Beethoven piano works revisited in South Surrey concert series

Encore Peninsula series marks 250th anniversary of composer's birth

Since this year marks the 250th anniversary of the birth of Ludwig van Beethoven, it’s only fitting that his enduring body of work be celebrated in the current Encore Peninsula Concerts’ Piano Fest 2020 series.

The series, which continues to bring international-calibre classical musicians to the community for 3 p.m. Sunday concerts, resumes this week (Feb. 2). at Mount Olive Lutheran Church, 2350 148 St., with a recital by its founder, noted concert pianist Eugene Skovorodnikov.

“About 90 per cent of that will be Beethoven, although I’m including one Schubert piece I have prepared for an engagement in Europe,” Skovorodnikov said.

It’s likely the choice would not entirely displease Beethoven – volatile and difficult as he was reputed to be.

His secretary and biographer, Anton Schindler, recalled that during his last days, in 1827, the composer read many of Schubert’s songs in manuscript, declaring that “truly in Schubert there is the divine spark.” The younger man was a frequent visitor to Beethoven when the latter was on his deathbed, and was actually the torch-carrier at his funeral, only a year and a half before his own demise.

Skovorodnikov said he had no hesitation in choosing to honour the Bonn, Germany-born Beethoven’s quarter-millennial, even if it’s a little early in the year.

“We’re marking his birthday now, although he was born in December,” Skovorodnikov said. “Nobody knows the actual date – all we know for sure is his baptism, which took place on Dec. 17.”

What’s not in question, Skovorodnikov said, is Beethoven’s enormous impact in the realm of music, exerting a catalytic influence on composition, which can be seen in the subsequent symphonic work of Brahms, Mahler, Bruckner, and Tchaikovsky, as well as his own commanding presence in the classical pantheon ever since.

It’s not stretching a point, he said, to compare Beethoven’s place in music to that of Shakespeare in theatre – as author of an enormously varied oeuvre that provides virtually infinite scope for interpretation and re-interpretation.

“I consider Beethoven one of the greatest composers ever,” said the Ukrainian-raised pianist (at one time the youngest faculty member of the historic St. Petersburg Conservatory in Russia).

“The genius of the man is that he could create enormous extremities of emotion using very simple tools – such as employing the same tonic and dominant eight or 12 times in a row. And some people will say ‘that’s too simplistic’ – but then you can take his fugues from his orchestral pieces, for example, and they were entirely sophisticated.”

Other performers will include French pianist Hugues Leclere and the Rimsky-Korsakov String Quartet (March 1) who will play a somewhat scaled-down version of Beethovens Piano Concerto No. 4.

Skovorodnikov explained that the quartet, featuring stellar Russian musicians – some of whom he has known for some 30 years – will demonstrate its skill and versatility in filling in for the orchestral sections of the score.

“With very few exceptions, the different instrumental voices of the quartet can cover most of what is in the score,” he explained. “And these kind of arrangements were quite popular in Beethoven’s time, because they were not as financially burdensome for the promoters of concerts.”

Following on March 8 will be a gala performance by piano students of Skovorodnikov at the Vancouver International School of Music, also featuring the RKSQ.

“They’re a group of very talented students who will be playing Beethoven’s Piano Concertos No. 1 and 2, and because of time constraints, the first movement of No. 3.”

Rounding out the series’ revisit of the piano concertos will be Italian pianist Antonio di Cristofano, whose concert on March 22, again featuring the RKSQ, will play Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.5 in its entirety.

A solo concert by Polish/Belgian pianist Joanna Trzeciak on April 26 will focus on Beethoven’s smaller pieces and memorable melodies – including his Piano Sonata No. 8 (Pathetique), the Piano Sonata No. 14 (Moonlight Sonata) and the ever-popular Fur Elise.

The only one getting a free pass on the Beethoven agenda, Skovorodnikov noted, is Russian/American pianist Valery Kuleshov (May 17) – returning by popular demand following a very successful recital last May – who will be playing Chopin, Schubert and a piano arrangement of Bach’s Passacaglia and Fugue for organ by Igor Zhukov, Kuleshov’s mentor at the Moscow Conservatory.

Tickets ($30, $25 students and seniors, or $150 for the season, $120 students and seniors) are available from 604-541-2199, at White Rock Community Centre, at the door at Mount Olive, or online at whiterockcity.ca


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