The Buffalo Chamber Music Society and the University at Buffalo Department of Music are collaborating this week in co-presenting cellist Matt Haimovitz and pianist Christopher O’Riley in a two concert series presenting all of the music for cello and piano by Beethoven (1770-1827). What makes this different is that the performers will be playing on “period” instruments (see below). The concert Thursday, December 3, 2015 will be at Slee Hall on the UB Amherst campus; it starts at 7:30pm and will run under two hours including one intermission.
Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) is known as the “father of classical music” in that he invented, or perfected, two important forms still being composed today – the symphony and the string quartet. Then along came Mozart (1756-1792) who improved on the literature. But it’s pretty much agreed that Beethoven’s String Quartets and Symphonies took things to a much higher level, some might say never equalled. (By the way, through a generous bequest by Frederick and Alice Slee, each year, every one of Beethoven’s 16 quartets are played at Slee Hall. The next concerts will be in April with the astounding Jupiter Quartet.) Of course, all of this talk about Beethoven’s superiority is hindsight. During Beethoven’s life, as great as he and his circle knew he was, he still needed to eat and pay rent, and a good source of income was royal patronage.
So, like Mozart before him, Beethoven traveled to Berlin and impressed King Frederick William II, an amateur cellist. Beethoven was equally impressed by a cellist, Jean Louis-Duport, who worked for the king. In this cello-centric world, Beethoven, the great pianist, made musical history by pairing the cello with the fortepiano (a precursor of our modern piano) and, ultimately, making both equal partners.
We divide Beethoven’s musical life into “early, middle, and later” and, indeed, his five sonatas for cello and piano fit into those categories. The first two, which were performed by Haimovitz and O’Riley on Tuesday to enthusiastic applause, belong to the early period. The last two, which will be played on Thursday, belong to the later period, and one of the greatest works ever composed by anyone, ever, will be performed Thursday. From Beethoven’s “middle period” it is the Sonata for Pianoforte and Violoncello in A Major, Opus 69. It is a watershed work from around the time of Beethoven’s famous Fifth Symphony.
The pun in the concert title “Beethoven, Period” is that both Haimovitz and O’Riley play on “period” (sometimes called “authentic”) instruments, that sound rather like what Beethoven heard. In the case of Haimovitz, he plays, as always, his cello made in 1710 by Matteo Gofriller (the “Cadillac” of cellos) but outfitted with ox-gut strings and played with a Baroque bow (although on Tuesday Haimovitz told the audience that he may switch to a more modern bow on Thursday). O’Riley will be playing a replica of a 6-1/2 octave Viennese fortepiano (ca. 1830) by R.J. Regier of Freeport, ME, modeled after Graf and Bösendorfer. Most modern American orchestras tune to A=440. Baroque orchestras tune to A=415. Haimovitz and O’Riley tune to A=430. The sound is a bit unusual, at first, but within a few minutes, give or take, you will be thrilled by this window on another world.
The Tuesday night audience was ecstatic. Thursday night’s performance (December 3) should be equally well received, possibly even more so, given that Slee Hall has a more intimate feel than Kleinhans. Patrons are reminded that the concert starts at 7:30pm and to leave time for parking, since there are other events on campus at the same time.
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!