Felix Wurman dies at 51; cellist founded Church of Beethoven performance series

Felix Wurman, seen in 2008, asks the audience to make a donation to keep the Church of Beethoven -- which had about 100 or so regular attendees -- running at what was called the Filling Station off Route 66 in Albuquerque.
(Morgan Petroski / Albuquerque Journal)
Felix Wurman, a cellist who founded the Church of Beethoven performance series in Albuquerque, has died of complications from cancer, a sister said. He was 51.

FOR THE RECORD: A news obituary in Thursday’s Section A on Felix Wurman, an Albuquerque musician and founder of the Church of Beethoven concert series, said that the artistic director of the series is David Feldman. His name is David Felberg.

Wurman, who had been undergoing treatment for bladder cancer, died late Saturday night at a hospice facility in Hillsborough, N.C.

Wurman was a cellist with the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra when, two years ago, he recruited other musicians from the symphony to play Sunday morning concerts in an abandoned gas station off Route 66. The Times profiled the weekly concert series, which Wurman called the Church of Beethoven, on Sunday.

Wurman was not religious, but for him, music was spiritual.

As the Church of Beethoven grew -- last year it moved to a new space to better accommodate the 100 or so regular attendees -- his suspicions that that there were many nonreligious people “looking to be uplifted on a Sunday morning” were confirmed.

Wurman was born in 1958 on the south side of Chicago to immigrant parents who also were musicians.

His father, Hans Wurman, an Austrian Jew who escaped the Holocaust, was a noted composer and pianist. His mother, Brenda, was from England.

They gave Wurman a cello when he was 7. By age 12, he was performing publicly.

In his late teens, Wurman declined an invitation to New York’s Juilliard School and instead took off for Europe, where he studied with noted British cellist Jacqueline duPre.

Wurman was a bold and eccentric spirit, said his sister Candida Wurman Yoshikai.

While living in England in the early 1980s, he founded Domus, a piano quartet that performed in its own portable concert hall -- a geodesic dome tent Wurman built himself.

In addition to his sister Candida, Wurman is survived by a brother, Alex, a Los Angeles composer who writes music for film; and another sister, Nina, who composes theatrical music in Germany.

Since Wurman was diagnosed with cancer last year, performers and attendees have stepped forward to help the Church of Beethoven continue to flourish.

At Sunday’s performance, word spread quietly about Wurman’s death, said David Feldman, the artistic director.

“It definitely felt different,” he said. “It definitely felt quiet and introspective.”

Feldman said he hadn’t been sure whether the program should go forward as scheduled or whether it should be canceled in honor of Wurman’s passing.

In the end, he decided the best tribute would be to go forward with the planned program.

“We just had a really nice concert,” he said. “We just played the music.”