Music has been a balm for the soul for many during this difficult global pandemic period, something which has been uppermost in the ABC’s mind as it’s developed this year’s Classic 100 countdown. Celebrating Beethoven in the 250th anniversary year of his birth, this June long weekend the broadcaster will count down the top 100 works by the composer as decided by audiences. As in years past, an array of beloved presenters including Ed Ayres, Martin Buzacott, Greta Bradman, Russell Torrance, Vanessa Hughes, Alice Keath, and Mairi Nicolson will host, while pianist Kristian Chong and conductor Benjamin Northey will be on hand to give their own unique perspectives on the music as performers intimately acquainted with Beethoven.

“Really the Classic 100 is all about celebrating Australians’ connections with classical music and what we’ve found out through the voting period that we’ve been running for the last four weeks has been the ways in which Beethoven has been a part of the lives of Australians,” ABC Classic Content Manager Toby Chadd told Limelight. “We subtitled this countdown the ‘Music of Hope & Humanity’ because that’s really what Beethoven’s music has represented across so many centuries and we gave it that title before the global pandemic hit and since then we’ve come to realise how pertinent his music is for specifically this time.”

“We’ve had people who have been looking to learn and discover new music and that’s something we’ve put a lot of emphasis on – [while] Beethoven has got a certain number of huge hits and they’re known by everyone, there’s a much broader catalogue of music there, about 490 pieces on the voting list and we really wanted to spend time exploring those pieces that aren’t often played. So it was about giving people an opportunity to discover as well as celebrate the music that they know and love, but it’s also for us, at the heart of the Classic 100, about bringing together a community of people around music, and community is something that we need so much at the moment. It’s also something that was at the heart of Beethoven’s music, here was a man who knew loneliness and through music reached out to create this sense of a brotherhood of mankind and that for us has been at the heart of this campaign: how do we create a community around music?”

Something audiences should listen out for at 8am on Saturday and Sunday is a special Acknowledgement of Country written by and recorded especially for the Classic 100 by didgeridoo player William Barton.

“One thing that we look to do at major events across the ABC is to include an Acknowledgement of Country within those and what we decided to do with the Classic 100 was to ask Will to create an Acknowledgement of Country, but to do that in a way that responded directly to Beethoven’s music, and his take as an Indigenous Australian and didgeridoo player on Beethoven’s music,” explains Chadd. “So we went to him and asked Will to write a piece for us inspired by Beethoven that we could play to kick off the Classic 100 and what I’m really excited about is the fact that we’ve got this weekend celebrating this great, great composer at the heart of canon, and that we’re able to kick it off with a really direct connection to Australia and Indigenous music making.”

One Classic 100 voter will be in the running to curate and enjoy a private Zoom concert performed just for them by either Sharon and Slava Grigoryan, Simon Tedeschi, Richard Tognetti and Satu Vänskä, Erin Helyard or Nicole Car and Etienne Dupuis.

“We were wracking our brains about what we could do to create a really special musical experience for someone, and it seemed like the obvious thing to do to say, how can we connect up some of our top musicians directly with someone for a really instant musical experience? That’s one of the things that has been really beautiful which has come out of this really difficult time for the music industry, is the opportunity that has been found for musicians to talk directly to audiences and I suppose that is what inspired the proposition we put together.”

The Classic 100 Countdown will be broadcast live across Australia, running across Saturday 6 and Sunday 7 June, beginning at 9AM each day AEST. The number one will be announced at 4pm AEST on Sunday afternoon.

Tune in on the radio, online or via the ABC Listen app.