The Romantic Freedom of Beethoven and Schumann
All photos by Myka Burkle.
NAC Orchestra Music Director Alexander Shelley concluded the week-long Beethoven and Schumann Festival Thursday with an Ottawa debut for legendary Austrian pianist Rudolf Buchbinder and two masterpieces of classical music: Beethoven’s Piano Concerto Number 4 and Schumann’s Fourth Symphony.
Alexander Shelley, the NAC Orchestra, and a roster of world-renowned pianists interpreted Beethoven and Schumann over the course of a week, including a rave-like hip hop disco party with members of the NAC Orchestra performing alongside aristocrat-DJ Skratch Bastid – while House of PainT graffiti artists interpreted the fraternal kiss, a symbol of the Beethoven-Schumann connection from a specially-commissioned-for-this-occasion work of art by Anita Kunz entitled “The Kiss”. The idea to have several artists interpret the painting is not unlike the idea to have the music of Beethoven and Schumann interpreted, night after night, by these stellar soloists.
The festival’s culmination with Buchbinder, who has been performing music longer than legendary rock bands like the Rolling Stones, was a stroke of brilliance. He embodies a soul that was created to bring the romance and fire of these compositions to life. In an interview with The Guardian’s Kate Molleson, Buchbinder recalled walking home (in Vienna) one night where he looked up while waiting for the walk signal and saw a plaque that read: “In this building Beethoven composed the Hammerklavier Sonata”.
“I played it that same evening. It’s a kind of atmosphere I can’t explain, and maybe I shouldn’t try. But there is no question that this music is in my blood.” Growing up in Vienna, the city and culture became part of him and then he became part of the city.
His renown in Europe is unquestionable and after Thursday’s performance in Ottawa, it is undeniable here too. The music was performed with elegance, clarity and the full spectrum of human emotion. The pronunciation of each note by Buchbinder was breathtaking. It was exhilarating to experience the powerful intensity of the orchestra, conducted by Shelley, contrast and interact with the poetry of the piano. If the audience had any issues during the performance, it could only have been some odd noises, possibly due to the rain and ongoing construction that made their way into sensational Southam Hall. The pre- and post-concert talks added valuable dimensions to the experience and, where possible, should be offered more often – the same applies to events like the classical music dance party that was The Kiss.