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Keith Burstein rehearsing Symphony No 1 ‘Elixir’ with the Kaunas City Symphony Orchestra in Kaunas Lithuania, 2012

Keith Burstein: Memories of Bonn, Symphonic Poem No 1


A new work written by composer Keith Burstein to mark the 250th anniversary of the birth of Ludwig van Beethoven will be performed by the London Chamber Orchestra (LCO) at the Cadogan Hall in Chelsea, London, on 25 March 2020.

Memories of Bonn, Symphonic Poem No 1 will be conducted by the LCO’s Music Director, Christopher Warren-Green, and was inspired by the composer’s visit to Bonn, Beethoven’s birhplace. Vladimir Ashkenazy, the great pianist and conductor – and mentor to Burstein – suggested he wrote the Symphonic Poem.

The piece seeks to reflect the complex confluence of history and culture that Burstein experienced in Bonn when he attended a premiere of his music there in 2016. Inevitably the music evokes Beethoven, who is considered by the composer to be ‘the exemplar of the radical revolutionary who wrote tunes.’

Burstein is renowned for his fervent championing of tonal music, as opposed to the atonal style which has dominated classical music teaching and composition for over a century, and Memories of Bonn looks set to ignite the ongoing controversy surrounding the pre-eminence of atonal music over tonal.

I am delighted Christopher Warren-Green and the London Chamber Orchestra are premiering this new work. For many years I have championed the notion that new tonal music can form the cutting edge of modernity. The fact that my work is being performed at this level and with the backing of Vladimir Ashkenazy, one of the greatest classical musicians of our age, represents a potential breakthrough for all composers who invent and innovate in tonality. The full range of human emotion can again be expressed in works that speak for our time and the future.

Revolutions in music occur relatively often, but remarkably atonalism has held sway for nearly a hundred and twenty years, beginning with Schoenberg and continuing to the present day. It must surely be time for a new spirit and for the atonal establishment to give way to a new vibrancy, to music which once again speaks, as Beethoven said, “from the heart, to the heart.”

Burstein is far from alone in his belief that tonal music should return to the contemporary fore. Not only has he enjoyed the sustained support over many years of internationally renowned pianist and conductor Vladimir Ashkenazy, but also that of the great Estonian composer Arvo Pärt.

Yet Burstein’s sometimes outspoken stance has led to friction between himself and others in the contemporary classical music establishment. ‘Change and innovation are always resisted.’ he states. ‘In their day Schoenberg and Webern and later Stockhausen and Boulez were the revolutionaries – and indeed great composers – but the aftermath goes on and on. Music is the supremely generous art form of the whole of humanity crossing all boundaries. Let the spirit of music not remain locked in the ivory tower of atonalism. The unimpeded voices of the whole world must be heard in music that endlessly conjures light from darkness.

Cadogan Hall
5 Sloane Terrace
London, United Kingdom

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