I have always believed that art is a necessity to mankind and that it reaches its audiences under different guises. Having myself grown up in a world filled with classical music I find it natural that I should find my biggest source of inspiration in that realm. However, I have never believed that there is a hierarchy in the different types of art. If it is executed at a high level, any form is capable of reaching an audience, whether in pop music, rock, dubstep or classical. The only unchanging variable is that of excellence; mediocrity in any field is bound to fail the test of time. I have been continuously surprised by the number of people who have seldom had the occasion to listen to live classical music, and yet, when given the opportunity, leave the concert beaming with happiness and excitement. The question at hand is not whether or not classical music is still pertinent to our society (it undoubtedly is), but whether we, as musicians, are able to tear down the walls of elitism that have been built around classical music, and build a bridge that will allow curious and hungry minds to feel welcome in a world that has made them feel unwelcome for far too long.
Last year, my brother George Lepauw, founder of the International Beethoven Project, set out to create a vibrant festival in Chicago, where various disciplines would be showcased together, and where the lines between artist and public would be blurred. Under the umbrella inspiration of Beethovenian Genius, the International Beethoven Project’s goal is to “celebrate music and the greatest cultural achievements of humanity... 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.” Last year, the Beethoven Festival went viral, receiving over a million hits. Bringing Beethoven into the 21st century, my brother’s festival went viral, receiving over a million hits. The Chicago Tribune called it the “highlight” event of 2011, and Time Out Chicago wrote it was the “hippest and most inclusive classical festival to date,” while another review called it the “smash hit” of the season! This year, George is orchestrating the second Beethoven Festival: “Revolution 2012.” For nine days and nights this all-arts inclusive festival will entertain, wow, and inspire people from all different backgrounds with more than 60 events. Of course Beethoven is prominently placed - opening night last Satruday featured his violin concerto with Grammy winning violinist James Ehnes, and the closing weekend will put on a full production of Beethoven’s only ballet, The Creatures of Prometheus, but in the midst of these and many more Beethoven interludes, there will be art galleries, film, dance, theater, master classes, lectures, new music, rock, pop, jazz and blues. Next Saturday night will feature a “Living Cinema” show which will combine sound and image made on site, followed by a late night Dance Revolution party that will explore the social dance continuum from 1066 to 2012. But perhaps the most exciting part of this is the lack of separation between the performers/artists and the public. As a BYOB event housed in Chicago’s National Pastime Theater, the festival’s very structure invites for moments of informal discussions with the artists, and the many events, at times going on simultaneously in different halls means an audience member may very well end up sitting next to Zarin Mehta or Daniel Boico for one of the many performances. How refreshing to think that Classical music doesn’t have to be so intimidating after all!This is clearly an event not to be missed, but more importantly this is an event that serves to remind us that Classical music is not dying - far from it! However, it does take initiative to find our audiences and it is important not to accept things as they are, but to create events that will generate a renewed sense of excitement not only for us as musicians, but to allow people from all different walks of life to discover what we have had the privilege to know for many years: classical music totally rocks.