The International Beethoven Project, a Chicago-based not-for-profit organization founded in 2008 from the outgrowth of a project begun in Paris in early 2007 by concert pianist George Lepauw, has already left an indelible mark on the international music and art scene with its multidisciplinary performance and media projects.
IBP first gained attention when it took the musical world by storm with the World Premiere performance of Beethoven’s Piano Trio in E-Flat Major, Hess 47 performed by the Beethoven Project Trio (George Lepauw, Sang Mee Lee, Wendy Warner) at the Murphy Auditorium in Chicago on March 1, 2009. The World Premiere performance, which was programmed along with two other recently discovered piano trios of Beethoven and the well-known “Archduke” trio, led to the first complete performance series in history of the known piano trios of Beethoven by the Beethoven Project Trio through Winter and Spring of 2010. The culmination of IBP’s initial “Rediscovery Project” was a one-week residency in New York City that included private performances at the residence of the German Consul, a packed performance at Rockefeller University, as well as a Grand New York Premiere Concert at Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts on May 18, 2010.
The trios that brought IBP to the fore – Hess 47, Anhang 3 and Opus 63 – were released on Cedille Records in 2010, reaching #24 on the Classical Billboard Charts the first week out. The recording was a co-production of IBP and the award-winning Chicago-based Cedille Records. Max Wilcox, the legendary 17-time Grammy winning producer best known for his recordings of Artur Rubinstein for RCA Victor, served as recording producer for this project at the acoustically perfect American Academy of Arts and Letters in New York City.
While the International Beethoven Project was initially born with the single goal of giving the world premiere of Beethoven’s H47, the public’s and the press’s huge enthusiasm for renewed attention to Beethoven in general inspired a grander vision with long-term implications for IBP’s actions. Founder and President George Lepauw, along with other members of IBP who found themselves more deeply inspired as they dug further into Beethoven’s story and music, decided to develop a great plan for the gradual unveiling and planning of the global celebrations of Beethoven’s 250th anniversary year in 2020, with the goal of turning it into the greatest year-long celebration for any composer in history.
Hence was born the IBP Beethoven Festival, founded in 2011. The inaugural festival went for five whole days in September 2011 in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood (South side), and combined 25 concerts ranging from solo instruments to full orchestra along with jazz and rock shows. In parallel to the performance aspects of the festival, an exhibit of newly commissioned works of visual art surrounded the beautiful festival hall. Beethoven Festival 2011: Man and Muse, was called the “smash of the season” (Time Out Chicago) and “best new undertaking” (Chicago Tribune).
Beethoven Festival: Revolution 2012 was an even greater success, held in September 2012 at its primary venue in Chicago’s Uptown area (North side). The festival went for 9 days and included over 60 events, an art exhibit, a lecture series, theater, a performance of Beethoven’s only ballet, “The Creatures of Prometheus”, jazz, blues, a rock show of commissioned songs inspired by Beethoven, and an intensive master class series for budding musicians. It was called an “event of world-class importance” (Chicago Tribune).
Beethoven Festival: Love 2013, “an event you ignore at your own peril” (Chicago Tribune), explored themes of love, religion, suffering and the path of the true artist. As with the previous festivals, IBP’s goal was to engage with contemporary culture, cutting-edge creators and artists, and a public thirsty for an exciting experience that allows rare and inspiring encounters with artists of all stripes in a relaxed social environment. Held at the Merit School of Music in the West Loop and at the Chicago Temple at Daley Plaza, LOVE2013 was filled with over 100 music, art and educational events. However, an unexpected budget shortfall partly resulting from unfulfilled donor pledges led to the suspension of further grand festivals in the following years.
In 2014, 2015, and 2016, IBP ran the annual UnFestival, a more laid-back and less costly but equally fun and exciting “underground” style series of concerts and art events.
The Beethoven Birthday Bash, celebrated every year on December 16th, Ludwig’s actual birthday, since 2010, has become one of IBP’s hallmark and most beloved events. It is intended to invite audiences to know and celebrate Beethoven the human being, as well as his music, in a ten year countdown to Beethoven’s 250th anniversary in 2020.
Beethoven@250 is the project name for the yearlong celebration of Beethoven in 2020 for his 250th anniversary, which will bring together partners from around the world through events and media.
IBP Media was launched in 2017 to produce, co-produce, or consult on projects around the world that help spread Beethoven’s legacy, story and culture. Initial projects include the IBP-produced podcast, Through The Stage Door, as well as the “48”, a multimedia project around J.S. Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, one of Beethoven’s major influences.
IBP also gives out the occasional Beethoven Spirit Award to a humanist who has shown great care to make the world a better place through consistent action over many years. The award to date has gone to:
Otto von Habsburg (2011)
Zarin Mehta (2012)
Mark Kelly (2018)
IBP has also commissioned or premiered over 100 new works of music, showcasing its care for contemporary musical creativity, in line with Beethoven’s constant search for new sounds and ideas.
Beethoven is certainly IBP’s hero, but the deeper intention behind IBP is to celebrate music, art and the greatest cultural achievements of humanity. Because of this, IBP always attempts to give plenty of context to Beethoven’s world and music, including investigations into how and why our contemporary world can and still does relate to Beethoven, from everyday life to new music, art and politics.
It is IBP’s hope that Beethoven’s own humanism and lofty ideals for a better world can serve as a guidepost for all people and generations. His music, and all that it represents, uplifts and gives much needed hope to all.