‘Memories of Bonn’ – composer Keith Burstein introduces his homage to Beethoven

Guest post by Keith Burstein

‘Memories of Bonn’ came to be written as a result of Vladimir Ashkenazy – a great friend and mentor – asking me, in 2016, to write a short symphonic poem for him to conduct. The performance is about to take place, on 25th March, but after Maestro Ashkenazy suddenly retired with immediate effect last year, Christopher Warren-Green will now conduct the London Chamber Orchestra the performance of this work.

Shortly after that request in 2016, I visited Bonn, Germany for a premiere of a work of mine in connection with the forthcoming 250th anniversary of the birth of Beethoven in that city in 1770.

As I waited to leave on the Bonn railway station in 2016 I seemed to hear a very distant trumpet call. This sound vision became the fanfare-like music that dominates the first part of my Symphonic Poem No.1, ‘Memories of Bonn’.

Shortly after this, I completed the score and then in 2017, after attending a rehearsal of Ashkenazy for the London Chamber Orchestra, I first met Step Parikian, their General Manager, and then Mark Redman, Chairman of the Trust.

For me, as for many others, Beethoven is a pivotal figure, not only of music but of European and world culture. Each will have their own perspective, but for me it is his Promethean vision of mankind and the liberation of the spirit from the shackles of oppression that singles out Beethoven. His journey was one of asserting the dignity and freedom of the individual. “Be embraced ye millions” is the famous quote from the Ninth Symphony. Above all, his saying that he writes “from the heart, to the heart” chimes with my quest to re-inhabit the romantic and expressive power of tonality in the heart of music.

From my perspective, as a composer who began writing at the end of the atonal century and who wants to acknowledge the universal underpinning of tonality beneath all music, this message of Beethoven, that music speaks directly from one heart to another, illustrates the imperative need for music to emerge from its century-and-a-quarter immersion in the ivory tower of atonalism and to once again embrace its universal voice to speak for and to the whole of Humanity.

In the process of my apprehension of this need, I have evolved a concept of Super-Tonality, an expanded musical language that re-embraces the great universal seabed of all music – tonality – but brings with it the fruits of the atonal experiment as simply a further dimension of expressive language; so now we carry everything achieved in musical history forward, speaking in as many different ways as there are composers. This is not a case of “one way to write is good another bad”, but a vision that entertains the maximum multiplicity of expressive possibility; in fact an infinite potential of expression.

‘Memories of Bonn’, composed by Keith Burstein to mark the 250th anniversary of the birth of Ludwig van Beethoven, will be performed by the London Chamber Orchestra (LCO) at London’s Cadogan Hall on 25 March 2020. Conducted by LCO’s Music Director and Principal Conductor, Christopher Warren-Green. Further information

Keith Burstein was born in Brighton in 1957, and attended the Royal College of Music (1977- 1982). His early compositions were written in the atonal style. Burstein made a dramatic shift towards composing tonally during the late 1980s. Described by The Daily Telegraph as ‘an ardent new romantic post-modernist’, Burstein composes uniquely tonal music, reflecting his optimism for the future of humanity. Founder of ensemble The Grosvenor Group, he originally started out as a conductor before taking up composition full time at the age of thirty. Championed by both Vladimir Ashkenazy and composer Arvo Pärt, he embraces tonality, music of melody and harmony, as the cutting edge of modernity. His works have often embodied matters of conscience, most notice-ably his two operas Manifest Destiny about would-be suicide bombers who renounce violence and become peace-makers – and The Prometheus Revolution – which envisages a transformation in which society moves beyond war and greed towards an age of humanity and tolerance. Burstein has also written two symphonies – No 1 Elixir – sponsored by Vladimir Ashkenazy and released on Naxos Records – and No 2 Herald, commissioned by Mark Redman, the Chairman of the London Chamber Orchestra Trust.


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