Born: April 2, 1942 - Wöhrden/Dithmarschen, Germany
The German conductor, organist and composer Neithard Bethke, the eighth of 10 children of a pastor family, was surrounded by music from his earliest childhood. The father´s family lived since centuries in the Memelland, in the town Heydekrug what is today Silute in Lithuania. His grandfather has also been pastor there, before going as a missionary to China. His mother was a professional musician; her grandmother belongs from Brasilia/South-America. She was a splendid pianist artist and piano pedagogue and at her times the youngest professor of her profession. She became his first piano teacher. Already at 7, Neithard Bethke played the organ in the services in Wöhrden´ St. Nicolai-church, at 13 years he was engaged there on a permanent basis. He studied later church music, composition, piano and a conducting in Lübeck, Freiburg, Paris, Madrid, Bologna and Hamburg.
Neithard Bethke was first active as a church musician in Wöhrden and in Lübeck. In 1965 he became first chief-conducter of the just founded professional chamber-orchester “Hansisches Kammerorchester Hamburg-Lübeck” and he hold this position for twenty years. He passed the examins as Church musician, Kapellmeister and composition in the years from 1965 to 1968. Later was following the Concert-examin for organ in Freiburg/Brg. In 1969 he became cathedral organist in Ratzeburg. In the same year he created the later well known Sommerakademie (summer academy) in Ratzeburg, yearly mastercourses for young musicians. In 1972 he was appointed as the director of church music and was thereby the youngest acting director of church music in Germany. In 1981 he became principal conductor of the renowned “Deutsches Bachorchester”, consisting of first-class specialists, which had at that time its seat in Cologne and whose seat he shifted to Hamburg. Apart from all the activities in his Ratzeburg period, he retrieved the Abitur and Latin, studied a second time at the Christian-Albrechts-Universität in Kiel music science, history and theology, and in 1988 attained a doctorate in philosophy. His thesis is concerned with the life and the work of Kurt Thomas, who was a Thomaskantor for a short period. This book contents up to today the best description of the situation and development of church music in Germany in the 20th century.
Professor Doctor Neithard Bethke is the father and organiser of the Ratzeburger Dommusiken. However, his musical activity is not limited to the Ratzeburger Domkonzerte. Nearly annually international organ weeks take place in Ratzeburg in the summer, in which organists from all over the world are involved. Since 1969 he organises and leads the Ratzeburger Sommerakademie, with which renowned music pedagogues and artist accomplish master-classes for music students. Over 1,000 students (vocalists, organists, conductors, chamber music groups, pianists ans other instrumental soloists) have participated so far in these courses; some of them have become in the meantime renowned artists, lecturers and professors. Neithard Bethke has also taught in St. Petersburg, Hong Kong, Singapore, Sidney, Perth, Milano, and Santiago de Chile.
Neithard Bethke alone or together with his choir and orchestre have given numerous guest concerts abroad. He is active as organist, harpsichordist and conductor in Belgium, England, Holland, Ireland, France, Italy, Iceland, in Estonia, Livland, Lituania, Finland and Sweden, in Poland, Slowky, Tchechia, Russia, Romania, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Georgia, Armenia; in Spain, Switzerland, Austria, Yugoslavia, Norway, Denmark, Liechtenstein; in other continents in Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, North and South America, in Canada and China. Just as organist he is named as “One of the best virtuosists in the business of organ playing today … astonishing virtuosity … but same time impressive musicality.” In several international important culture places he acted as a guest professor and taught hundreds of students in organ playing and conducting.
Neithard Bethke has made himself a name not only as a brilliant church musician but also as a gifted opera conductor. Orpheus und Eurydike, Xerxes, Le Nozze di Figaro, La Traviata, Aida, Nabucco, La Bohéme, Carmen, Meistersinger, Tannhäuser, Parsifal, Freischütz belong among other operas to his repertoire. Also as a well known genious conductor of symphonic concerts he is asked. So he conducted with as excellent reviewed results the philharmonic or radio orchestras of Alma Ata, St. Petersburg, Warszawa, Cracowia, Gdansk, Hannover, Marl, Siegerland, Hamburg and Copenhagen. His wide repertoire includes orchester compositions from Bach, Haydn and Mozart on to Honegger, Reger and Stravinsky and – last not least – on to own compositions (by example his famous “Appell” op. 42)
As a composer, Neithard Bethke is widely varied. So far he has composed 147 works, including about 30 works for organ, 1 mass, 3 oratorios, 27 Motets, 12 Cantatas, 4 cycles of Lieder with words of famous old or contemporary poets, 12 other choral works, 4 Lieder cycles with text of the Bible, 3 humorous choral works, 2 symphonies, 6 other works for orchestras. He wrote music to texts of various authors: Jochen Klepper, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Hilde Domin, Uwe Steffen, Chinese old poetry, Erwin Lüddecke and Eva Zeller. His works are characterised often by a typical original instrumentation, e.g. clarinet, harp and alto voice, or another one tenor voice, English horn and organ. .Just he is workimg at a big symphonic compositions for vocal soloists, choir, organ orchester and electric synthiziser-sound named “Kosmische Parabel” which shall be first performed in Munich as to be heard.
By the way: To characterize the full personality of Neithard Bethke, you must add, that he is a fire-fighter since 47 years in the volunteer fire department of his town, and 24 years as first captain and commander of his fabulous fire-crew. Not enough, he is privat pilot too, and often he went to his concerts by his own plane, not only in Europe but also in South America and in Australia. He has a family with four children who are all extraordinary gifted, not omly in musics, and they are studying at different universities and high-schools in different faculties.
The newest development is, so a newspaper in northern Germany, that Neithard Bethke after finishing his poste as church musician in Ratzeburg, will become chief-conducter of the new founded European Concert Choir and the European Philharmonic Orchester in Lübeck.
Source: Ratzeburger Dommusiken Website, English translation by Aryeh Oron (July 2006) Contributed by Aryeh Oron (July 2006)