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Beethoven and Bonn: The perfect combination

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Entertainment,Music,Emily Cary

The illustrious Beethoven Orchestra Bonn arrives at George Mason University on Saturday with an all-Beethoven program guaranteed to enchant the composer's followers. Maestro Stefan Blunier conducts a program that opens with the overture from "The Ruins of Athens" and includes Symphony No. 7 in A major. French-Canadian pianist Louis Lortie, one of the world's finest interpreters of Beethoven's music, will perform his Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major.

Early in his career, Blunier made a name for himself internationally as a pianist. After winning numerous conducting competitions, he began conducting in German opera houses, becoming music director and chief conductor of the Staatstheater Darmstadt from 2001 to 2008. Today he is both the general music director of the city of Bonn and the chief conductor of Beethoven Orchestra Bonn. As the "Generalmusikdirektor," he is the artistic head of the opera, including the singers and the choir. As the chief conductor, he manages the program, invitations of guest conductors and financial matters.

"Normally, playing both opera and symphonic concerts is typical of German orchestras," Blunier said. "I like this very much because the musicians are more spontaneous if they are able to play Verdi, Wagner or other opera composers. This can be a wonderful combination in a concert program. Beethoven is one of our heroes, and Bonn has the very lucky break that Beethoven was born in our city. For this reason, we give outstanding attention to him and his works. His is indeed great music with a lot of energy, so we are very happy to share these wonderful works."

Along with being an unabashed champion of Beethoven, Blunier has very eclectic musical tastes. He began a cycle in Bonn with the symphonies of Mahler and Bruckner and has recorded several operas and orchestral works that are not well known. His recording of d'Albert's opera "Der Golem" won the 2011 Echo prize, and Franz Schreker's "Irrelohe" earned the 2012 German Record Critics' Award.

Onstage
Beethoven Orchestra Bonn
» Where: George Mason University Center for the Arts, 4400 University Drive, Fairfax
» When: 8 p.m. Saturday
» Info: $30 to $60; 888-945-2468; cfa.gmu.edu

"I was inspired to record them because this music is incredibly good!" he said. "For example, Franz Schreker was one of the world-famous musicians at his time, 100 years ago. He was the biggest antagonist of Richard Strauss. Every premiere of his new operas was a big happening. Why not try to rediscover him?

"The Beethoven Orchestra Bonn is a very idealistic orchestra. They love to play unknown music very well. They feel, too, that the rare pieces I select are very important to record, and they play them with a lot of emotion. I also very much like French and Russian music, many contemporary composers and the rare Jewish Austrian composers from 1900-1930, and I have a lot of ideas about future works to record."

The affable Blunier attributes his cheerful temperament and innate sense of humor to having been born in Switzerland and possessing many Mediterranean characteristics. He admits that his pleasant personality makes a good atmosphere in a rehearsal but points out that he can be very strict if the musicians are not well-disciplined, a problem he rarely encounters in Bonn. He and the orchestra members are excited about performing in the United States and look forward to learning more about the American way of life.

"We are very happy to show American audiences our tradition of playing Beethoven," he said. "Because we like to perform on the highest level, we have incredible motivation to play our best."

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