Felix Wurman

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Felix Wurman
Felix Wurman passing the donation basket at the Church of Beethoven (photograph by Morgan Petroski for the Albuquerque Journal)
Felix Wurman passing the donation basket at the Church of Beethoven (photograph by Morgan Petroski for the Albuquerque Journal)
Background information
Birth nameFelix Wurman
BornOctober 27, 1958
Chicago, Illinois, United States
DiedDecember 26, 2009 (aged 51)
Hillsborough, North Carolina, United States
Years active1970–2009

Felix Wurman (October 27, 1958[1] – December 26, 2009) was an American cellist and composer.

Early years[edit]

Wurman was the son of Hans Wurman, a Jewish composer and pianist who had escaped from Austria during the Anschluss period of Nazi rule.[2] His brother is composer Alex Wurman.[3][4][5]

Wurman began playing the cello at age seven and gave his first public performance, with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra,[6] at age 12.[2] He was invited to attend the Juilliard School, but chose to study in Europe under the British cellist Jacqueline du Pré.[2] Du Pré, who was no longer able to play due to multiple sclerosis, taught Wurman for two years.[7]


While in England, Wurman focused on chamber music and performed with Open Chamber Music at Prussia Cove in Cornwall, England. Wurman performed with musicians including Hungarian violinist Sándor Végh and Johannes Goritski.[8] In the early 1980s, Wurman was one of the founders of Domus, a chamber music group that performed in its own portable geodesic dome tent built by Wurman.[2] The group, originally consisting of Wurman and Richard Lester on cello, Krysia Osostowicz on violin, Robin Ireland on viola, Michael Faust on flute, and Susan Tomes on piano,[9] began at the International Musicians' Seminars at Prussia Cove.[9][10] By using a portable concert hall that could be erected by musicians themselves with seating for an audience of 200, Domus sought to build a broader audience for chamber music and performed in unconventional locations. Domus participated in the European festival circuit and later won two German Record Critics' Prizes and a Gramophone Award for Best Chamber Music Recording for its recording of Fauré: Piano Quartets 1 & 2.[7][8]

Tomes, who went on to become a noted concert pianist and writer, described Wurman as an "animateur of genius" whose love of music, fun and adventure "made people want to be in his gang."[10] Tomes recalled that Wurman came up with the idea to build a portable concert hall using the form of a geodesic dome.[10]

Return to the United States[edit]

Wurman later returned to Chicago, joined the Lyric Opera of Chicago Orchestra and became a freelance cellist in Chicago.[8]

Wurman returned to Europe frequently and studied in Amsterdam under Anner Bylsma. Bylsma encouraged Wurman to build a five-string cello so that he could perform a broad repertoire of transcriptions, consisting mostly of works for violin.[8] Wurman performed concerts of the Sonatas and partitas for solo violin at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and at the Cultural Center in Chicago, both of which were simultaneously broadcast on radio.[8]

Wurman later moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico where he joined the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra. He also continued his interest in chamber music, performing for the Placitas Artist Series, East Mountain Artists Series, Corrales Cultural Arts Council and Albuquerque Chamber Soloists. Wurman also formed the Noisy Neighbors Chamber Orchestra, made up of musicians from the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra.[6][8] In September 2000, when the Noisy Neighbors began performing under a 200-seat geodesic dome in a parking lot at Cedar Crest, Wurman told the Albuquerque Journal that the new group was a continuation of the Domus concept—a group with a mobile concert hall that would perform any kind of classical music wherever possible.[11]

Church of Beethoven[edit]

In early 2007, after performing at a church service, Wurman was inspired to create the "Church of Beethoven." Wurman noted it was not the theology he liked; it was "the ecstasy of the music, and the warmth of the parishioners enjoying it together."[12] Wurman came up with an idea: "How about a church that has music as its principal element, rather than as an afterthought?"[12] Wurman recruited musicians from the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra, and they began playing Sunday concerts in an abandoned gas station off old Route 66.[2] Wurman called the Sunday concerts the Church of Beethoven. Wurman said he founded the church to help people "find spirituality through culture."[13] Wurman named the church after Beethoven because the composer "poured all that spirituality that he couldn't find a place for in the traditional church, he poured it straight into his art."[13] Wurman believed there were many nonreligious people "looking to be uplifted on a Sunday morning."[2] The services also included poetry readings, and one poet who participated described Wurman's goal in forming the Church of Beethoven as follows: "Wurman wanted to foster the same sense of communal experience one can have at a church, but without the dogma."[14]

