Academic journal article The Beethoven Newsletter

Conference Report: "The Beethoven Experience," PepsiCo Summerfare, Purchase, New York, August 5-6, 1989

Academic journal article The Beethoven Newsletter

Conference Report: "The Beethoven Experience," PepsiCo Summerfare, Purchase, New York, August 5-6, 1989

Article excerpt

"The Beethoven Experience" was a bold experiment in American cultural life in providing the general musical public with an intense educational experience offered in the context of a conference. Overall, the weekend was a resounding success, whether or not one approved of Norrington's verbal interpretation or the final performance of the Ninth by Norrington and the London Classical Players. Presenters, historians, and performers in the United States might do well to take note that the public is eager to attend serious undertakings of this sort, and plan similar events.*

The weekend conference was advertised with the aims of "confronting the question of whether it is possible to hear the Ninth with a fresh ear; providing a context for a recreation of the symphony that transforms our understanding of this monumental work; and immersing the audience in the music, art, dance, and thought of early 19th-century Vienna." The Experience was to culminate "in a full performance of the Ninth where authenticity serves to reawaken the shock, excitement, and originality of an amazing masterpiece." If these seem rather ambitious and hyperbolized undertakings for two afternoons and evenings over a single weekend, nonetheless it can be said that the conference did its best to meet these goals.

"The Beethoven Experience" was part of the tenth and final PepsiCo Summerfare directed by Christopher Hunt. Summerfare was an international performing arts festival held on the campus of the State University of New York in Purchase. In the fall of 1979 Michael Hammond, then president of SUNY-Purchase, and Brooks Jones met with the Chairman of PepsiCo, Inc., Donald Kendall, with a proposal for a summer arts festival at SUNY-Purchase. Kendall came back with an ambitious contract to support a festival for ten years.

This year's festival included the Frankfurt Ballet ("Impressing the Czar"); "Suspect Terrain" (a commissioned collaborative work conceptualized by Dana Reitz); a centenary celebration of Charlie Chaplin (1889-1977); Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro, Don Giovanni, and Cosi fan tutte (conducted by Craig Smith and directed by Peter Sellars); the Stary Theatre of Cracow performing The Dybbuk by Szymon Anski and Hamlet IV by Shakespeare; the Puskin Theatre of Moscow with Ward No. 6 (an improvisation based on Chekhov's short story); the Anatoly Vasilive Theatre Company of Moscow in Six Characters in Search of an Author by Luigi Pirandello; three Saturday morning jazz concerts by Mark Helias, the David Lopato Trio, and the Marilyn Crispell and Reggie Workman Duo; and "The Beethoven Experience."

Events were held in the commodious and austere Performing Arts Center at SUNY-Purchase, twenty-eight miles north of Manhattan in Westchester County. Tickets for the Beethoven weekend were $112 orchestra and $74 balcony for all fourteen events, and over 1,000 people registered in advance.

The Experience was designed to explore the Ninth in the context of Roger Norrington's interpretation with the London Classical Players "on historical instruments." Norrington's performances and recordings of the Beethoven symphonies on original instruments have been both acclaimed and criticized. One of the most thought-provoking reviews, from several vantage points, is Richard Taruskin's, "Resisting the Ninth," in the spring 1989 issue of 19th-century Music, pp. 241-256. Taruskin "reluctantly and regretfully" concludes that, although he is an admirer of Norrington's work, the recording of the Ninth is a "trivialization."

In Norrington's words, "The theme of this weekend is Beethoven and his last symphony. Everything radiates out from 1824 and reflects back to that point. In addition, a number of subsidiary cross-themes will doubtless crop up such as: Classicism and Romanticism; Symphony and Drama; How can we speak about music?; Does music speak a language?; Instruments, Voices, and Performing Style.

The material is similar to the processes I go through whenever I research a performance of a work like the Choral Symphony. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.