What do you get when you cross the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth, a 240 year old library, 3 strings and 1 mid-winter night in Lisbon? An hour-long, three-string concert lit by candlelight of Beethoven classics fit for Peanuts’ Schroeder. This is where we found ourselves, mid January, in Lisbon.
We’d read about candlelight concerts in the churches at Christmastime but alas, didn’t make it. However, Google at the ready, we discovered candlelit classical concerts promoted by Fever, an organization that puts on events around Europe and the US.
We scouted out the location in the afternoon and were glad we did. The Academia da Ciencia is a prestigious society “for the advancement of science and learning” (source Wikipedia) with a library with documents and books dating back to the fourteenth century including works from Sir Isaac Newton (source: Academy of Science website) and others from the fraternity of scientists. Despite good marketing on the internet, when we arrived in the mid afternoon to make sure we knew where the place was there was no evidence that any event would be taking place within five hours, not even on the “calendar of events” bulletin board. The security guard inside seemed to know nothing about the concert which we think we managed to say relatively accurately in broken Portuguese. Hark, an informed and English-speaking student or staffer emerges from within and confirms we’ve found the location of our quest.
At the appointed time, we queue up, the only americanos in sight. Shortly thereafter, the doors are opened and we ascend the stairs to have our tickets checked and an usher assigned. Newcomers and return patrons alike are enchanted by the library itself. The books themselves, clearly well cared for, stacked on beautiful old wooden shelves from floor to ceiling. The ceiling is exquisitely painted with murals of both religious and academic significance. Then the lights go down and only the candlelight remains (albeit fire-hazard proof candlelight).
Fastidious footsteps sound through the silence as the man in charge approaches the stage for a final check and then the musicians appear. The music of sonatas, minuetos, sinfonias and Fur Elise fill the night air. Like a soloist, the violin drives the lead while the viola and violoncelo shoulder the harmony. Rondo follows Marcha which follows Alegria after Allegretto. Other than the applause during the breaks, the crowd observes and listens in silence as if each person were there alone. Lost in thought, the final piece is played and the lights come up awakening the audience back to their own personal realities. Out of the library, they spill into the street changed, if even slightly, by the music of the night.