The International Beethoven Project, a Chicago-based not-for-profit organization founded in 2009 from the outgrowth of a project begun in Paris in early 2007 by concert pianist George Lepauw, has in just a few short years made an indelible mark on the international music and art scene with its performance projects and festivals.
IBP first gained global 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, explored themes of love, religion, suffering and the path of the true artist. As with the previous festivals, IBP’s goal is 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.
In addition to the festival, IBP also gives out the annual 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:
Hervé and Isabelle de la Vauvre (2009)
Otto von Habsburg (2011)
Zarin Mehta (2012)
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.