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October 27: The Church of Beethoven

October 26, 2015

2275765077_0e648572bbFelix Wurman, a cellist who founded the Church of Beethoven in an abandoned gas station on Route 66 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, was born on this date in 1958. The son of an Austrian Jewish composer who fled the Nazi Anschluss, Wurman performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at age 12, declined an invitation to attend Juilliard, studied in Europe with Jacqueline du Pré, and began to experiment with performance venues in the 1980s by co-founding Domus, a chamber music group that performed in its own portable geodesic dome, which he designed. In Albuquerque, he joined the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra and formed the Noisy Neighbors Chamber Orchestra, which also played in a portable geodisic dome. In 2007, Wurman launched the Church of Beethoven, “a church that has music as its principal element, rather than as an afterthought,” he said, with “the ecstasy of the music, and the warmth of the parishioners enjoying it together,” especially non-religious people “looking to be uplifted on a Sunday morning.” In 2008, the Church of Beethoven moved to a renovated loft in downtown Albuquerque. Months later, Wurman was diagnosed with bladder cancer — the church community raised funds to help pay for his medical care. He died in 2009. To see him on his cello at the Church of Beethoven, look below.

“It’s sort of like a variety show, with poetry readings, group singing, silence and music. But he’s trying to make it more than that: a community, a spiritual place, like a church for people who don’t go to church.” —Brigit McCarthy, National Public Radio