It may come as no surprise that the Church of Beethoven is not a church at all. It's a nonprofit putting on monthly performances that takes its audience on a spiritual journey of music and more.
"Music is a language of its own," said Bradley Schuller, artistic director. "We don't need to have various different philosophies, religious boundaries, cultural boundaries; music can speak to all of it. I think it can connect people. We live in an age where people are becoming less connected. … This is a format where you can be part of a community, you can be a part of something."
The Church of Beethoven was founded by Oak Park native and cellist Felix Wurman with an inaugural concert in 2008 in a gas station on Route 66 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Locations flowered in Tucson, Durham and Santa Monica.
It is making a change this year, moving into a true concert hall at International Mansion, the recently repurposed Hales Mansion at Oak Park and Chicago avenues, purchased by Brando Fermi Crawford and Maria Fermi of the Language and Music School.
"I did a little Facebook post and it went viral," said Schuller, who lives in Oak Park. "A lot of people just shared excitement about the possibilities of performing there."
Church of Beethoven previously operated out of Open Door Theater, where Schuller, an operatic tenor, performed before becoming artistic director.
With 10 Sunday morning concerts slated for the season, Schuller said, having the new "elegant" 75-seat venue with more ideal acoustics and access to a concert grand piano makes it more attractive to performers — anyone who would play or be accompanied by a piano, for instance — singers and instrumentalists, including the artists for the February show, violinist Cara Schlecker with pianist Paul Dykstra.
Schlecker, who began violin at age 4 and graduated from Oak Park and River Forest High School, was a Civic Orchestra of Chicago member and has performed internationally.
"I frequently perform in Oak Park as the village has such an appreciation for music of all genres," Schlecker said. "It is wonderful to perform in my hometown once again and I am honored to be included in the Church of Beethoven's first concert at their stunning new location."
The Feb. 16 program ranges from classical to jazz arrangements, including works by John Williams, Fritz Kreisler and Robert Dauber.
"Most notably on the program is a rarely performed arrangement of George Gershwin's opera, Porgy and Bess," Schlecker said. "It is a thrilling and beautiful arrangement for violin and piano by violinist Igor Frolov."
Upcoming will be artists who have previously performed with Church of Beethoven, such as Cuarteto Tanguro in April, a tango pair who bring great energy, according to Schuller. In May, world-famous audience-favorite, Russian cellist Ian Maksin, brings his multi-genre approach.
Attending a Church of Beethoven concert is meant to be relaxed and family-friendly. The first half hour includes social time with coffee and cookies. The performance begins with 25 minutes of music. There is a break, a local poet does a reading, followed by two minutes of silence. The concert then resumes for another 25 minutes. At the conclusion, the audience is able to talk with the musicians and buy CDs.
New this year are season tickets for both adults and students and CDs of previous Church of Beethoven performers can be purchased on the Church of Beethoven website.
Another benefit of the new venue is that the 2020 season rental fee supports one student at the Language and Music School for one year, part of the International Foundation for Education and Innovation established a few months ago at International Mansion.
See violinist Cara Schlecker with pianist Paul Dykstra on Sunday, Feb. 16, 10:30 a.m. to noon, International Mansion, 509 N. Oak Park Ave., Oak Park. $15; $10, children. Tickets/more: churchofbeethoven-oakpark.com/ or at the door. Season tickets (10 Sunday morning concerts): $120; $80, children. Interested in volunteering or reading poetry: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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