The coronavirus pandemic has undone many plans for Beethoven’s 250th birthday, seemingly the largest classical anniversary of our time. Luckily among the much less standard Beethoven homages are nonetheless taking place this fall, such because the recital provided on-line by pianist Yael Weiss Saturday night, offered by the Nationwide Museum of Asian Artwork.
For a venture she calls 32 Vibrant Clouds, the Israeli-American pianist has commissioned new music in response to every of Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas. She has chosen composers from present and former battle zones all over the world and additional requested every composer to weave in a snippet from the “Dona nobis pacem” motion close to the tip of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis. Beethoven recognized this melody as “a name for inward and outward peace.“
The nationwide lockdowns stalled Weiss’s ongoing presentation of the works final March, however this month she has returned to performing them in on-line live shows. She performed 4 of the brand new items on this program, together with one in its world premiere, bookmarked by two full sonatas of Beethoven. Conversations with the composers and explanations by Weiss gave additional context to the brand new items on this 90-minute livestreamed program.
Weiss opened with Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 27, a piece in two actions, one as moody as the opposite is serene. The work’s dedicatee, Depend Moritz Lichnowsky, “reported that Beethoven instructed him the sonata was a dialogue between ‘Head and Coronary heart’,” in response to biographer Jan Swafford. Weiss’s contact on the keyboard was too clipped and unvaried at instances, and her pedaling heavy within the candy second motion.
Typically Weiss distinguished herself extra within the new music, starting with Saed Haddad’s Nuages Funèbres (Funereal Clouds). Immediately impressed by the sonata that got here earlier than it, Haddad centered extra on Beethoven’s darkish first motion. The opening, starting within the piano’s muddy decrease registers and infrequently dwelling there, had the texture of a bleak funeral march. It continued largely on this vein, even when quoting the peace motif and ending on a significant triad nonetheless clouded by dissonance.
Haddad, who hails from Jordan, wrote within the on-line commentary after the efficiency that “Peace agreements are empty, due to their incapacity to alter human beings to the higher.” He additional defined that he translated this vacancy musically by taking out the center pitch of Beethoven’s peace motif, leaving a minor third, and relating it to the Arabic mode Hijaz Kar, with its give attention to augmented seconds, the enharmonic equal of that interval.
The subsequent composer featured on this system, Sidney Marquez Boquiren from the Philippines, devoted his piece, Unheard Voices, to victims of extrajudicial killings in his nation. In a symbolic gesture, he has the performer play the piece whereas listening to a recording of the work that impressed it, the gradual motion of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 7, through headphones. The composer acknowledged that the concept for the approach got here from a bit by Celeste Oram.
Not solely does the viewers not hear Beethoven’s “voice,” sounding solely within the performer’s ears, however the performer can’t hear a lot of what she herself is enjoying. We heard a sequence of prolonged arpeggiations, trills, and tremolos, wisps of sound paying homage to Debussy at instances. The piece ended with monumental flat-hand clusters within the bass register, “like gunshots,” as Weiss described them, which apparently coincided with quiet moments within the Beethoven piece.
The world premiere, Willow, was by Milad Yousufi, a composer from Afghanistan. In a quick dialog he stated he started to precise himself artistically first by calligraphy, poetry, and portray and solely later got here to music when it was now not banned in his nation. Yousufi, who described himself as a synesthete, additionally created a portray and calligraphic poem that went with the composition.
Yousufi’s music appeared fairly tonal, even romantic, in type, with motifs that alluded transparently to its mannequin, Beethoven’s Sonata No. 8 (“Pathétique”). Triplet patterns recalled the “Dona nobis pacem” theme at instances but in addition gave a way of dancing pleasure within the piece, one thing understood each in an Afghan context and by Weiss from her personal upbringing in Israel.
Syrian composer Malek Jandali’s The Hunt for Peace additionally struck a grand romantic pose, with a jazzy opening that recalled Bernstein. Written in an Arabic mode, once more with the “Dona nobis pacem” motif woven into it, the work associated much less clearly to Beethoven’s Sonata No. 18 (“The Hunt”). He devoted the work to the youngsters of his nation and to their quest for peace of their war-torn nation.
This wealthy program then returned to Beethoven, the composer’s Piano Sonata No. 32, his final. Weiss performed the primary motion brashly, with the contrapuntal sections forceful and barely tough. The second motion rushed a bit an excessive amount of to offer the mandatory feeling of simplicity to the theme, which is then subjected to more and more advanced variations.
Weiss did effectively to not overdo the false affiliation of the third motion’s jaunty dotted rhythms with boogie-woogie. The extra daunting passages, like the continual trill, lacked the effortlessness of the most effective performances. Rightly or wrongly, this helped preserve the give attention to the brand new composers moderately than the 250-year-old one.
Yael Weiss continues to carry out items from the 32 Clouds Challenge this fall, culminating in a digital marathon of the works on the eve of Beethoven’s birthday, December 16. 32brightclouds.com/live shows/