What: Victoria Symphony (Legacy Series): Kuerti, Kuerti and Beethoven
When/where: March 12, 8 p.m., Royal Theatre (805 Broughton St.)
Tickets: $33 to $80. Call 250-385-6515; email firstname.lastname@example.org; online at www.victoriasymphony.ca; in person at Victoria Symphony box office (suite 610, 620 View St.)
Pianist Anton Kuerti is a familiar, beloved figure to Victoria Symphony audiences, having appeared with the orchestra more than two dozen times since 1970. His next such engagement on March 12 in Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4, is especially noteworthy, as it will be conducted by his son, Julian, whose own career has lately taken off.
Julian, 35, born in Toronto, studied the violin in his youth and played professionally before he began studying conducting in 2000 at the University of Toronto. Further studies in Canada, the U.S. and Germany led to conducting positions in Budapest and Berlin. From 2007 to 2010 he was James Levine's assistant at the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
Now a sought-after guest conductor, Julian has criss-crossed North America and visited many other countries. In the past year, for instance, he has made his New York City Opera debut (among other American gigs), toured with the National Arts Centre Orchestra, and visited Malaysia, Chile, Prague and Spain. (He has already made some recordings, too.)
Julian conducted the Victoria Symphony once before in 2008, but the March 12 appearance will be his first here with his famous father. They have collaborated occasionally, most recently in October with Symphony Nova Scotia (also in the Beethoven Fourth). They made a particular splash in Boston in 2008 when Anton, on a few hours' notice, substituted for an ailing Leon Fleisher in Beethoven's "Emperor" Concerto, under his son's baton.
Julian carries a very wide repertoire, including a fair bit of modern Canadian music, though he will not be mightily challenged by his Victoria Symphony program, which will be filled out by two Schubert overtures and Mozart's "Linz" Symphony, No. 36. Still, this joint appearance by the Kuertis has piqued curiosity: Already in early September, the orchestra was reporting brisk sales for this concert, which is now nearly sold out.
It deserves to be, and not only because it showcases a rising and promising conductor. Anton, now in his mid-70s, continues to play with his customary insight and command; he still tours internationally and records, the most recent of which is a Schumann CD released in 2010 on the Doremi label.
Anton has always been closely associated with the music of Beethoven, and his cycles of Beethoven's sonatas (1974-75) and concertos (1986) - both still available - offer some of the most intense, probing, personal and technically polished interpretations of this familiar music ever recorded. His recording of the Piano Concerto No. 4, with Andrew Davis conducting the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, is especially replete with poetry and passion.
Admittedly, the Victoria Symphony may have him pigeonholed a bit too insistently as a Beethovenian: No. 4 alone he performed here three times between 1999 and 2004, though he has more than 40 piano-orchestra works in his repertoire. That said, this pianist coming to town to play music by this composer is always cause for celebration.
One of Anton Kuerti's previous Victoria performances of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4 - I forget which one - prompts a digression and a plea.
This concerto has an unusual slow movement that has been plausibly interpreted as depicting Orpheus subduing the Furies in order to enter the Underworld to retrieve his beloved Eurydice. In the final bar, the pianist (mimicking Orpheus's lyre?) slowly strums an E-minor chord, into which Beethoven places a poignantly dissonant F-sharp just before the expected final note, E.
It is one of the most heartbreaking moments of the concert - and, of course, it was precisely here, during a Kuerti performance at the University Centre, that a man in the front row coughed at the top of his voice.
Though I have eagerly defended the right of classical audiences to clap at concerts whenever they feel moved to do so, I consider lazy, thoughtless noisemaking during a performance indefensible. As someone who has sat between a woman with a bell on her purse and a woman opening cough candies very, very, very slowly, I speak from bitter experience.
Kuerti, an uncompromising artist with very high standards, has little patience with those who lack the discipline to be quiet while he plays; in concert, he has been known to berate and even eject such people. At the abovementioned performance, his eyes shot extra-strength death-daggers at the miscreant who coughed, but too late - a matchless musical moment had been spoiled.
On March 12, let's try to do better.
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