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Local orchestra honours Beethoven's birthday

The Rocky Mountain Symphony Orchestra (RMSO) will pay tribute to one of the most famous names in classical music Feb. 7 and 8, when the Balzac-based symphony performs Immortal Beloved – a celebration of Ludwig van Beethoven’s 250th birthday.

“Beethoven’s birthday is actually Dec. 16, so he just turned 249,” said RMSO founder and music director Carlos Foggin. “But 2020 is his 250th year, as he was born in 1770, so you’ll probably hear a lot of Beethoven this year.”

One of the world’s most significant musicians, Beethoven was a German composer who influenced the direction of European classical music in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, according to Foggin.

“He was a game-changer and a trouble-maker,” he said. “Of course, later in life, he was famous for losing his hearing, but his symphonies have stood the test of time. His 32 piano sonatas are called the New Testament of piano music, and his stormy, angry style of music has become a hallmark of German classical music, which then ushered in the 19th century, going into Brahms, Wagner, et cetera.”

The concert’s name is derived from a love letter written by Beethoven in 1812. According to biography.com, the intended recipient of the letter remains a mystery, as Beethoven only refers to the addressee as his “immortal beloved.” The letter was believed to be unsent, as it was found in Beethoven’s estate after his passing.

While Symphony No. 9 is his most recognized work, RMSO’s concert will focus instead on his sole violin concerto – an incredibly technical piece that relies on a rare musical expertise and endurance, according to Foggin.

“The soloist needs to be not only a top technical and musical player, but the concerto itself lasts in excess of 45 minutes,” he said. “It’s a virtuosic marathon for the violinist playing the solo.”

The musician tasked with such an undertaking will be American Odin Rathnam, a friend of Foggin’s and a veteran performer of many major European festivals.

According to his bio, Rathnam’s professional career has spanned 30 years, during which he’s performed for the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra, the Philippine Philharmonic, the Colombian National Symphony, the Harrisburg Symphony and many more.

“He’s a Juilliard grad, and he had the same teacher as many of the prominent violinists of this century,” Foggin said. “He’s a former concertmaster of the Hershey symphony and he’s a professor of violin in Cleveland.

“His playing style lends itself particularly well to this concerto – he’s a big, strong guy, and it requires that kind of power and endurance to make this concerto work right through to the very last note.”

The rest of the concert will be fitting, according to Foggin, as the program will include the 104th – and final – symphony of Franz Joseph Haydn – Beethoven’s early musical teacher.

“He would have written it while Beethoven was a student of his. We will hear, in the first half, the 104th symphony of Haydn, which will give us the starting place of what Beethoven would have been founded in and what he would have known as great music,” Foggin said. “In the violin concerto, we can see how he really does ridicule and change the conventions.”

Tying the program together will be a slightly more modern-sounding piece, according to Foggin, as the 45-member symphony plays a version of Duarte Silva’s New Commission.

“It’s written for the same size orchestra as the Haydn symphony and Beethoven concerto, but uses a very modern palette that is more along the lines of movie music,” he said. “But it also shows how modern composers are still influenced and write for the same size of orchestra that Haydn and Beethoven would have. So, the three pieces together give us a 300-year snapshot of music history.”

Tickets for Immortal Beloved are $40 for general admission, $25 for students and $5 for children under 12. Tickets are available online at rmso.ca, by calling (403) 255-9368 or at the door.

The Feb. 7 concert will begin at 7 p.m. at the Polaris Centre for the Performing Arts in Balzac. A repeat performance will be held at 7:30 p.m. in Cochrane the following evening, at the Bow Valley Baptist Church.



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Scott Strasser

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Scott Strasser, sports/RCMP reporter
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