include major museum exhibits, city tours of Beethoven sites, theater performances, picnics in the nearby countryside, multimedia sound-and-light shows, films and lectures, outdoor festivities and even riverboat concerts.
If you’re looking for exciting ways to introduce your children to classical music—one of Europe’s great gifts to the world—this is your golden opportunity.
Special events by and for the hearing-impaired community are also on tap. It’s a welcome nod to Beethoven’s deafness, which began in his late 20s, was fully complete by his late 40s, but, miraculously, did not keep him from composing his monumental late works.
If you’re not fond of classical music, consider attending Bonn Jazzfest, April 30-May 28, 2020. Beethoven, musicologists say, practiced the art of improvisation over a century before the advent of jazz, which is practically synonymous with improvisation.
If you do like classical music, there’ll be plenty to enjoy, from Beethoven’s intimate chamber-music quartets and lyrical piano sonatas to his grand symphonies, held in various venues, indoors and outdoors, and performed in various programs and formats, short and long, formal and casual.
A special program, “Beethoven at Home,” will organize concerts in the homes of Bonn residents. Imagine listening to a Beethoven string quartet in the intimacy of someone’s living room, the very place it was intended to be heard.
Bonn hotels are also getting into the act. Hotel Collegium Leoninum, a former red-brick seminary turned four-star hotel, will stage Beethoven concerts in its handsome former seminary church with vaulted ceiling and high arched windows.
A five-minute walk from Bonn’s Old Town, the Hotel Collegium Leoninum is also across from the 18th-century Alter Friedhof, housing the simple grave of Beethoven’s mother, Maria-Magdalena Keverich, and the elaborate white-marble tomb of German composer and Beethoven devotee Robert Schumann.
On December 16, 2019, the Beethoven Orchester Bonn presents the BTHVN2020 Opening Concert, then follows it with Beethoven Night, performances of all Beethoven’s nine symphonies, on December 21.
December 2019 also brings the blockbuster four-month museum exhibition, “BEETHOVEN. World. Citizen. Music.,” December 17, 2019-April 26, 2020, in the Bundeskunsthalle. Also on Bonn’s famed Museum Mile: “Music and Politics” at the Haus der Geschichte and “Sound and Silence” at the Kunstmuseum.
In concert with its Beethoven exhibit, Bundeskunsthalle 2020 events include Sunday Piano Matinees (January 26-April 26), with musical commentary designed for young audiences; a screening of the 1927 silent film BEETHOVEN (February 1) with original music by the Metropolis Orchestra Berlin, and a Lecture Concert (February 14) showcasing the ‘hearing machine” that Beethoven used to write his late compositions.
If you like opera, the Oper Bonn presents Beethoven’s only opera, “FIDELIO,” on January 1, 2020, with performances through March 27.
For 2020, both the annual BTHVN WEEK and International Beethovenfest Bonn have been expanded. BTHVN WEEK, January 16-February 9, 2020, features “Beethoven Pure,” 16 concerts showcasing all Beethoven’s chamber music, including his peerless string quartets. Directed by award-winning violist and professor Tabea Zimmermann, the chamber-music festival will be presented in the Beethoven-Haus’ Chamber Music Hall.
On February 21, the Oper Bonn hosts the Beethoven Orchester’s Karnevalskonzert during Bonn’s rollicking annual Carnival. The next evening brings a London Symphony Orchestra Concert conducted by Sir Simon Rattle.
Usually in fall, the 2020 International Beethovenfest Bonn will have both spring and fall editions. The spring edition (March 13-22) features creative renderings of Beethoven’s Nine Symphonies by Greek-Russian conductor Teodor Currentzis.
Leading both spring and fall festival editions is long-standing artistic director Nike Wagner, great-granddaughter of German composer Richard Wagner and great-great-granddaughter of Hungarian composer Franz Liszt.
Also in spring, the BTHVN2020 Music Riverboat, March 12-April 20, retraces young Beethoven’s voyage from Bonn to Vienna to study with Austrian composer Joseph Haydn. Stopping in various towns en route, young musicians will play free riverside concerts.
For Summer 2020, plenty of activities are on tap. On June 5, Pastoral Day, part of the “Beethoven Pastoral Project,” takes its cue from Beethoven’s love of nature, expressed in his “Pastoral Symphony No. 6.”
