Don’t bother looking for a steeple. Keep your eyes peeled, instead, for a yellowish surfboard with hand-lettered, coral-colored block capitals that read “B E E T H O V E N.”
Stuck atop the iron fence surrounding The Filling Station at the corner of Fourth Street SW and Pacific, the board marks Albuquerque’s newest concert series: the Church of Beethoven, inaugurated on Feb. 10 by Felix Wurman, cellist, “church” founder and member of the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra.
The venue—an old garage converted into a performance space by the resident Mother Road Theatre Company—fits the bill perfectly for Wurman’s intimate, off-center Sunday-morning presentations featuring NMSO members and others.
“I’ve been tinkering with the concert format for years,” he says, and he can prove it. In the ’80s, he founded the renowned chamber group Domus, which toured with a geodesic dome that the musicians could set up for concerts just about anywhere—and did. “It’s like cooking a meal. You can’t really leave anything out—the ingredients of the space, the music, the players.”
His home-printed programs describe the venture: “What is the Church of Beethoven? Let me quote comedian and breakfast cereal enthusiast Jerry Seinfeld when he asks, ‘What’s this stuff Grape Nuts? I mean—no grapes, no nuts.’ Same with Church of Beethoven. No church, no Beethoven. The Church of Beethoven has all the best qualities of 1. a typical Sunday service; 2. an exciting concert; and 3. the best coffee shop in town. In short, the perfect Sunday morning.”
The format—complete with free coffee expertly prepared on Wurman’s professional espresso machine by barista and cellist/guitarist Lisa Donald—is about “breaking down barriers” between the performers and the audience, he says. The sing-along to John Lennon’s “Imagine” on the first Sunday, led by Donald, underscored that concept.
That day, attendees also heard Debussy’s “Syrinx,” a piece for solo flute, played by Christine Saari from behind a backlit parachute; selections from Messiaen’s “Quartet for the End of Time;” and J.S. Bach’s “Sonata in G Major for Flute, Tenor Cello and Basso Continuo.” The second Sunday offered Mozart, funerary violin music from Hieronymous Gratchenfleiss, the sing-along “I’ll Fly Away,” and on a Kokopelli theme, music by Kathryn Hoover and poetry by Gary Snyder.
The doors open every Sunday at 10 a.m., at 1024 Fourth Street SW, with the music starting at approximately 10:30 a.m. Arrive early for coffee or tea. Wurman encourages parents to bring their well-behaved children. As in any church, admission is free, with a free-will offering.