News / Arts

Beethoven in Brunswick? Why not?

The Brunswick Beethoven Festival will be held for the first time since 2020 with nine concerts this month

Invictus Quartet will perform in the second week of the festival. 

Mark Phillips
Tuesday, January 31, 2023

ALMOST 200 years since his death, the spirit of Ludwig Van Beethoven lives on in Brunswick. 

From Wednesday, the Brunswick Beethoven Festival will take over two venues with a series of performances of top class chamber music for culture-starved audiences. 

The 15th version of the festival that was first held in 2006, it is back for the first time since 2020 following interruption by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Also back is the artistic director, Italian-born organist Sergio de Pieri, who at 90 years of age will perform a solo concert at the Sydney Road Uniting Church on the festival’s closing night on February 18. 

Despite the festival’s name, music performed is not exclusively by Beethoven, said festival president and co-founder Mark Higginbotham. 

Mr Higginbotham, who is a former Mayor of the City of Moreland (now known as Merri-bek), said the festival started in 2006 out of a desire to provide good quality classic music at a reasonable price for audiences in the inner north. 

“It’s grown from there to be something that has got a good reputation as one of the best chamber music festivals in Victoria,” he said. 

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Mr Higginbotham said the focus on Beethoven came about not only because of the German composer’s legendary standing in classical music, but because the Hungarian Countess of Brunsvik was one of Beethoven’s most important patrons. 

In May 1799, aged 29, Beethoven was hired to teach piano to the countess’ two daughters and fell in love with the younger sister, Josephine, then aged 20. 

They continued a long unrequited love affair until her death in 1821, and it is speculated that Beethoven’s final two piano sonatos were dedicated to her. The famously deaf Beethoven himself died six years later, but not before leaving behind a legacy as one of history’s greatest composers. 

“His impact on music is absolutely profound,” said Mr Higginbotham.  

“He changed the way music is composed and played and the impact he’s had on all musicians and composers since then continues today.” 

The most recent festival was held in February 2020, just weeks before the COVID pandemic reached Australia. That was the biggest festival on record with 13 concerts and more than 800 tickets sold. 

This year, there will be nine concerts with four between Wednesday and Saturday this week, and the other five from February 14 to 18. Full price tickets are $35 for a single show, or a full festival pass can be bought for $250. 

It begins at Tempo Rubato in Breese Street on Wednesday night with a program of pieces by Beethoven, Finzi and Schumann performed by pianist Stefan Cassomenos and violinist Monica Curro. 

On Thursday, Tempo Rubato hosts the Firebird Trio before the focus shifts to the Brunswick Uniting Church for performances by piano maestro Joe Chindamo on Friday and the popular Seraphim Trio on Saturday. 

Sergio de Pieri is still performing aged 90.

Sergio de Pieri is still performing aged 90.

Highlights of the second week include lutenist Rosemary Hodgson on February 14, the genre-bending Invictus Quartet on February 15, and the closing night concert by de Pieri, who will perform pieces by Satie and Chopin, on February 18. All week two concerts are at the Uniting Church. 

De Pieri is a former Organist at the Basilica of St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Chief Study Organ Lecturer at the University of Melbourne. He now lives in Venice but spends several months a year in Australia. 

“At the age of 90, for him to be performing is amazing,” Mr Higginbotham said. 

While the primary audience for the Brunswick Beethoven Festival is local residents, it draws a crowd from all over Victoria, Mr Higginbotham said.  

He hopes this year’s program will attract younger people as well as diehard chamber music fans, in turning introducing to them a passion for classical music. 

“I’ve been going to classical music, opera, ballet and concerts for 50 odd years and music is my life,” he said. 

“As part of the community, the idea [of the festival] is to try to spread the joy of music and the idea that it’s the food of life for everyone.”  

The full festival program is available on the Brunswick Beethoven Festival website