DPO launches 2012-2013 Imagine Season
By Joe Aiello
Time: mid-1940s. Place: Patterson Elementary School on Wyoming Street in Dayton. A first-grader, a boy, walks home carrying a piano! Under his arm!
I was that boy. And the piano in question was a hinged, poster-board replica of a keyboard that weighed little. Since we didn’t own a piano, the only way I could practice at home was to bring the “keyboard” my music teacher had given me home, place my fingers in the correct positions, and pretend to play. I was about six.
You can imagine how much I hated the thing. It made no sound. I had no way of knowing whether I was touching the right keys, or if my timing was right, or – if I had done everything properly – what it would have sounded like.
I gave up any hope of ever being able to play a piano. I have often felt profound regret about my decision and not only when I hear a really good pianist, such as an Oscar Peterson or a Van Cliburn, both of whom had all of their senses. I always feel shame more keenly whenever I hear a self-taught pianist like Errol Garner, or blind pianists like George Schearing, Ray Charles, or Stevie Wonder.
However, whenever I hear a Beethoven piano sonata or concerto my regret and shame peak. He had capable teachers. He could see. However, for most of his life as a composer of some of the most beautiful music ever created he could not hear the music he was writing or playing!
He had gone deaf.
Strangely, this fact never interrupted his composing. Whenever he composed, he would never play any instrument, feverishly keeping anyone from hearing or reading his score until its first rehearsal. Except, that is, for piano compositions. He needed to know whether he was touching the right keys, or if his timing was right, or – if he had done everything properly – what it would have sounded like if he had been able to hear it.
To solve this problem, the deaf Beethoven developed a real feel for the music. Literally. He had the man who made his piano max out its volume by making adjustments to the piano’s belly – the belly rail, bridges, dampers, plate tuning pins, pinblock, soundboard, and strings.
Then, he would “listen” to the music by feeling the vibrations being made when he played. How? Experts believed he placed a wooden stick between his teeth and touched the strings of the piano!
He let nothing stand between him and his desire to compose beautiful music, especially for the piano.
On Thursday, Sept. 13 and Saturday, Sept. 15 at 8 p.m. in the Mead Theatre of the Schuster Center, Music Director Neal Gittleman and the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra will present Enter Beethoven, the first concert of a mini-festival of all five Beethoven piano concertos in seven performances across three concert series.
Though it is unlikely that Beethoven had gone completely deaf by the time he had composed these five concerti, they nevertheless present a more than sufficient sample of his brilliance as a composer for the piano.
The program for Enter Beethoven begins with Richard Strauss’s tone poem “Don Juan,” a fiery, flamboyant, and audacious musical story of the fifteenth century’s version of Hugh Hefner.
Next on the program is the Piano Concerto No. 1 written by a 25-year-old Beethoven, which he fashioned in much the same manner as he might a sonata. It opens with the orchestra performing contrasting themes. In the second movement, the pianist performs a very melodic theme. The third and final movement is constructed as a rondo, a main theme or refrain that swaps back and forth with another.
All of this requires piano virtuosity of the very highest level of technical skill and interpretative ability. Enter guest pianist Sara Davis Buechner.
Buechner has appeared with all the world’s great orchestras performing an active repertoire of over 100 concerti by composers ranging from Isaac Albaniz to Efrem Zimbalist. She’s won awards at many of the world’s finest piano competitions.
And, in performing Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1, she helps the DPO kick off a season in which other guest soloists will join in performing the other four Beethoven piano concerti.
The concert concludes with 44-year-old Ottorino Respighi’s tone poem “Pines of Rome.”
On Friday, Sept. 14 (same place, same time) the DPO will present “Respighi’s Roman Odyssey,” launching its Classical Connections Series season.
When he was 45, Ottorino Respighi composed “Three Botticelli Pictures,” a magnificent tone poem inspiration for which came from paintings by Sandro Botticelli.
In the unique Connections format of first-half description and explanation and second-half performance, DPO Music Director Neal Gittleman analyzes each movement. “Spring” features a free and improvisatory style depicting a sylvan romp. Much of “The Adoration of the Magi,” rustic and restrainedly joyful, derives from the hymn “O Come, O Come, Emanuel.” “The Birth of Venus” rises and falls in waves full of engrossing, beautiful light.
The concert concludes with Respighi’s colorful “Pines of Rome.” A thrill for the senses, it invokes mental images of hills resplendent with pine trees and children playing soldiers. Listen closely, and you’ll swear you can hear birds singing and can almost feel wind stirring the branches. It’s more than a musical travelogue; it’s a love song by a Bolognese composer to a city he adopted as the home for his heart.
For more information about the Dayton Philharmonic Imagine season, visit www.daytonphilharmonic.com.
Reach DCP freelance writer Joe Aiello at JoeAiello@daytoncitypaper.com