The Albuquerque Journal described the Church of Beethoven as "an hourlong mix of music, poetry and readings."[15] The Church of Beethoven also received extensive coverage in the national media and was profiled by, among other outlets, National Public Radio and the Los Angeles Times.[12][16] NPR's Washington correspondent, Brigid McCarthy, described the services as "sort of like a variety show, with poetry readings, group singing, silence and music . . . a community, a spiritual place, like a church for people who don't go to church."[16] The Los Angeles Times described it as "a church without preaching, and without prayer. At its Sunday morning services there is something spiritual, all right, but it doesn't have to do with Allah, or Buddha, or God. Instead, it comes from music, from passionate renditions of works composed by Brahms and Bach and, of course, Beethoven -- for whom the church is named."[12]

In 2008, the Church of Beethoven relocated from the filling station to a new home in a renovated warehouse in downtown Albuquerque which has been described as "rather cathedral-like, with warm red walls, vaulted wood ceilings and stained glass windows."[12] A short documentary film about Felix and the Church of Beethoven by Brad Stoddard and Anthony Della Flora was completed and is for sale on Amazon CreateSpace https://www.createspace.com/291475 on DVD

Cancer and death[edit]

Wurman was diagnosed with bladder cancer in November 2008 and underwent surgery in the spring 2009. When the cancer returned and spread to his bone, Wurman left Albuquerque in the fall 2009 to be near his sister in North Carolina and to receive treatment there.[14] The Church of Beethoven continued to thrive even after Wurman's departure as musicians, poets and participants worked to keep the concept alive.[2][14] One week before Wurman's death, the Church of Beethoven conducted a fundraiser to help pay for Wurman's medical care; the event featured Schubert's Octet in F major with poets giving readings in brief intervals between the six movements. Poets Tony Hunt and Lisa Gill read poems centered on the themes of time, change, and friendship.[17] The service was intended as an opportunity to demonstrate the community's appreciation for Wurman's life and commitment.[14]

Wurman died of complications related to cancer.[2]


  1. ^ "Social Security Death Index Search" 8 April 2010
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Kate Linthicum (2009-12-31). "Felix Wurman dies at 51; cellist founded Church of Beethoven performance series". Los Angeles Times.
  3. ^ Linthicum, Kate (31 December 2009). "Felix Wurman dies at 51; cellist founded Church of Beethoven performance series". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2019-05-24.
  4. ^ Mix Magazine
  5. ^ "Official Biography". Archived from the original on 2018-08-01. Retrieved 2020-08-16.
  6. ^ a b "Music in Corrales: Endless Horizons; Our Exciting 2009-2010 Season" (PDF). Music in Corrales. p. 26. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-07-26. Retrieved 2010-01-04.
  7. ^ a b "Chatter: A Chamber Ensemble Principal Players". Chatter: A Chamber Ensemble. Archived from the original on July 12, 2010. Retrieved 2010-01-04.
  8. ^ a b c d e f "Biography of Felix Wurman". Albuquerque Chamber Soloists. Archived from the original on 2009-08-02. Retrieved 2010-01-03.
  9. ^ a b Susan Tomes (2004). Beyond the Notes: Journeys with Chamber Music. The Boydell Press. p. 3. ISBN 1-84383-045-0.
  10. ^ a b c "Felix Wurman – in memoriam". Susan Tomes. 29 December 2009. Retrieved 2010-01-03.
  11. ^ David Steinberg (2000-09-03). "Neighbors make beautiful noise". Albuquerque Journal.
  12. ^ a b c d e Kate Linthicum (2009-12-27). "Cathedral for Joyful Noise: At the Quirky Church of Beethoven, Music Plays the Central Role". Los Angeles Times.
  13. ^ a b Drew Nelles (2007-11-16). "Cellist Runs Church of Beethoven: Albuquerque Arts Devotees Start Secular Church of Beethoven in Old Gas Station". Newser. Retrieved 2010-01-03.
  14. ^ a b c d Erin Adair-Hodges (December 17–23, 2009). "Culture Shock: Felix Wurman's Good Life". Arts/Lit Archive. Retrieved 2010-01-03.
  15. ^ David Steinberg (2008-04-28). "A New Church: Weekly event held at The Filling Station features music, poetry and readings". Albuquerque Journal.
  16. ^ a b Brigid McCarthy. "Church Preaches The Music Of Beethoven". National Public Radio.
  17. ^ "Church of Beethoven benefit for Felix Wurman". Duke City Fix. Retrieved 2010-01-03.

External links[edit]