Even a pandemic won’t stop the Whidbey Island Music Festival from celebrating Beethoven’s 250th birthday.
The festival, now in its 15th year, features a series of baroque and classical chamber music concerts. But instead of enjoying those concerts against the backdrop of St. Augustine’s-in-the-Woods Episcopal Church in Freeland as in years past, now you can listen to them from the comfort of your own home.
As is the new norm for musical performances in the era of COVID-19, three prerecorded concerts will be available to stream via Vimeo through September. Opening nights for the shows are Aug. 21, 22 and 23.
“It’s Beethoven’s 250th birthday, which seems both epic and overwhelming, because it’s his bicenquinquagenary,” festival director Tekla Cunningham said — which is a $100 word that means a quarter of a thousand years.
The Aug. 21 concert features cellist Tanya Tomkins and pianist Eric Zivian. Zivian, who is learning to play all 32 of Beethoven’s sonatas, will be playing two Viennese fortepianos, one built in 1795 and the other in 1841.
The program includes Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 21 in C major, Op. 53 “Waldstein;” 7 Variations On “Bei Männern, Welche Liebe Fühlen,” WoO 46; and Sonata No. 30 in E major, Op. 109.
Former Poet Laureate Rita Dove will also read her poem “Ludwig van Beethoven Returns to Vienna” in a video recorded from her home in Virginia.
Dove served as Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress from 1993 to 1995. She was the first African-American to have been appointed to the position. She had planned to travel from Charlottesville to Freeland to read her poem, but then the coronavirus hit.
Cunningham emailed the poet after reading Dove’s book “Sonata Mulattica,” asking her to perform one of the poems from the collection. Her book is based on the Beethoven sonata that was originally dedicated to George Bridgetower — before the Afro-European violinist offended the great composer over a woman.
Cunningham said it’s an honor to have Dove included in the event.
“I’m thrilled to have her,” she said. “Not only is she a huge figure in the poetry world, but she is also a wonderful writer with a great personality.”
The Aug. 22 performance will explore the work of little-known French composer Zoé de la Ruë (circa 1770-1832). She was a celebrated harpist during her lifetime, and wrote many sonatas for harp and violin.
In an era when much fashionable music was light and ephemeral, de la Ruë’s compositions aimed at conveying deeper emotions — closer to Beethoven’s style than to Offenbach.
Spohr’s arrangement of “Ach, ich fühls” from Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” introduces a program of de la Rue’s sonatas for violin and harp, as well as a selection of her French songs.
Featured will be Cunningham on classical violin, soprano Tess Altiveros and classical harpist Maxine Eilander.
The third concert, on Aug. 23, includes a selection of Beethoven’s “25 Scottish Songs,” Op. 108. It is the only set among Beethoven’s folk song arrangements to be assigned an opus number.
The program includes four of the “Scottish Songs,” as well as four traditional Scottish fiddle tunes that may have influenced his compositions.
This concert also features Altiveros’ voice, as well as baroque violinist Brandon Vance, baroque cellist Caroline Nicolas, guitarist Stephen Stubbs and pianist Henry Lebedinsky.
Cunningham had planned a fourth concert for this year’s festival, about Beethoven and Bridgetower’s volatile relationship, but decided to postpone it. She said it would have required risky travel for the out-of-town performers during a pandemic. That’s the concert for which she had originally asked Dove to recite her poetry.
“Our plans may have changed, but we are still able to feature this beautiful poem of Rita Dove’s,” she said.
A pre-concert live chat over Zoom with the musicians is scheduled for 7 p.m. on each concert’s opening night.
Can’t watch the concerts on opening night? All three performances will be available to stream through Sept. 30.
Cunningham said the concerts were recorded at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church because St. Augustine’s-in-the-Woods is closed due to COVID-19.
“One advantage of the festival being online this year is, they can watch whenever is convenient,” she said. “They can watch from home in their favorite chair. We really wanted to make it safe and accessible for everyone.”
You can also to bring the Whidbey Island Music Festival to you. If online performances just won’t do, for a donation of $500 the festival’s musicians will put on a socially distanced show at your home.
Cunningham said these personal concerts — performed in the driveway, in the lawn or on the porch — help to share classical music during these trying times. You don’t have to live on the island to schedule a concert.
The Whidbey News-Times contributed to this report.
Sara Bruestle: 425-339-3046; email@example.com; @sarabruestle.
If you stream
The 15th annual Whidbey Island Music Festival — with prerecorded concerts scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Aug. 21-23 — will be available to stream via Vimeo through Sept. 30. A pre-concert Zoom chat with the musicians of each concert is 7 p.m. Tickets for each concert are $10-$20. Or purchase a festival pass for $30-$60 to view all three concerts. Go to www.whidbeyislandmusicfestival.org for more information.