GET BREAKING NEWS IN YOUR BROWSER. CLICK HERE TO TURN ON NOTIFICATIONS.

X

‘Incessant Hum’ music-theater hybrid explores Beethoven’s resilience, despite deafness

Colorado Chamber Players will perform the piece at three Front Range locations

Colorado Chamber Players, from left Paul Primus, John Fadial, Beth Vanderborgh and Barbara Hamilton, explore the resilence of Beethoven in “Incessant Hum.” The theater-music hybrid, written by Jeffrey Neuman and directed by Mare Trevathan, focuses on Beethoven’s ability to compose brilliant works even after becoming deaf. Shows are Jan. 14 in Broomfield, Jan. 18 in Lafayette and Jan. 19 in Boulder. (Colorado Chamber Players/ Courtesy photo)

Ludwig van Beethoven is one of the most revered pianists and composers in history. Much like current temperamental rock stars of today, he was known to cut concerts short if audience members were caught chatting.

A ritual he had prior to composing consisted of him dunking his head into cold water. His “Symphony No. 9” can be heard in films such as “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective,” “A Clockwork Orange,” “Cruel Intentions,” “Dead Poet’s Society” and “Die Hard.” The sheer emotion found in his work still holds up today and is utilized by directors looking to evoke a certain mood in viewers. By the time Beethoven was just 46, he was completely deaf — a condition said to be brought on by lead poisoning.

To celebrate the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birth, the Denver-based Colorado Chamber Players will explore the themes of loss and resilience in “Incessant Hum,” a play written by Jeffrey Neuman, that delivers stirring music, theatrical excellence and a peek inside the innermost thoughts of the renowned virtuoso.

Colorado Chamber Players, from left, Barbara Hamilton, Paul Primus, John Fadial and Beth Vanderborgh, explore the resilience of Beethoven in “Incessant Hum.” The theater-music hybrid will feature later music composed by Beethoven when he was deaf. (Willie Petersen/ Courtesy photo)

“I have always been intrigued by how Beethoven managed to compose after he lost his hearing, without being able to hear much external sound,” said Barbara Hamilton, artistic director and violinist for the Colorado Chamber Players. “Many wonderful groups are celebrating Beethoven’s big anniversary with performances of all his quartets, for example, or all of his symphonies. For us, the opportunity to delve into Beethoven’s emotional world after he lost his hearing, was the most meaningful.”

For playwright Jeffrey Neuman, exploring this subject matter hits “close to home,” given the “legally deaf” or profoundly hard of hearing diagnosis he was given 15 years ago.

“You literally have to reconstruct words and phrases and scenarios, because your ability to follow them audibly has been taken away from you,” Neuman said. “So, for me personally, there’s a direct correlation between hearing loss and art — that correlation and the importance of that correlation became abundantly clear to me because of this project.”

Wanting to do the composer justice, Neuman turned to the artist’s most intimate writings.

Playwright Jeffrey Neuman explored Beethoven’s letters for inspiration for the script “Incessant Hum.” (Colorado Chamber Players/ Courtesy photo)

“It was absolutely fascinating spending time with Beethoven’s letters and they became an integral part of this project,” Neuman said. “The Heiligenstadt Testament, one of Beethoven’s most well-known letters and one of the only ones in which he openly discusses his hearing loss, is actually used verbatim in several parts of the script. It is such a beautiful and eloquent expression of an artist on the verge of despair, one who is driven to the brink of ending it all, but realizes that, if for no other reason, he should carry on because of his art. Commitment to art was, in many ways, his saving grace.”

Hamilton added: “Beethoven lost the most precious thing as a musician — his hearing. While he became despondent and considered suicide at a certain point, he made a decision to not only continue living, but to continue to express himself artistically.”

Actor Chris Kendall will play Beethoven in “Incessant Hum.” (Colorado Chamber Players/ Courtesy photo)

Hamilton and crew said they feel like this production will resonate with those who are fans of the German icon as well as those who don’t know as much about the complex creative.

“Jeff (Neuman) and the actors have done a beautiful job in making this historic monolithic figure into a breathing, passionate, relatable and flawed person — largely using Beethoven’s own words to do so,” said “Incessant Hum” director Mare Trevathan. “I think there’s both relief and inspiration in the reminder that our heroes are also struggling humans.”

“Incessant Hum” director, Mare Trevathan. (Colorado Chamber Players/ Courtesy photo)

Buzzing noises plagued Beethoven when he was 26. By the time he was 31, he had lost 60 percent of his hearing. By 46, he had lost his hearing entirely.

“An artist’s constraints can hobble them or help differentiate their work,” Trevathan said. “I think of Monet’s water lilies and the distinctive blurriness of his later work when his eyesight was poor. I’m not sure if it’s more brilliant, but it’s personal and distinctive and — in the case of Beethoven and Monet — helps us to literally see and hear the world differently.”

The universal theme of continuing to thrive in the face of resistance is one seen throughout the layered production.

“He could no longer perform or conduct, but the music he wrote as a deaf person, is some of the greatest music ever written,” Hamilton said. “In a way, he heard his most authentic voice once he could no longer hear the world around him.”

Actor Chelsea Frye will play Elise in “Incessant Hum.” (Colorado Chamber Players/ Courtesy photo)

In this music-theater hybrid, attendees will delight in portions of Beethoven’s chamber music, for strings and piano in various combinations as well as new chamber music. The script features dialogue between a Beethoven character and a female character named Elise — taken from his piano piece “Für Elise.” While Elise isn’t based on an actual acquaintance of the composer, in a sense she is a dream-like nod to the many females that served as muses in Beethoven’s life.

“More than anything, I hope people walk away from the play with a sense of how resilient and resourceful we are as human beings as well as with a deeper understanding that fear and loss are not only a part of the human condition, but can even be stepping stones to some of our greatest achievements.” Neuman said.


If you go

What: “Incessant Hum” by Colorado Chamber Players

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday (Broomfield), 6:30 p.m. January 18 (Lafayette) 2 p.m. Jan. 19 (Boulder)

Where: Tuesday: Broomfield Auditorium, 3 Community Park Road, Broomfield; Jan. 18: Opus Two Hall, 9167 Davidson Way, Lafayette; Jan. 19: Boulder Public Library, 1001 Arapahoe Ave., Boulder

Cost: Broomfield Auditorium: $15-$18; Opus Two Hall, gala: $45-$80; Boulder Public Library: free

More info: coloradochamberplayers.org

 

 

blog comments powered by Disqus