The project, in conjunction with the United Nations Climate Secretariat, invited artists worldwide to make creative statements on climate change. Along with the world premiere of “Pastoral-Music” in Bonn and Vienna, “Pastorale,” a lively community dance project, takes the stage in Bonn.
June 12-25 brings the “Bonn-Rhein-Sieg School Music Festival” with open-air band and orchestral concerts by children and teens from Bonn and the surrounding region. On June 26, the Oper Bonn presents “X-Rayed,” a multimedia sound-and-light extravaganza with music, film and live acts.
On June 21, visitors and residents in nine different European cities will gather outdoors for open-air performances of all Beethoven’s Nine Symphonies. Starting at 1 p.m. in Bonn’s Marktplatz, the event ends that evening in Vienna.
On August 8, the National Youth Orchestra of Germany and the World Youth Choir present “The Ninth,” Beethoven’s acclaimed symphony, in the Maritim Hotel Bonn’s spacious auditorium. That same night: The premiere of “Tan Dun: The Nine Project,” based on the Beethoven symphony and composed by Chinese-born Tan Dun who also wrote the score for the 2000 Ang Lee movie “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”
Fall’s International Beethovenfest Bonn (September 4-27) offers as many as 60 concerts performed by major ensembles like the Basel Chamber Orchestra, the Bayreuth Festival Orchestra, the Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra and the Pittsburgh Symphony. A big draw: Franz Liszt’s technically demanding piano transcriptions of Beethoven’s Symphonies.
Beethovenfest also presents Theater Bonn’s “Fidelio” as well as three operas by Beethoven contemporaries. For the young and young at heart, there’s a production of “Fidelio en Miniature” by the Salzburg Marionette Theatre.
“The Plea for Peace,” in Bonn’s Kreuzkirche, November 14-22, features four evenings of music, art and performance based on Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, Op. 123.
For Winter 2020, the musical-theater piece, “AWAKENING,” explores the connection between Beethovian notions of liberty and ancient Buddhist teachings. Written by Delhi-born composer Param Vir and playwright David Rudkin, both of Great Britain, it’s slated for December 13 at the Oper Bonn.
Finally, after the December 16, 2020 Beethoven-Gala at Bonn’s Telekom Dome sports arena, the Beethoven Anniversary Year concludes with the December 17 “Ode to Joy Around the Globe,” a performance of Beethoven’s “Ninth Symphony”, including Friedrich Schiller’s “Ode to Joy,” the European Anthem.
Conducted by Daniel Barenboim, and featuring German violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter, it will be performed by the European Youth Choir, and the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, a unique cooperative of Arab and Israeli musicians. A mass sing-a-long, “From the Individual to Society,” will be live-streamed around the world.
The Beethoven Anniversary Year also will introduce American visitors, at long last, to Bonn, a charming riverside city with a café-filled Old Town, Museum Mile lined with art and history museums, and countless Beethoven sites.
Across the Rhine, in the Siebengebirge, or Seven Hills, region, follow in Beethoven’s footsteps and explore woodland trails and craggy peaks, then visit hilltop Grand Hotel & Spa Petersberg and 12th- century Heisterbach Abbey.
Other celebrated Rhineland cities like Aachen, Koblenz, Trier and Wiesbaden lie only 1-2 hours from Bonn by high-speed train. Visit Roman ruins, medieval churches and 19th-century monuments; cruise the Rhine and Moselle; enjoy healing hot springs and spas; dine at convivial sidewalk cafés, riverside beer gardens and gourmet restaurants, and stop at family-owned wineries and world-renowned cellars to taste the region’s celebrated Rieslings and sparkling wines.
Come to think of it, a trip to Bonn and the Rhineland—graced with Beethoven’s incomparable music— shouldn’t be too hard a sell, whether you’re in the mood for a romantic getaway or a kid-friendly family vacation.
IF YOU GO
Monique Burns is a longtime travel writer and editor, and a European Correspondent for Jax Fax Magazine, a travel magazine for U.S. travel agents. A former Travel & Leisure Senior Editor, she travels frequently to Europe, but can sometimes be found in far-flung locales like India and Asia. After more than 30 years in the travel business, she still appreciates the world’s many cultural differences and can honestly say that she’s never met a place she didn’t like.