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Borealis Beat

A glimpse into the mind of our Artistic Director as she shares her knowledge and expertise on our music selections, the composers, artists, concerts, and more

Angela Park In Concert

Consortium Aurora Borealis is thrilled to welcome back award-winning pianist Angela Park for her third appearance in our concert series! We were overwhelmingly impressed with her performance in the Mercer-Park cello-piano duo and with Juno-winning Ensemble Made in Canada in 2014 and 2015.

Our distinguished guest has appeared as soloist and chamber musician throughout the world, to rave reviews; we’re very honoured to have her perform for us again!

Angela is one of Canada’s most sought-after pianists. She has been praised for her “stunningly-beautiful pianism”, “kaleidoscopic colour”, performing “with such brilliant clarity it took your breath away”. Angela “belongs in the top echelon of today’s pianists”. She returns to perform an exquisite solo programme of Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert, the Classical era’s three “greats”.

Schubert was a gifted pianist, but Mozart and Beethoven were virtuosos. Our programme presents works written over a forty-four-year period for their chosen instrument, from the late 18th century to the early 19th, with Mozart’s well-loved Fantasia, Schubert’s magical sonata, and Beethoven’s heroic “Waldstein”. Each composer placed his own stylistic stamp on the music. We’re in for a real treat!

Angela speaks fondly of the warmth and openness of the community, and looks forward to reconnecting with old friends after many years and to sharing some remarkable works with the Thunder Bay audience.

In her words:

The program I am performing combines the powerful beauty of three composers – Mozart, Schubert, and Beethoven. These works for me represent a musical journey that in many ways reflects the human experience in all its beauty and complexity. The Mozart Fantasia in D minor is full of drama, pathos, and improvisation. The contrast of the sunny D major is quite a release from the opening section.

I learned the Schubert G major Sonata in my school days, and it is a work that I have wanted to revisit for many years. I would consider this one of my desert island works. It evokes a sense of timelessness, simplicity, yet profound meaning in the way it unfolds…a work that I need to grow old with.

The program ends with the great Waldstein Sonata by Beethoven. There is a reason why this is such a beloved sonata. There is a kind of raw energy that exudes the entire sonata in a very exciting and at times transcendent way.

Mozart’s Fantasia is a small-scale musical gem, one of his most popular works. Not technically demanding, it requires emotional sensitivity. It was published posthumously, unfinished. An admirer, who also made a piano reduction of Haydn’s oratorio The Creation, provided its final 10 bars. In keeping with its title, it is free in form, sectional, with many ideas, moods, a fanciful single multi-tempo movement.

It begins not unlike Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, with quiet, slow, rolling arpeggios over a long-held low note in the bass. Mozart rarely wrote in D minor, but it was his preferred “tragic” key (used notably in his great Requiem) and imparts a sense of melancholy. The melodies are dark and soulful. Sighing effects, dramatic use of rests and sudden pauses create mystery and tension. Emotions shift; there is plenty of dynamic contrast, and two improvisatory prestissimo sections sweep cadenza-like up and down the keyboard, interrupting a gentler melody. It does, however, end happily!

Schubert’s Sonata D. 894, written in 1826, was the last one published during his lifetime. Schumann labelled it “most perfect in form and conception.” Schubert specialist Imogen Cooper called it “one of the rare completely serene sonatas that he wrote…there are contrasting passages which become stormy and a little bit dark, but the overall mood is one of peace and luminosity.”  Cooper goes on: “the last movement has tremendous wit in it — and one or two moments of great poignancy, as if a cloud suddenly covered the sun, and then the sun comes out again.”

Dreamy lyricism prevails; Schubert was a consummate melodist. Movement One is very long, and marked “cantabile” (“singing”). The publisher labelled it “Fantasie”. An Andante follows, a simple, tenderly-romantic tune, but is interrupted by a flashily-stormy section, before subsiding to quiet rippling. A strongly-rhythmic Menuetto has a gently-intimate trio section. A playful, light Allegretto, a rondo in form, as the theme keeps coming back, with different episodes in between, with effortless harmonic excursions into various keys. It ends slowly and quietly.

