If a musician doesn’t feel the emotions of the piece he’s performing, the audience won’t feel them, either, says pianist Anton Kuerti.
Beethoven’s music is fortunately full of a passion that’s easy to assume and project, he adds.
“You couldn’t make it better by changing any one note,” Kuerti said of the composer’s pieces.
“Beethoven’s music is universally thought of as being passionate, impetuous and dramatic, and that’s only one aspect of his personality. It’s full of tenderness and warmth and love and also humour and variety.”
Kuerti will be at the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre next week, where he’ll perform two shows in two nights, as part of the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra’s (NSO) Beethoven Festival.
There will be a different program each night: March 11, Kuerti will perform Beethoven’s Concerto No. 2 B Flat Major, Concerto No. 3 C Minor and Concerto No. 4 G Major, while the next night will complete the cycle of all five piano concertos, with Concerto No. 1 C Major, Concerto No. 5 “Emperor” and Choral Fantasy.
Why Beethoven? Kuerti can’t really say from where his particular interest in the composer‘s music stems.
“I’m not alone in it. Beethoven is universally recognized as one of the great creative geniuses of all time. People adore his music, and I‘m one of those people,” he explained.
“A work of art, you can’t separate it into elements and say it’s because it’s loud or fast — it’s a whole. He’s so great, there’s no point in saying he’s more great or less great than anybody else. When art reaches a supreme level like that, the comparisons are nonsense.”
Kuerti, born in Vienna but who has lived in Canada for more than 35 years, is often referred to as one of the world’s best pianists, and is internationally renowned for his understanding of Beethoven’s works and his piano concerto cycles. He has toured about 40 different countries, and has performed with major orchestras like the New York Philharmonic and the Boston Symphony, as well as in smaller venues.
“Often in the big cities there’s so much available that people get a little jaded and it’s hard to get people to come. In smaller places where there’s less of a variety available, they’re very appreciative.”
Each performance is a challenge, and one he enjoys, he said.
“The fact that you’ve done it before does not impress the audience,” he explained.
Kuerti’s also a composer, and includes one of his own concertos among his repertoire of about 50, writing pieces for piano, for piano/clarinet/cello and piano/violin/flute.
Kuerti is one of the world’s most recorded musicians, having recorded all of Beethoven’s concertos and sonatas as well as the Brahams and Schumann concertos and Schubert sonatas, among other pieces. He has been nominated for numerous Juno awards and won the first Juno given in the Best Classical Recording in 1976. He’s been nominated for a 2011 Juno in the Classical Album of the Year category for his CD of works for piano and orchestra by Schumann.
Kuerti doesn’t put a whole lot of stock in awards like the Junos, however.
“That, plus about $1.50 will buy you a coffee,” he said with a laugh. “But it’s better to be nominated than not nominated.”
Kuerti expects to release an album of Mendelsohn later this year.
As much as he is thrilled by Beethoven, other musicians are thrilled by Kuerti, and members of the NSO say they are delighted to be performing alongside him.
“To work with an artist of that calibre is a real thrill,” said Alasdair Black, NSO violinist.
“I played the last time he was here, and it really lifts your game when you play with someone of that high artistic quality. You float along with it, really. The audience gets carried along on the journey, too, so it’s nice.”
“The NSO is thrilled to once again welcome Mr. Kuerti,” added Neil Edwards, the orchestra’s executive director.
“We are incredibly fortunate, both as an orchestra and as a community, to be able to attract artists of his renown.”
Apart from his musical endeavours, Kuerti is a passionate social activist, advocating for a variety of social and political causes. He ran as the NDP candidate in Toronto’s Don Valley North riding during the 1988 federal election — with a campaign that included the environment and free trade among its key issues — and frequently participates in benefit concerts for humanitarian organizations.
Each year, Kuerti raises about $10,000 for Oxfam Canada by donating 25 per cent of the sale of his CDs in concert halls after his shows to the organization, and will do so after his shows in St. John’s. He’ll also be on hand to sign them.
Tickets for the NSO’s Beethoven Festival shows with Anton Kuerti range from $24 to $42 (for one of the two performances only), and are available at the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre box office or by calling 729-3900.