In her planning for the festival she was supported by journalist and musicologist Luis Gago. Malte Hemmerich met the two programme planners as well as the Beethoven Haus director Malte Boecker in Berlin, speaking with them about the 2020 edition of the festival, which marked Tabea Zimmermann’s last edition as Artistic Director, and was the crowning achievement of her time there.
Malte Hemmerich: Tabea Zimmermann, have you ever got tired of Beethoven?
Tabea Zimmermann: No, never. But perhaps I am a bit odd in that respect. Never in my life have I been tired of music. Regardless of how bad I feel, music always gives me energy. With Beethoven this is particularly the case: the more masterful the work, the more I am completely gripped by it.
As a viola player, what is the first thing you played by Beethoven?
Tabea Zimmermann: Definitely the string trios. I played those endlessly with my sister, starting at the age of five until I was about 20.
Each edition of the festival is themed around one work by Beethoven, around which there are many works by other composers.
Malte Boecker: Exactly. I find we have developed something special in Bonn over the years, which I’m very happy and grateful for. After 200 years of playing Beethoven it is almost impossible to find a new perspective. Our ‘work festival’ concept is of course not a completely new idea, but it just works really well.
And in 2020 you deviate from this concept slightly by programming Beethoven’s complete chamber music repertoire.
Tabea Zimmermann: We wanted to perform the complete chamber music works in the Beethoven Haus just once. But in our tried-and-tested way, we also wanted to complement works and bring out themes.
But is there not a danger of a Beethoven-overload?
Malte Boecker: We’ll have to run that risk. Of course, what we are doing is pure luxury, especially with the artists we have invited. But the relationships between the works are so interesting. I don’t think you often get the chance to really hear everything so intensively in one place.
Luis Gago: I actually don’t know any festival that has really put on Beethoven’s chamber music in its entirety. Our main focus is on the mixture of genres and on the artists. We have artists that have already come to the Beethoven Woche as well as new names, all of whom have a very strong connection to Beethoven.
It is a great responsibility to deal with Beethoven’s music at such a historic place in such an important jubilee year. Does this come with pressure or is it an incentive?
Tabea Zimmermann: I don’t feel it as pressure, but it is a difficult task. One side of it is finding brilliant interpreters and a good programme, and the other is how it will be received by the audience. It is, in any case, just the interim conclusion of a dynamic working process.
I would argue that when you perform all his works, there will also be a few that are less good than others...
Tabea Zimmermann: Of course, an opus 8, for example, is going to be different to the late works. But when you just perform the late works, then you are not doing the composer justice. Why not show how he develops?
Luis Gago: These ‘weaker works‘, if you want to call them that, are ones that we have placed in particularly interesting contexts. For example, in a programme of trios, sonatas and quartets all in C major. Part of our concept was that in every concert we would have works from each of Beethoven’s three periods, as Franz Liszt described them: teenager, man and god. In 2020 you will be able to hear the most unusual combinations of works. That changes your perspective and perhaps also your judgement!
Interview excerpt published with kind permission of Beethoven-Haus Bonn
Translation: Samuel Johnstone