blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Beethoven twice

This week I was one of the 400 people at the first Kulturgarten event of the week, at the German Ambassador's residence: a piano recital by Hinrich Alpers that took place in a big tent in the Ambassador's garden. (There are 74 photos of this event on the Embassy's Facebook page.) We "mingled" on the lawn outside first, as one does, then carried our glasses of wine into the rows of seats in the tent. After the Ambassador had spoken about this year's anniversaries––100 years since the start of the 1st World War ... 25 since the fall of the Berlin Wall––the pianist introduced his music, telling us about Schumann's Waldszenen (scenes in the forest) that he was going to play first. One of its movements, Verrufene Stelle, he described as "strange". It was supposed to evoke a flower that had turned red in a haunted part of the forest, having imbibed human blood!

Mr. Alpers played everything from memory. An even stranger item followed, a piece by John Cage for a "prepared piano" stuffed with bits of felt ribbon and a metal bolt between two of its strings––"absolutely safe," he explained, tongue in cheek, adding that playing the piece actually takes less time than the preparation. John Cage was "one of the most versatile composers of the 20th century," he said, who attached microphones to cacti, or electrodes to mushrooms, so as to "record their inner life while they were growing". The piece we heard was Cage's Music for Marcel Duchamp
Composed in 1947 for a segment of Hans Richter's surrealist film "Dreams That Money Can Buy." [...] The segment—a dream one of the characters is having—is titled "Discs" and consists mostly of Duchamp's rotoreliefs. These are designs painted on flat cardboard circles, which are to be spun on a phonographic turntable.   (Wikipedia)
What is it like? I'd describe the sound as pizzicato, with an echo effect, the instrument "almost not recognisable any more," as Mr. Alpers put it.

The piano was quickly restored to normal and the following piece, also by Cage, was his only tonal composition: In a Landscape (1948) approximately in D-minor, a wistful, impressionist piece, meant to accompany a dance. The sustaining pedal is kept full on, throughout.

Beethoven was the last composer on the programme; we heard a wonderfully mature sonata he had composed in his 20s, Op. 10 No. 3 in D major, with what Mr. Alpers called a "deep" slow movement. I think he conveyed its profundity to almost everybody there and the birdsong in the background enhanced rather than detracted from it. We all felt the greatness of young Beethoven at that moment, as had his contemporaries in Vienna, apparently, at a time when Haydn was befriending and encouraging him. Other pianists of his day were given a run for their money, said Mr. Alpers. Beethoven dominated.

I should like to learn to play this piece!

Three days later I was at another, very different concert where Beethoven was played. This was the end of year performance of Ottawa's Orkidstra and one of the items on their programme was the famous first movement of the 5th Symphony. (Last year, they played the last movement, and they have improved since.) "Who would have thought when we started this," said the Executive Director, Tina Fedeski, "that seven years later the children would have been able to play Beethoven?" She is rightly proud. Most members of the Orkidstra have been taught from scratch, their instruments and tuition provided free of charge. Other triumphs for these admirable young people and their teachers and mentors were Mussorgsky's Great Gate of Kiev, a movement of Dvorak's New World Symphony, a Brandenburg Concerto by J.S.Bach, Alma Llanera by Gutiérrez and an exciting medley from Star Wars.

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