This month, the Australian Chamber Orchestra (ACO) will premiere its second concert series for 2021, Beethoven & Bridgetower, opening at Newcastle City Hall (18 March) before touring to City Recital Hall, Sydney from 23-28 March. Following news that City Recital Hall has been granted an exemption by the NSW Government to operate the concert hall at 100% seated capacity, this will be the first time the Orchestra will perform to a full concert hall audience since the restrictions on mass gatherings commenced almost exactly a year ago, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Artistic Director Richard Tognetti and the ACO seek to reclaim Beethoven’s masterpiece the Kreutzer for George Bridgetower. Known as the Kreutzer for its dedication to the violinist Rodolphe Kreutzer, what has been lost in history is its original dedication to Bridgetower, a more accomplished violinist of mixed European and West Indian descent, who performed with the composer at the Sonata’s premiere.
This time performed in an arrangement by Richard Tognetti for violin and string orchestra, Australian Chamber Orchestra will collaborate with Belvoir Street Theatre and their Artistic Director Eamon Flack for the first time, with this powerful concert series seeking to restore Bridgetower’s rightful place in history.
The story goes like this: Famed virtuoso George Bridgetower gained a reputation in 1802 as an exciting violinist across Europe after causing a sensation in Vienna, where he then met Beethoven. The pair become friends and kindred spirits, performing the Sonata’s premiere together.
Legend has it that Beethoven was so late to finish the Sonata that the ink was still wet on the page when he and Bridgetower – the latter, not having seen the score before, sight-reading and even improvising a section – took to the stage for an early morning performance. Following its success, a jubilant Beethoven signed the manuscript in dedication to the friend he exuberantly called “a great lunatic”. However, while celebrating, the pair had a spectacular falling-out, and Beethoven struck Bridgetower’s name from the music and from history, then dedicating the sonata to the French violinist Rodolphe Kreutzer.
The Kreutzer inspired Leo Tolstoy to pen a short story – of jealousy and murder – which later inspired Czech composer Leoš Janácek to create the String Quartet No.1 The Kreutzer Sonata. As such, in an arrangement by Richard Tognetti for solo violin and string orchestra, the ACO will perform both sonatas.
Collaborating with Belvoir Street Theatre, this powerful program of music, and the stories within it, is brought to life. Directed by Belvoir’s Artistic Director Eamon Flack, actor Angela Nica Sullen performs a theatrical monologue, written by award-winning writer Anna Goldsworthy in collaboration with renowned former U.S. poet laureate Rita Dove. The dramatic text incorporates excerpts from Dove’s book of poems Sonata Mulattica and examines the relationship between Beethoven and Bridgetower, the passion and jealousy of Tolstoy’s tale inspired by the Kreutzer Sonata, the many versions of history and who gets to tell them, disappearance and effacement, and music as a battleground where these stories and struggles play out.
Tickets for Beethoven and Bridgetower start from $59. Further information is available at www.aco.com.au.