The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Why is Beethoven so popular? And why do all-Beethoven concerts work so well? Conductor Andrew Sewell answers these questions even as he prepares to perform the all-Beethoven concert tonight by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

May 1, 2015
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Tonight at 8 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center, conductor Andrew Sewell (below top) will lead the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below bottom) and guest pianist Bryan Wallick, who won the Vladimir Horowitz Prize and is returning to Madison, in an all-Beethoven concert to wrap up this season of the WCO indoors Masterworks programs.

AndrewSewellnew

WCO lobby

The program includes the “Leonore” Overture No. 1, the Piano Concerto No. 5 “Emperor” and the Symphony No. 7.

Tickets are $15-$62. For more information, visit: http://www.wcoconcerts.org/performances/masterworks-v

The Ear asked the guest pianist Bryan Wallick and WCO’s longtime music director and conductor Andrew Sewell to explain why all-Beethoven concerts work so well and why Beethoven remains so popular with the general public. (Coincidentally, the Madison Symphony Orchestra will also close its season with Beethoven, specifically the Symphony No. 9 (“Choral” or “Ode to Joy”) on May 8, 9 and 10.

Wallick’s answers appeared here on Wednesday and offered the perspective of an instrumentalist. Here is a link to his answers:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/04/29/classical-music-why-is-beethoven-so-popular-and-why-do-all-beethoven-concerts-works-pianist-bryan-wallick-explains-these-questions-even-as-he-prepares-to-play-the-emperor-concerto/

And here are the answers by conductor Andrew Sewell (below), who kindly responded to an email Q&A:

andrewsewell

Beethoven (below), along with a handful of other composers, including Mozart and Tchaikovsky, is one of the few composers who can make up a single-composer concert that also attracts the public. What accounts for that, do you think?

I think his name is synonymous with classical music. His music defines it — the working out of themes, melody and development — from his overtures, symphonies, concertos, piano sonatas and string quartets.

Beethoven big

What role has Beethoven played in your career? Are there works in particular that you were drawn to as a student or a performing professional?

As a young concertgoer, at the age of 8, I heard his Symphony No. 9 “Choral” and fell in love with the “Ode to Joy.” I was captivated by his life and biography, about his deafness overtaking him, and stories of his inner personal struggles. I remember reading all about his life as a youngster, and I loved playing his music.

As a violinist, I loved getting to know his violin sonatas and symphonies. One of my first significant orchestral experiences at age 16 was playing his “Leonore” Overture No. 3 with the New Zealand Youth Orchestra, and a year later, the Fifth Symphony. Beethoven’s overtures and symphonies are the bread and butter of any orchestra.

Andrew Sewell BW

Beethoven consistently ranks as the general public’s favorite classical composer. Why is that, do you think? The consistently high quality of the music? The diversity of works and forms that his creativity expressed itself in? The sense of overcoming struggle and personal hardship you find in his works?

All of the above. You said it in the wide variety of forms he used –- symphonies, overtures, sonatas, chamber music. The string quartets alone, like Mozart’s Piano Concertos, are a lifetime testament in which we see his development as a composer and inner struggles.

His personal life is intertwined with the complexities of his later works, as he stretched the boundaries of form and development. His Ninth Symphony and the late string quartets testify to this. Overcoming struggle and personal hardship give the music its triumphal drive.

beethoven BW grim

Is there an aspect of Beethoven that you think the public needs to pay more attention to and that you intend to emphasize in your interpretations?

The “Leonore” Overture No. 1 is probably the least played of the four overtures related to his one and only opera, “Fidelio.” Inadvertently he created a new form, known as the Concert Overture, and which Mendelssohn later took up.

This overture, does not include the off-stage trumpet reverie, as in Nos. 2 and 3. For some reason, Beethoven was not satisfied, and continued to refine it in later compositions. What I find intriguing about this overture is the way he transitions from slow to fast sections and back again so seamlessly and how he experimented with a continuous form.

The Symphony No. 7  — below is a page of the work’s manuscript from Beethoven’s almost illegible notebooks — is among his most energetic symphonies. It never lets up and is physically demanding on all sections of the orchestra. One needs stamina for this music. It is also extremely exciting to play and to listen to, hence it is a very popular symphony. (At the bottom,  in a popular YouTube video with almost 8 million hits, you can hear the famous and well-known Allegretto movement from the Symphony No. 7 with an intriguing bar graph score.)

Beethoven Symphony no 7 MS

Is there anything you would like to say or add?

An all-Beethoven program is a great way to end the season, especially when you have pianist Bryan Wallick (below) returning to perform with us. We are most excited to hear and share his performance of the mighty “Emperor” Piano Concerto.

Bryan Wallick mug

 


Classical music Q&A: American pianist Bryan Wallick talks about his synesthesia and about his season-opening concert this Friday with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra under Andrew Sewell.

