For Nikolas Sideris, editor-in-chief at Editions Musica Ferrum, the Beethoven year 2020 was more than just a great anniversary. It also represented the final stage of a mega project started seven years earlier – the Mount Everest of all LvB 250 homage projects. In cooperation with Susanne Kessel, a pianist from the city of Bonn, 250 composers from 47 countries were invited to compose piano pieces referring to Beethoven and his work, in such diverse genres as new music, jazz, pop, film and more. The premieres of the piano pieces were held in Beethoven’s birth city, Bonn and in other cities as well. Radio recordings (WDR) and CD productions accompany the project. All 260 pieces have been published by Editions Musica Ferrum in ten volumes. Piano Street’s Patrick Jovell talks to Nikolas Sideris about how this gigantic and thought-provoking project turned out.
Piano Street: Since we last met for an interview in 2016 on your project ”Beauty and Hope in the 21st Century”, you already then mentioned a mega project you had entered with pianist Susanne Kessel to be completed 2020, as a part of the LvB 250 celebrations. Tell me how it all started?
Nikolas Sideris: Yes, I remember when we first met in 2016. Thank you for that initial meeting and interview. I met Susanne Kessel through a common friend and composer, Nickos Harizanos. He introduced us and then we immediately hit it off, feeling, both, that we were a great fit for each other. I had just published Nicko’s “Monographs II” which is filled with graphic notation and that was the evidence needed to persuade everyone that Editions Musica Ferrum was ready to tackle such a gigantic – and exciting – project. Soon the pieces for the first volume started coming in, which is when all practical issues came into play and the real adventure started for me. The rest is… history.
PS: Your project contains 260 pieces in ten volumes and 250 composers have submitted compositions. How did you manage to find and engage all these people and what was required in order to qualify as a composer?
NS: For the anniversary of Ludwig van Beethoven in 2020, pianist Susanne Kessel invited composers from around the world to compose piano pieces which refer to Beethoven and his work. Since 2013, she issued personal invitations to composers of new music, jazz and film music. The premieres of the piano pieces were held in Beethoven’s birth city, Bonn and in other cities as well. Radio recordings (WDR) and CD productions accompany the project. All the pieces are published from Editions Musica Ferrum and are available for the international music world.
PS: In December the last volume 10 was published. Congratulations! In volume 8 though, the pieces were written by young composers. Can you tell us a little bit about this encouraging idea, the people involved and their pieces?
NS: It contains 18 new pieces and 2 pieces from older volumes which were composed by composers younger than the age of 18. Volume 8 was perceived early in the process of the project by Susanne Kessel who was keen to include as many people and genres as possible in the project. The voice of the young should not be excluded from such a wider project. So around 2018 both she and a composer and dear friend, from volume 1, David P. Graham started scouting for young talents in various music schools worldwide. As with every volume, we ended up with a variety of styles, ideas, and nationalities true to the spirit of the project. From Germany, to the UK, to Estonia, to Japan, to China, and elsewhere.
PS: From April 2020 you presented a ”250 pieces for Beethoven Marathon” which started on April 1 and ran until December 15. Every day a new composer and piece was introduced. Can you tell us a little about this initiative and how it took place?
NS: Volume 9 (second to last volume) went to print in the end of January, and it was supposed to ship in the end of February to both London and Bonn. London to reach the Editions Musica Ferrum warehouse, and in Bonn to reach Susanne Kessel and be present on the 13th of March on the official publication date of the mentioned volume.
Unfortunately things did not go as planned. By the beginning of March the signs were rather negative in terms of the Corona-virus and as thus the concert on the 13th of March, in Bonn, was cancelled, but Susanne herself was present to offer a glimpse of a few copies that arrived there in time. The rest of the copies never left Greece. They were stored in a secure warehouse, until the lockdown and traveling restrictions were lifted. A lot of further concerts were cancelled, or suspended, and it was unclear on what will happen for the remaining of 2020. So Susanne threw the idea of making an Internet based “250 piano pieces for Beethoven Marathon” where all pieces were to be presented, one per day. With photos, links to the recordings of each piece and links to the individual sheet music of each piece, both the recording and the score for purchase digitally. The Editions Musica Ferrum website was updated to host digital individual files and serve automatic sales, while bandcamp is hosting all the recordings of the pieces for this project that have been recorded. The pieces are presented by volume, and in the same order as they appear in the printed score and on the 26th of April, the 2nd volume resumed the marathon.
PS: Such a marvelous way for the public to get acquainted with the material! As a pianist and/or piano teacher, is it possible to get guidance on the difficulty level of the pieces or which is the best way to get a feeling for what to pick or start with from such a grand project?
NS: This is something we are starting to work on and it is something that I’m keen on adding in the Musica Ferrum website, as extra information for all works. It is missing and I do feel that it is vital, not only for this massive project, but for all the other works as well.
We are also planning to release an extra volume, or collection if you will, with a choice of some of the more approachable, yet educational works in the near future.
PS: You are fortunate to have the whole view on the production of pieces. Can you tell me the different paths the composers have used to strike a connection to or being inspired by the project theme Ludwig van Beethoven?
NS: This has certainly been a wonderful trip and happened all the way until volume 10 came out! In order to answer this question one needs to consider how different each composer is. So the same material can result in drastically different results. For example quite a few composers took inspiration from some of Beethoven’s works, which we also have been able to list. But the approach of each one resulted in such a different work that it becomes difficult to tell the initial inspiration in the end. In particular, from the top of my head. I can remember the 3rd movement of the Tempest Sonata in D minor. One composer counted all the notes, used the same rhythm and order, but changed the pitch series completely, resulting in something rather unexpected. Another composer used the main rhythm to use, playing inside the piano with timpani mallets and so on. Other composers used his name as a starting point. BEetHovEn (H being B natural in German). Some took away parts of his letters, or his philosophy, his life and so on. And this is the magic of this project. It is such an open project that you can expect anything really, while at the same time having this guarantee that there is a link to Beethoven, being the Master that he was.
PS: The whole project started seven years ago from a basis with you being an editor-in-chief AND a composer. With this massive output and vast relationship with the material, how and in which ways have your personal views on Ludwig van Beethoven changed or become nurtured during this period of time?
NS: This is a very interesting question, as it links works already well known (to me and to everyone) and the new filters provided by the contemporary composers. It’s a fascinating theory and actual fact that my understanding of Beethoven’s music and life changed vastly through the 250 piano pieces for Beethoven, and through the playing and thoughts and whole leadership of Susanne Kessel. It’s with newly found interest I started looking again with works that I’ve already performed, or heard, and paid attention to different aspects of the old works, in comparison and connection with the new works, leading me to form new thoughts and establish new ideas about them. It’s a life changing project and one that changed me completely.
Musica Ferrum kindly offers three free scores from the collection to all Piano Street members. Login to your account and visit this page to download the scores:
List of Beethoven works functioning as musical and thematic inspiration for composers of the project:
Project Webpage: http://250-piano-pieces-for-beethoven.com/