A Few Thoughts on Beethoven@250

Just a quick ramble here…

My social media feeds have been inundated with Beethoven over the past several months, which is understandable given that the Big Man’s 250th birthday is coming up this December.  I’m seeing ads for concerts, new Beethoven recordings, and of course plenty of chatter about what classical radio stations are going to be doing to celebrate this momentous anniversary.

How do I feel about Beethoven@250 on the radio?  Pretty simple: play all the Beethoven you want.  Do a symphony marathon.  Round up all those string quartets and piano sonatas.  Even the Grosse Fuge.  Play it all.  Except for Wellington’s Victory.  Don’t play that.  Don’t even speak of it.

In all seriousness, as classical radio stations, we should be leaning into Beethoven all we can this year.  Engage your local music experts to provide musical and historical context for his major works.  Host events with local musicians playing his music.  Do all the things.  Be creative.  Throw all you can at the wall and see what sticks – you might be surprised at what gains traction, especially in the digital space.  HAVE FUN.

Most of all, do NOT be afraid of the woke naysayers who are already proposing “a cooperative, worldwide, yearlong moratorium on live performances of [Beethoven’s] music.”  The argument being (and it’s not an insignificant argument – I get where it’s coming from) that Beethoven is played enough already, so why play even more at the expense of contemporary composers?  This argument, to me, smacks of virtue-signaling and conveys an all-or-nothing attitude that helps no one.

Side note here (and one that has nothing to do with radio): can orchestras and other performance entities dispense with this “let’s have a contemporary composer riff on Beethoven and pair that work with actual Beethoven” thing?  It’s lazy programming and does nothing to serve new music or contemporary composers.  End rant, back to the ramble…

We can walk and chew gum at the same time.  We also know that radio listeners (who are a much larger and diverse group than concert-goers, even though the two groups overlap) have more conservative tastes that need to be considered.   And Beethoven-centered programming affords many good marketing opportunities for stations looking to broaden their listener/donor base.  And it’s not like we are going to play wall-to-wall Beethoven for an entire year.  There is still plenty of room for exciting new pieces and emerging artists and composers.

That’s all.  Happy birthday, Ludwig.  I’ll be celebrating.  I imagine I’ll be far from alone.

About Joe Goetz

Joe Goetz is Music Director for WFIU 103.7 FM in Bloomington, Indiana, and has eleven years of experience hosting and producing classical music programming for public radio. While completing his B.A. in Music at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, CO, Joe worked part time as a classical music host at KCME 88.7 FM. Following graduation, he worked as a classical music host and producer at Vermont Public Radio, developing new and engaging programming in addition to programming and hosting a daily afternoon air shift. He is an accomplished pianist with several chamber music performances to his credit, an occasional choir singer, and an avid golfer. He lives with his wife, Meghann, their son William, daughter Allison, and cats Ollie and Blanche.

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