Now comes the real tour-de-force for the pianist, exceptionally demanding technically, in a way that works by Mozart and Schubert were not. Angela Park will be seen in high gear! Beethoven “the Immortal” composed 32 piano sonatas, of which we will hear one of the most celebrated and difficult. Beethoven was regarded as a virtuoso pianist, perhaps the greatest of his age prior to Liszt, but he only performed his sonatas, in private homes, and just once in public. He was frustrated that the available instruments were technically unable to capture his intentions.

Beethoven’s piano sonata No. 21 in C major, “Waldstein”, opus 53, was composed in 1803-1804, around the same time as his equally famous and challenging Appassionata Sonata, opus 57, and shortly after he composed the Eroica Symphony. It was dedicated to Beethoven’s friend and patron, the Bohemian Count Ferdinand von Waldstein, hence its name.

A new French Erard piano arrived in 1803, larger keyboard range, more resonant than the Viennese fortepianos, which were fragile and lighter of touch and tone. The Waldstein is the first major work Beethoven composed on it, his most ambitious and revolutionary sonata thus far, and was inspired by the instrument. A letter from December 1803 says: “The Erard brothers of Paris have made a present of a mahogany piano to Beethoven (as they did earlier to Haydn). He is so enchanted with it that he regards all the pianos made here as rubbish”. Incidentally, Beethoven, with his bolder, heavier touch, ultimately broke 78% of the strings on the Erard.

The advent of the new piano coincided with the start of Beethoven’s “heroic”, or middle period, 1803 to 1812. He declared “I am not satisfied with the work I have done so far. From now on I intend to take a new way”, moving away from influence of Haydn and Mozart. Beethoven now composed in a grand style; virtuosity and dexterous fingers were required He was becoming aware of, and hampered by, his deafness and was perhaps compensating. He increased his use of the pedal. The Waldstein’s last movement was the first in which he inserted pedal markings. Earlier pianos used knee levers rather than foot pedals.

A propos the rise of the heroic element at this time, let us look at history.

On May 14, 1804 Napoleon Bonaparte was declared Emperor of France by the French Senate, and was subsequently crowned in Paris’s Cathedral of Notre Dame on December 2. Beethoven, disillusioned, ripped up the title page of his newly completed Symphony No. 3, originally called “Bonaparte”, although he had admired that revolutionary ideal. He renamed it “Eroica”, with the inscription “to celebrate the memory of a great man.” It received its public premiere in April 1805, to mixed reviews.

Beethoven’s Waldstein Sonata’s three movements are: a lengthy Allegro con brio, starting with a repeated-note motor rhythm of thick chords in the low register of the keyboard, a shorter middle movement called Introduzione: Adagio molto, which ends tentatively, unresolved, with a fermata. This leads directly into the third movement, a somewhat substantial Rondo: Allegretto moderato – Prestissimo, not the light-hearted, romping rondo one frequently encounters as final movements This is something quite new. Broken chords, runs, arpeggios, all appear, but first, a lovely, gentle melody, played pianissimo by the left hand but in a high registered, with crossed hands, creeps in, while the left hand rolls out a filigree of endless sixteenth-notes. We note Beethoven’s very first use of the pedal marking at the outset, to keep things sustained.

The tune then jumps to the right hand in octaves while the left hand picks up the fast action. Suddenly the music explodes with tempestuous runs, staccato passages in octaves, and bravura fortissimo sections, eventually subsiding into the return of the opening crossed-hands section, this being true to rondo form. Another fast and furious episode follows with lots of runs.

The movement becomes quite acrobatic; thick crashing chords in both hands lead to the final prestissimo section, as the keyboard is utilized for top to bottom. The expected extreme dynamic contrast remains in evidence. Beethoven sails through several keys. The theme returns with tricky extended double trills in inner voices. The home key is reinforced by the hammering of C-major chords for the last 15 measures as Beethoven drives the Waldstein to a rousing conclusion, which should bring the audience to their feet!

The Waldstein was played in the opulent Merchant-Ivory film “Room with a View” by the Lucy Honeychurch character (Helena Bonham Carter) at her Florentine pensione; she vented her passionate emotional state of mind onto the keyboard with very dynamic piano playing, crashing out the final chords. Quoth she: “Mother doesn’t like me playing Beethoven. She says I’m always peevish afterwards”. Rev.  Beebe commented: “I can see how one might be stirred up…If Miss Honeychurch ever takes to live as she plays, it will be very exciting both for us and for her.”

We will have occasion to witness this same passion as Angela Park performs this monumental work for us in person!


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