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December 30, 2009

Church of Beethoven in Albuquerque sounds inspirational

Here's something a bit off the beaten path. A Los Angeles Times story that appeared this week describes a place where classical music lovers gather for a different kind of Sunday service at the Church of Beethoven in Albuquerque.

The place was founded by Felix Wurman, a cellist with the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra. Wurman, who died Dec. 26 after a year-long struggle against cancer, was inspired a couple years ago after playing a church gig and experiencing a deep reaction to both the music and the way the churchgoers responded. Quoting from the Times:

Wurman had an idea: "How about a church that

has music as its principal element, rather than as an afterthought?"

He recruited other musicians from the symphony, and ... in an abandoned gas station off old Route 66, they began playing concerts each Sunday. More and more people started coming ("I just leave here feeling really soul-satisfied," explained one regular, Veronica Reed, 68 ...), and after a couple of years, the concert series outgrew the space. Its current home, a renovated warehouse in downtown Albuquerque, is rather cathedral-like, with warm red walls, vaulted wood ceilings and stained glass windows. 

Given the way things are going for classical music and the arts, maybe there will be a lot of such churches springing up around the country. This is certainly one way to keep the music going. (I'd probably be more inclined to stop by a Church of Mahler or Church of Bach, 'cause I think of those guys as extra-spiritual, but that's just me.)

The New Mexico church has lots of the little touches that set it apart from the more routine lliturgical operations -- massages and espresso bars are part of the scene -- but this is clearly no silly whim. You've got to hand it to Wurman and his friends for thinking way outside the religious box. And I rather like what one of the Beethovians, Pamela Michaelis, said to the Times reporter after a recent 'service': 

"... she had felt the music "in the cavities" of her chest. She said she thinks the point of religion is to feel a part of something. The Church of Beethoven, she said, provides that. "That's what music is," she said. "It's something bigger than us."

Posted by Tim Smith at 2:49 PM | | Comments (0)

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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