October 8, 2013
3 Comments

REMINDER: Do you suffer from stage fright or at least get nervous before a performance? Meet Noa Kageyama (below), a performance psychologist who teaches at the Juilliard School of Music. He will be in Madison at the University of Wisconsin on this Wednesday and Thursday to give free public talks and workshops. Here is his schedule and an illuminating Q&A with him by Kathy Esposito on the UW School of Music’s new blog “Fanfare”:
http://uwmadisonschoolofmusic.wordpress.com/2013/09/25/kageyama/

Noa Kageyama

By Jacob Stockinger

This Friday evening at 8 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) will open its new season with the piano soloist Bryan Wallick making his local debut.

WCO lobby

The program includes “Young Apollo” by Benjamin Britten, to celebrate the centennial of the birth of the most famous 20th-century English composer (below).

Benjamin Britten

Also on the program are two famous Fifths: the Piano Concerto No. 5 (“Egyptian”) by Camille Saint-Saens and the ever-powerful Symphony No. 5 in C minor by Ludwig van Beethoven.

Single tickets are $15 to $67, and season subscriptions are still available.

For more information, visit: http://wcoconcerts.org/performances/masterworks/68/event-info/

Pianist Bryan Wallick – who is known for his synesthesia – recent gave an email interview to the Ear in which he discussed his special gift of synesthesia as well as his career and the music of Saint-Saens:

Bryan Wallick mug

Can you briefly introduce yourself?

I grew up in Hamilton, Ohio, a small town outside of Cincinnati.  I began playing at the age of 4 and got quite serious about playing when I was about 13. I changed teachers to a couple of professors and duo-pianists at the University of Cincinnati (Eugene and Elizabeth Pridonoff, below) and they prepared me to go to The Juilliard School when I finished high school. The biggest competition I won was the Vladimir Horowitz International Piano Competition in Kiev, Ukraine.

Elizabeth and Eugene Pridonoff

I understand you have synesthesia, or the mixing or blending of the senses. Can you tell us specifically what that means for you and your playing, and for the listener?

In my experience, I see a color with each different notes (12 different notes and 12 different colors).  For example, E is green, C is white, G is red, etc.

synesthesia numbers, letters, colors

It’s a peripheral experience in my mind’s eye as I play, and it probably helps a little with memory retention as I have some another association (color) with the notes.

It doesn’t really have any impact on the audience, except in the case where I was given a grant by the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts in Arizona to create a program that displayed some pictures depicting an approximate version of what I see in my mind when I play.

Bryan Wallick at piano

What do think about the role of Camille Saint-Saens (below) in music history? Is he too overlooked, neglected or underestimated? What do you think about the Piano Concerto No. 5 (performed by pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet and the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam in a popular YouTube video at the bottom) and how it compares to his other piano concertos as well as those of the standard repertoire?

Saint-Saens’ role in music history is enigmatic.  He was recognized as a genius prodigy from a very early age like Mozart and Mendelssohn, and he was also a virtuoso pianist who supposedly had fantastic fingers (which features prominently in most his piano works).

He lived a long life and his career and reputation changed perception a few times.  Early in his 30s he was criticized for championing the then “new” music of Liszt and Berlioz, but toward the end of his life in the early 20th century, he was fighting against the music of Debussy and most of the trends that took hold in modern music.

He knew his own music could lean toward the “sentimental” side, and even the famous “Carnival of the Animals” was only published after his death as he knew this kind of music could hurt his reputation in more “serious” circles.

I love his music, even the sentimental pieces, and this particular piano concerto has the best of Saint-Saens musical elements contained within it. The “Egyptian” element is felt mostly in the second movement where he uses oriental scales and some unusual harmonies to depict his “Egyptian” characteristics. It’s a very exciting and virtuosic work.

Camille Saint-Saens

What do you know of Madison and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and its music director/conductor Andrew Sewell (below). Will this be your Madison or Wisconsin?

I met Andrew in Oregon a few years ago when we were both performing out there.  We got on really well, and I was lucky enough for him to engage me to come and open this season with the orchestra. This will be my first time to play in Madison.

andrewsewell

Was there an Aha! Moment — a work or composer, a performance or performer– that made you want to be a professional concert pianist?

Perhaps, when I was about 12, I played in a master class of the teachers who then soon after I began to study with. The way they were able to bring music to life in a completely new and exciting way inspired me to want to practice and be able to create music and beauty the way they could.

What advice do you have for young music students, especially pianists?

I would say that one should not go into music unless that is really all they could see themselves doing one day. It is a very difficult career, with lots of bumps and bruises to the ego, but once the hard work is accomplished and one can turn a phrase 15 different ways, its such a joy to create, experiment, and play this instrument.

Many students miss the fun and joy of performing as they are so worried about playing “correctly” and I also had to deal with this in my own way. But the more I take chances with ideas and with sound, the more fun and inspiring the music becomes.

BATC2 Chuang student 2

Is there anything else you would like to add or say?

I can’t wait to perform in Madison next week!


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