Los Angeles Music Preview: BEETHOVEN CYCLE FINALE WITH DUDAMEL & ANDSNES (LA Phil)

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by Tony Frankel on October 7, 2014

in Theater-Los Angeles

JOURNEY ON

Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes comes to Disney Hall this weekend, October 9-12, to join conductor Gustavo Dudamel, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the Los Angeles Master Chorale in an assuredly uplifting program: The Beethoven Cycle Finale. By presenting Beethoven’s Fifth and final Piano Concerto, Andsnes offers the final leg of The Beethoven Journey, his epic long-term focus on the master composer’s five piano concertos, which began in 2011.

pianist Leif Ove Andsnes

There is a certain irony in the subtitle of Emperor that was later given to the Fifth, but never used by the composer himself. By the spring of 1809 when Beethoven was creating his Emperor Concerto, the last person he would have wanted to honor was the emperor of the day, Napoleon Bonaparte. Years earlier, he had obliterated a dedication to the French leader he’d once admired from the title page of his Third Symphony—Eroica—when he learned that Napoleon had just crowned himself Emperor. “Now he will become a tyrant like all the others,” the composer raged.

gustavo dudamel la phil photo

Now in May 1809, Napoleon’s armies were actually besieging the city of Vienna. Beethoven’s home was in the line of fire of the French cannons, and he was forced to flee to his brother’s house, where he holed up in the cellar with a pillow pressed to his still sensitive ears. But his work on his new Concerto did not cease.

Los Angeles Master Chorale

And yet in many ways Emperor, taken in a more generic sense, is an appropriate title for this concerto. It is a work of imperial size and scope—particularly in its huge first movement—and it reflects its war-ridden era in its virile, martial tone. Its key—E-flat major—was one of Beethoven’s favorites and one he associated with heroic thoughts (it is also the key of the Eroica). Sadly, Beethoven was never able to display his own powers as a pianist with this work. Although he had introduced all his other keyboard concertos to the public, his deafness was too far advanced for him to risk playing the 1810 premiere in Leipzig.

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Of Andsnes’ previous performance of the Emperor with the London Philharmonic, Seen and Heard wrote, “Restraint, clarity, poise: these were the touchstones of a performance that was more Classical than ‘Romantic,’ yet clearly articulated the progressive nature of the work’s language and form—the expansive breadth of the opening movement, the soloist’s relative retreat from the exposition after the first few bars, and the seamless transition from the Adagio to the Rondo…despite the complexities of the score and the technical challenges for the soloist, the music had a spacious, airy quality…it was a delight to hear something so well-known revealed afresh.”

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Here is an in-depth focus on Beethoven’s Piano Concerto from Andsnes, who received Norway’s most distinguished honor, Commander of the Royal Norwegian Order of St. Olav:

“Beethoven’s music is for me the most human and deeply spiritual music there is,” Andsnes wrote. “While his music still shakes us today with its remarkably radical and modern qualities, there are other essential and important messages that Beethoven and his music communicate to us. He held an almost naïvely innocent belief in the value of music to humanity. He believed that changing the world is possible and that music is truth. This touches me deeply at this point of my life, and is the motivating spirit behind this project.”

0886444511544_230Also on the program, which plays through Sunday, is Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy, a combination of free-wheeling fantasy for solo piano (played by Andsnes), a perky set of variations on a song by Beethoven (his own “Gegenliebe”), and a piano concerto. It is closely related to the Emperor in its combination of heroic grandeur and expansive lyricism, but unique to the Fantasy amid the composer’s music for piano and orchestra is its enthusiastic desire to excite the senses: As you will see, this is show-off music, a virtuoso lark. The six soloists from LAMC will be Amanda Woodbury, soprano, So Young Park, soprano, Lacey Jo Benter, mezzo-soprano, Brenton Ryan, tenor, Frederick Ballentine, tenor, and Nicholas Brownlee, bass. Andsnes just released the Fifth and the Choral Fantasy on CD, which he will be signing following his Oct 9-11 performances at Disney Hall.

Composer John Adams

Dudamel also includes on this program John Adams’ enthralling first piece for chorus and orchestra, Harmonium, based on striking poetry by John Donne and Emily Dickinson.

photos courtesy of LA Phil and Andsnes.com

Beethoven Cycle Finale
Los Angeles Philharmonic
Gustavo Dudamel, conductor
Leif Ove Andsnes, piano
Los Angeles Master Chorale
Grant Gershon, music director
BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No. 5, Emperor
John ADAMS: Harmonium
BEETHOVEN: Choral Fantasy
Thursday, October 9, 2014, at 8 PM
Friday, October 10, 2014, at 8 PM
Saturday, October 11, 2014, at 8 PM
Sunday, October 12, 2014, at 2 PM
Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111 S. Grand Ave.
for tickets, call 323.850.2000 or visit www.LAPhil.com

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