George Lepauw
  • International Beethoven Festival/Albert J. Kim
  • George Lepauw

Pianist George Lepauw’s acclaimed International Beethoven Project announced a bigger-than-ever fourth annual festival last week—and drew some online flak for bills still pending from last year.

IBP’s Walkabout 2014 is scheduled for September 5 through 21. A week longer than last year’s event, it’ll be held in two dozen venues scattered around the city, with PianoForte Studios, in the South Loop, as a hub. The eclectic programming includes everything from burlesque and hip-hop to Shakespeare monologues with a Beethoven accompaniment, and the extra week will allow an overlap with Expo Chicago.

But a number of participants in last year’s festival are still waiting to be fully paid. This week the issue surfaced on Norman Lebrecht’s closely followed classical music website, Slipped Disc.

Lepauw, the festival’s founder, president, and artistic director, acknowledges that there’s money owed, but says he’s been communicating with the musicians all along, and the complaints came as a surprise to him.

According to Lepauw, the 2013 festival, which cost $400,000 to produce, ended up $100,000 in debt, primarily due to some donor pledges that “didn’t come through,” and to a couple of major concerts that didn’t sell well. But, he maintains, “Most people who performed in the festival have already been paid. And we’ve been making incremental payments [to the others]. We’re very focused on getting the debt taken care of. We’ve been chipping away at it, and we know the end is in sight.”

He adds that IBP has learned from its mistakes: in spite of this year’s expanded schedule, the budget has been reduced by two-thirds.

One thing conspicuously absent—at least so far—is a full orchestra. Lepauw says he won’t commit to that unless he finds a sponsor who’ll write a check for it up front. Of last year’s 60-musician ensemble, he says, “probably about a quarter of the people in the orchestra have been paid in full. The remaining group has received payments, but not yet the entire amount. We are on course to complete our payments before the next festival begins.”

“It’s a cash-flow issue, sort of a catch-22 situation,” Lepauw says. “Ideally, we would not announce until we’re completely free of debt. On the other hand, that’s sort of an impossibility. [Without the new festival announcement] it would be hard to get donors to come in. The festival is our only product. And we can’t generate income without the product going forward.

“I’m saddened that things didn’t work out as we would have liked, but we’re coming out of it very strongly,” Lepauw says. “And if you think about it,” he adds, “within three years we got to a point where we raised over $300,000 for our third festival. That’s actually pretty impressive. We still see this as a success.”