The Man Who Wasn’t There, a Coen Brothers’ Film, starring Billy Bob Thornton features a soundtrack of Beethoven Sonatas. It’s as if these haunting yet perfectly structured piano works are another character in the story.
Beethoven is so embedded in our culture; hardly a day goes by without hearing his music, even if the circumstances are far from the composer’s original intentions. The Beatles wanted to “roll over” him. Walter Murphy and the Big Apple Band unleashed the disco driven hit “A Fifth of Beethoven” and more recently, Robin Thicke samples the Fifth Symphony in “When I get you alone". Snippets can be heard as a ringtone, selling a product in a TV ad, in a lift, a dentist’s surgery or a comedy sketch.
A towering romantic icon Beethoven is up there with other great talents struck by tragedy; Vincent Van Gogh, Heath Ledger, Jimi Hendrix and Sylvia Plath are but a few. Beethoven had an almost supernatural determination to compose despite being profoundly deaf, and triumphed. No wonder he’s the hero of numerous films including Immortal Beloved and Copy Beethoven.
The chance to hear a selection of Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas in an all day performance of arguably the cornerstone of piano literature as they were originally intended to be enjoyed is a rarity. An event no Beethoven enthusiast, music lover or pianophile can afford to miss.
Typically, the 4MBS Festival offers opportunities for Queensland’s emerging artists to perform. A rewarding approach given that Australia’s professional orchestras and opera companies so often favour soloists from the alluring realm of overseas. Several careers have been made by this strategy. Alex Raineri and Stewart Kelly are among Queensland’s emerging talents. And, the crop of successful professional locals are not overlooked and include Natasha Vlassenko, the Head of Keyboard at the Queensland Conservatorium of Music, Stephen Emmerson and the highly valued married duo Max Olding and Pamela Page. Since these Sonatas roam through diverse emotional territories and language it makes eminent sense to feature a cross section of players. Each bring different life experiences, fresh perspective.
Gary Thorpe, the man driving this Festival, now celebrating its twentieth anniversary, is pleased that 3MBS ran a similar Beethoven Marathon in Federation Square in Melbourne in March.
“This means that the idea of a radio station promoting music performance is catching on. That’s a good thing”, he says. One of the special characteristics of this Festival, distinguishing it from the Queensland Music Festival and The Brisbane Festival is the indepth emphasis on particular composers. Wagner and Verdi are also closely examined in this year’s offerings through a combination of concerts, reflection and theatre.
Presenting Musical Marathons to feature the complete symphonies, string quartets or piano concertos of compositional legends is an infectious idea sweeping the world. The Detroit Symphony Orchestra staged a Beethoven Marathon performing all nine symphonies, concertos, string quartets and sonatas. The Bus Station Sonata (Newcastle, UK) presented in an actual bus station was much appreciated by commuters and passers by.
About the Sonata, No. 28 in A Major, op 101 to be performed by Kelly, a student of the Australian National Academy of Music he says, “the 28th is often overlooked as it’s followed by the 'Hammerklavier. Its structure is fascinating as it is at once so distant, otherworldly and so raw and present. I find it overwhelming, particularly the segue from the desolate, end-of-the-world slow movement to the last which bursts into frightening trills suggesting storminess yet turns out to be joyful”.
Raineri a student of Leah Horvitz at the Queensland Con says, “pianistically the C minor Variations are demanding. Each of the variations explores different facets of technique. It's a challenge to achieve coherence. It will be a breath of fresh air in this program as it is not a Sonata.”
Vlassenko talks about the challenge of performing one of Beethoven’s much-loved sonatas.
“Everyone has his or her own view of the Moonlight. First movement is so popular but I don’t think about “moonlight” because it goes much deeper than something pretty. It has loneliness and depth. Beethoven didn't like it. He preferred the first one I perform No 11 in B Flat, op 22. Why? Because he was happy with its tailoring. The Moonlight was too close to his heart. Maybe, he was embarrassed by the last movement’s desperation”.
Vlassenko performed in the 3MBS Melbourne Marathon a few weeks ago in Federation Square. It began early and finished late. There was a huge crowd. It’s a great idea and brings attention to Beethoven and the Radio Station. I like the way the program begins with one of his last sonatas and ends with Kevin Power playing the first”.
4MBS Festival of Classics
BEETHOVEN PIANO MARATHON
Venue: Ian Hanger Recital Hall, Queensland Conservatorium
Date: Sunday, 5 May, 10 am – 7pm
Bookings: Phone 4MBS on 3847 1717
Top Right – Alex Raineri