This morning I finally had the opportunity to attend the Church of Beethoven, which convenes every Sunday at 10:30 a.m.
I was intrigued by their description posted on an Albuquerque calendar of events: "weekly chamber music and spoken word performances by professional musicians and poets. Concise and varied programs washed down with great espresso drinks."
And the slogan on their website: "church minus the religion."
It's in a former warehouse/industrial building on Fifth Street just south of I-40, and the space is now called The Kosmos. I wasn't quite sure what to expect, but it's a nice performance space that has been cleaned and painted, with a small stage at one end and rows of folding chairs. It's at the end of the building and the roof starts to slope down, so with the exposed beams and the shape, it reminds me of the "ark" type roof adopted by many Lutheran churches, including the past two of which we have been members. They also have a translucent "stained glass" fabric over the windows, so it takes little imagination to envision it as a church.
The program was absolutely delightful and lasted for about an hour. It began with an operatic performance of "A Hand of Bridge," Op. 35 composed by Samuel Barber is 1959. The performers were Thomas Munro, Matt Amend, Nilam Brown and Essence Johnson of the UNM Opera Theatre, accompanied by Ivan Koska on piano. I had never heard this piece before. Four people are playing a hand of bridge, and the lyrics are the thoughts of each of the players as they sit at the table. While Barber composed some fabulous "serious" music, it's nice to know he had such an interesting sense of humor.
That was followed by a reading by Anthony Hunt of selected American poems, so I heard "A Certain Slant of Light" by Emily Dickinson, Section 6 of "Song of Myself" by Walt Whitman, and a work of T.S. Eliot (I didn't catch the title). It made me want to go read more works by those poets. Isn't that the point of exposure to culture and art?
A celebration of silence lasted for two minutes, which seemed to be a nod to the "church" part of the program.
A delightful string quartet performed the Quartet No. 12 in F major, Op. 96 by Antonin Dvorak. ("Hey--I know this piece!" I know and appreciate fine classical music--I've just never been able to remember titles or composers.) The four movements were "allegro ma non troppo" (quickly but not too much), "lento" (slowly), "molto vivace" (very lively), and "vivace ma non troppo (lively but not too much). I looked those up in an online Italian-English dictionary. It was performed by David Felberg and Roberta Arruda on violins, Ikoku Kanda on viola, and James Holland on cello. It was as fine a performance as any chamber music concert I've ever attended.
There is one more thing that happened which added to my extreme delight in the morning. Soon after the performance began, a black pug trotted out of the audience seating area and through a door into a back room. Ah--the "job dog" as our family calls them. He obviously belongs to someone who works there or operates the place and has the run of the building. I didn't see him for a while. Then, during the "lento" section of the Dvorak piece (remember, this is the "slow" and "solemn" movement), the pug came wandering through the audience between people's legs and under chairs, surreptitiously sampling any drinks or food from the dishes people had set on the floor. He finished the last dregs of the espresso of the lady sitting next to me, then lapped up water from the glass of the woman in the row in front of me. I was trying to be quiet, but I was laughing so hard my shoulders were shaking and my eyes were watering!
There was more entertainment involved and just about as much serenity as in any church service I've ever attended. I could tell that a lot of the people attending (it was packed) were regulars, and, just like after a real church service, they lingered to talk and have coffee after the performance was over.
Sign me up as a member of the Church of Beethoven!
Where: 1715 Fifth Street NW, Albuquerque, New Mexico
When: Sundays at 10:30 a.m.
Cost: $15 per person
Extra: frequent attender passes available, volunteers wanted, and a jar is designated for "offerings to the Kosmos."