Classically Speaking

Schumann celebrations and a bounty of Beethoven

Susan Yondt

Photo courtesy of Susan Yondt


For four decades, Friends of Vienna has presented acclaimed musical performances at a modest cost to its loyal listeners, and the current fortieth anniversary concert season is no exception. Friends of Vienna was founded in 1976 by Edith Horowitz, an opera singer and native of Vienna, Austria, her husband Martin Horowitz, and others. Under its current director, Mary Kay Atlas, the group presents the last two concerts of its season this month. Both concerts pay homage to the remarkable marriage of Clara and Robert Schumann and the timeless music they composed. On April 2, the Shtrykov-Tanaka Duo—pianist Misuzu Tanaka and clarinetist Maksim Shtrykov—performs a program of Schumann compositions and clarinet concertos. The first half of the program is devoted to the clarinet and piano music of the Schumanns and their good friend Johannes Brahms; the second part features twentieth century clarinet and piano sonatas by Francis Poulenc and Catalan composer Salvador Brotons. According to Shtrykov, the Brotons “is a completely unknown work to most clarinet performers and is a prime example of how a superb work can be absolutely forgotten if it is not given a proper premiere by a well-known performer.” The Poulenc, on the other hand, “has become a staple in the clarinet repertoire,” adds Shtrykov. “It was the last work of the composer and of its existence we are grateful to no one but Benny Goodman. The King of Swing is responsible for several great works in our repertoire and the Clarinet Sonata by Poulenc is one of them. The sonata saw its first performance in 1963 at Carnegie Hall in a concert in memory of Poulenc where Benny Goodman shared the stage with another legend, Leonard Bernstein.” 


The final Friends of Vienna concert on April 23 presents pianist Susan Yondt playing a program entitled At Home with Clara and Robert Schumann. “Playing the piano music of both Robert and Clara Schumann provides an interesting glimpse into their superb artistry and also their family life with their eight children,” says Yondt. “I will relate the couple’s life together as recorded in their family diary, where they also mentioned valuable advice to piano students on how to practice. Music was the binding factor in the Schumann’s marriage, and they both developed as composers and found themselves in each other.” Included in the program are the Soirées Musicales, op.6 by Clara Schumann and some of her Romances for solo piano. Robert Schumann compositions on the program include Arabesque in C Major, op.18; the entire Kinderszenen (“Scenes from Childhood”), op.15; and the Fantasie in C Major, op.17. 


Yondt is piano professor at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm, a touring artist throughout Sweden and Europe, and a frequent guest artist at Friends of Vienna concerts. The concerts take place at the Unity Church at 1243 Delaware Avenue and a meet-the-artists reception is held after each concert. 


The first week of April once again features major dance performances at the Center for the Arts on the University at Buffalo’s North Campus. On April 4, the Russian National Ballet Theatre presents Tchaikovsky’s classic Swan Lake, composed in 1877, with choreography by the legendary Marius Petipa. Petipa was a dancer, teacher, ballet master, and the principal choreographer of the Imperial Ballet, where he created more than fifty ballets for the company’s repertoire in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries—the golden age of Russian ballet—many of which are still performed. Swan Lake, co-choreographed by Lev Ivanov, premiered at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg in 1895, starring the Italian prima ballerina Pierina Legnani in the dual role of Princess Odette and Odile, the black swan. The current company was founded in 1984 by artistic directors Elena and Sergei Radchenko, both former classical Russian ballet stars with the Bolshoi. Swan Lake, a ballet in four acts, is presented at the Mainstage Theatre at 8 p.m


The following weekend, April 7 through 9, Zodiaque Dance Ensemble offers four performances of contemporary dance in a show entitled Run to Daylight at the Center for the Arts Black Box Theatre. Directed by Jeanne Fornarola, the ensemble is choreographed by faculty, guest artists, and advanced-level students. The show features a variety of dance styles and music, ranging from classical Indian to modern to lyrical hip hop to classical jazz. Featured guest artist Jinah Parker, a UB Dance alumna who concentrates on social themes, presents SHE, a work with the subject of violence against women on campus. 


