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The Richmond Symphony celebrates the music of Beethoven during a two-week festival.

Beethoven Lives Here

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Beethoven wrote more than a couple of memorable tunes. The opening bars of his Fifth Symphony constitute the most famous melody ever composed, recognizable after four notes (bah-bah-bah-DUM!). His elegantly compact units of sonic information plant themselves in our brains and refuse to be dislodged even by the persistent, omnipresent thumping of Britney Spears and the "music" we are forced to endure in grocery stores. The audience's passion for Beethoven rages on almost 200 years after his death.

This is a big anniversary year for Bach (250 years since his death), and it is surprising there isn't more programming around this occasion. Bach, whose name means "brook" or "spring" in German, is lovingly referred to by musicians as the wellspring — all of the music we listen to finds its source in what Bach accomplished in his lifetime. But if Bach was the wellspring, Beethoven was the geyser. His creative output cataclysmically changed not just the way people thought about music, but how people thought about thought itself. Art, philosophy and politics were all affected by Beethoven's efforts. Consequently, the veneration lavished on his memory is not surprising.

The Richmond Symphony presents its first Beethoven Festival with a series of concerts and events concerning this titan among composers. A lecture by Miles Hoffman, NPR'S "Performance Today" commentator kicks off the series on Wednesday, March 29. His "Coming to Terms with Beethoven" presentation will be held at WCVE's studios. On March 31 and April 2, Mark Russell Smith leads the symphony in Beethoven's Seventh Symphony. Violinist Adele Anthony will join the Symphony on the same program in Beethoven's Violin Concerto.

The last time the Symphony held such an event was the occasion of its Mozart Festival in the early '90s. Michele Walter, executive director of the Richmond Symphony, says, "We're trying to draw attention to the music of Beethoven. One of the advantages of doing a festival like this is being able to further explore the music of a certain composer."

Some of the events in this Festival are especially well-suited to children. By the age of 4 or 5 most children can easily remember a melody penned by Beethoven. Children also tend to understand instinctively that even the shortest excerpt of his work reveals hints of tragedy and exuberance, often commingled. The Symphony teams up with the Youth Orchestra in a Side By Side concert (April 5), which will give kids a chance to see people closer to their own age perform works by the great composer. In a Family Concert (April 7 and 9), the Symphony's Associate Conductor Gerardo Edelstein will present a version of "Beethoven Lives Upstairs," the popular children's book and video which gives a glimpse of the life of Beethoven through the eyes of a young boy.

Beethoven's Third Piano Concerto and his Sixth Symphony, the "Pastorale," will be offered in a Masterworks Concert with guest conductor Kenneth Jean and pianist James Tocco. A Kicked Back Classics event also features Jean and Tocco performing the Eighth Symphony, the first movement of the "Moonlight" Sonata, and excerpts from the Third Piano Concerto (April 15, 16, 17).

This festival offers the chance to hear works by Beethoven that are usually passed over in music appreciation class. If you're already a classical music hound, this festival represents a fine opportunity to re-familiarize yourself with some of the work of the

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