Had he lived, Ludwig van Beethoven would have turned 250 this year. No one is sure when. The paper trail goes back no further than his baptism on December 17, 1770. That’s the big day on many music lovers’ calendars. But Schroeder, boy wonder of the toy piano in “Peanuts,” cuts the cake the day before, and he is not alone.
Given Beethoven’s unshaken dominance in classical programming, dressing up the milestones takes a spark of genius. Looking forward to the sestercentennial (yes, that’s a word, look it up), impresarios laid on cycle after cycle of his five piano concertos, his nine symphonies, his 16 string quartets, his 32 piano sonatas, who knows how many reboots of his much-revised lone opera Fidelio, and lots more—riches they scatter lavishly at other times without special pretext. For also-rans, anniversaries can be a shot in the arm, but for those at the zenith, they verge on the redundant. Isn’t every year a Beethoven year? Yet 2020, snake-bit 2020, has managed to spoil the party.
Jubilation is therefore in order for the Global Ode to Joy, a video-sharing project uniquely of our moment. Conceived by the conductor Marin Alsop with the imprimatur of Carnegie Hall and the cooperation of YouTube, it encompasses bite-size one-of-a-kind clips uploaded by musicians by the thousands all over the world, concert royalty to the greenest of the green. Their brief: to find joy, to express it, and to share it (direct reference to Beethoven optional). How’s that for an enactment of Joy’s universal embrace?
On December 3, a mosaic of brightest moments from participants everywhere has its premiere on the Carnegie Hall website, YouTube channels, and social media beyond count, like the stars. Striking the keynote, Alsop herself leads the Vienna Radio Symphony, members of GO: The Global Orchestra, and a Zoomed-in “Stay at Home Choir” through the ecstatic choral finale of the epochal Ninth Symphony, which triggered the extravaganza in the first place.
Matthew Gurewitsch writes about opera and classical music for Air Mail. He lives in Hawaii