Also at UB, fans of the Dover Quartet will be delighted to learn that Concerts IV, V, and VI of the ensemble’s Beethoven String Quartet cycle can be heard on April 5, 6, and 7 at the Lippes Concert Hall at Slee Hall. The cycle of concerts is a continuation of the first three concerts held last September and last month at the same venue. Based in Philadelphia and currently the faculty quartet-in-residence at Northwestern University, the Dover Quartet has been praised by critics and audiences alike and was the first quartet-in-residence at the Curtis Institute of Music.


That second April weekend brings Beethoven to the BPO and a remarkable young violin soloist, Benjamin Beilman, performing the Saint-Saens Violin Concerto no. 3. The prolific and enormously gifted Camille Saint-Saens wrote ten concertos—five for piano, two for cello, and three for violin—and no. 3 is no doubt the most popular of the violin concertos, because it is both technically dazzling and lyrically moving. At age twenty-six, Beilman has already scooped up most of the prestigious prizes worth winning and gained great acclaim touring both the United States and Europe. 


The Beethoven is the Symphony no. 6 in F Major, the Pastoral Symphony, written when the composer had left Vienna to rest in the rural air of Heiligenstadt, a small country town not far from Vienna. Already suffering from deafness in his late twenties, Beethoven was advised by his doctor to escape the noise of the city and avoid the social embarrassment caused by his hearing loss. The Pastoral Symphony, subtitled A Remembrance of Life in the Countryside, wasn’t the only thing he composed at his house in the country. What became known as the Heiligenstadt Testament was an anguished letter to his brothers in which he describes the grief caused by his deafness, which he refers to as both an illness and a malady. In this brief excerpt from the long letter, written in 1802, Beethoven reveals his agonies but stops just short of despair:


“If I approach near to people a hot terror seizes upon me, and I fear being exposed to the danger that my condition might be noticed. Thus it has been during the last six months which I have spent in the country. By ordering me to spare my hearing as much as possible, my intelligent doctor almost fell in with my own present frame of mind, though sometimes I ran counter to it by yielding to my desire for companionship. But what a humiliation for me when someone standing next to me heard a flute in the distance and I heard nothing, or someone standing next to me heard a shepherd singing and again I heard nothing. Such incidents drove me almost to despair; a little more of that and I would have ended my life—it was only my art that held me back. Ah, it seemed to me impossible to leave the world until I had brought forth all that I felt was within me.” 


By age forty-four, Beethoven was profoundly deaf but continued to compose almost until his death in 1827. 


Further amplifying the concert’s pastoral theme, the orchestra also performs Pastorale d’été (Summer Pastoral) by the Swiss composer Arthur Honneger. Like no. 6, this brief symphonic poem was also inspired by a visit to the great outdoors, in Honneger’s case a holiday in the Swiss Alps. The conductor for this concert is John Axelrod, a former student of Leonard Bernstein and an internationally renowned maestro who has led orchestras in Lucerne, Milan, and Seville, and has served as guest conductor for more than 150 orchestras throughout the world. 


Blessed Beethoven returns to Kleinhans again this month when pianist Natasha Paremski and the BPO tackle the Piano Concerto no. 3 in C Minor on April 21 and 22. Beethoven’s only minor-key concerto, no. 3 “clearly occupies a central position between the youthful concertos written before the turn of the century and the two mature concertos of the new decade,” observes pianist Alfred Brendel in the liner notes to his recordings of the concertos with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Pianist Paremski—who was born in Moscow in 1987, made her professional debut at age nine, and came to musical maturity in this new century—seems the perfect pianist to perform this pivotal work. Also on the program are two works by Zoltan Kodaly: Concerto for Orchestra and Dances of Galanta, based on the music of folk dances in Hungary. Kodaly, who revolutionized music education in Hungary in the mid-twentieth century, wrote the Concerto on commission from the Chicago Symphony to celebrate the orchestra’s fiftieth anniversary. Philip Rothman’s “Starsplitter” is the stirring program opener. 


Finally, on April 25, the Buffalo Chamber Music Society welcomes the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, a splendid and always anticipated sextet comprising two violins, viola, cello, piano, and clarinet. On the program: Bartok’s Contrasts for Violin, Clarinet and Piano; the Piano Trio no. 2 in E Minor by Shostakovich; and Mozart’s Quintet for Clarinet & Strings in A Major. In addition to its concerts at Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center, CMS performs over eighty concerts each year during tours throughout North America, Europe, and Asia. This is a rare opportunity to hear some of America’s foremost chamber music artists.      


Philip Nyhuis is a musician and longtime contributor to Spree.


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