BEETHOVEN’S WEIGHTY sounds AND CHUNKY HANDS

Pasatiempo - - RANDOM ACTS - James M. Keller The New Mex­i­can ANNE-MARIE McDER­MOTT

the pi­anist Anne-Marie McDer­mott fre­quently vis­its Santa Fe as a recital soloist or a par­tic­i­pant in cham­ber mu­sic. On Satur­day, April 29, and Sun­day, April 30, she shows a dif­fer­ent side of her artistry when she joins the Santa Fe Pro Mu­sica Orches­tra for the first in­stall­ment of a two-sea­son in­cen­tive in which she will be the soloist in all five of Beethoven’s pi­ano con­cer­tos. This week­end she plays the Se­cond, Third, and Fourth Con­cer­tos; next year, Nos. 1 and 5. “What I’m do­ing in Santa Fe is the kind of project I wor­ship,” she said, “be­cause it’s so in­ter­ac­tive when a con­certo in­volves a smaller-scaled orches­tra like the Santa Fe Pro Mu­sica Orches­tra. It’s more cham­ber mu­sic-like, and that rings very true to me, hav­ing spent so much of my life play­ing cham­ber mu­sic.”

When we caught up with her by tele­phone, at her home in New York City, she had just re­turned from a con­cert in Ge­or­gia and was pack­ing her bags again to leave the next day for Den­mark to record the last of three Mozart pi­ano con­cer­tos that will fig­ure on a CD re­lease on Bridge Records. (An­other Bridge CD — works by Haydn — is set for im­mi­nent re­lease.) From there, she would head to Char­lottes­ville, Vir­ginia, for a con­cert, and then to Santa Fe, and shortly af­ter that to Fort Worth to serve on the jury of the Fif­teenth Van Cliburn In­ter­na­tional Pi­ano Com­pe­ti­tion, the most high­pro­file of all Amer­i­can pi­ano play­offs. Then comes the Mainly Mozart fes­ti­val in San Diego, where she over­sees cham­ber mu­sic ac­tiv­i­ties, and, in late June, the Bravo! Vail Mu­sic Fes­ti­val in Colorado, which she has led as artis­tic di­rec­tor since 2011.

“It’s a great time in my life to have this va­ri­ety of artis­tic un­der­tak­ings,” she said. “Things kind of evolved as they did. I hadn’t planned to be record­ing as much as I am, but I’m very happy about that. I love to do con­certi; that’s al­ways a thrill. Play­ing recital pro­grams is dear to my heart, so I’m al­ways look­ing for op­por­tu­ni­ties. The recital busi­ness in­volves a more soli­tary process, since the only per­son you’re in­ter­act­ing with is your­self. But spend­ing time with solo reper­toire is what helps me grow the most as a mu­si­cian. And, of course, I couldn’t live my life with­out cham­ber mu­sic. Next sea­son I’ll have an­other ca­reer first, when I will both play and con­duct a Mozart con­certo — K. 595 — with the Colorado Springs Phil­har­monic.”

She al­ready played a Beethoven con­certo with the Santa Fe Pro Mu­sica Orches­tra in Septem­ber 2015 — as a third of the solo en­sem­ble in his Triple Con­certo, ap­pear­ing along­side vi­o­lin­ist Ida Kavafian and cel­list Peter Wi­ley. (To­gether, they are three-quarters of the per­son­nel of the Opus One pi­ano quartet, which also per­forms fre­quently in town and will be here in Au­gust as part of the Santa Fe Cham­ber Mu­sic Fes­ti­val.) This week­end, how­ever, the spot­light will be turned on McDer­mott alone. We asked her to share her thoughts on the three Beethoven con­cer­tos she will play.

Anne-Marie McDer­mott: What is so amaz­ing about th­ese three con­certi is how dif­fer­ent they are from each other. No. 2 is very clas­si­cal in its mu­si­cal form and also in the touch that it re­quires. Still, it is Beethoven, so it comes with a cer­tain grav­i­tas; but it def­i­nitely is the light­est of th­ese three. The Third is weighty, fat, mus­cu­lar; and the Fourth is all about flu­id­ity, fleet­ing lines, the silk­i­ness of writ­ing. They rep­re­sent three dis­tinc­tive per­spec­tives on Beethoven’s voice, and it is won­der­fully clear in my mind how each of th­ese is de­fined.

Pasatiempo: Have you played any of the three pre­vi­ously in con­cert?

McDer­mott: I have played all of them. I’ve known the Se­cond the long­est; in fact, it was at the cen­ter of a mem­o­rable early ex­pe­ri­ence in my ca­reer. Years ago, I was at the doc­tor’s — I had a cold or some­thing — and my man­ager called and asked how I would feel about an en­gage­ment as a sub­sti­tute for an­other pi­anist who was sched­uled to play Beethoven’s Se­cond with the orches­tra in Boca Raton. “When would that be?” I asked, since I hadn’t played the piece in a year. “Tonight. You go home, pack, and we will get you on a flight and then di­rectly to a pi­ano.” I got on the plane, and we sat on the tar­mac for hours. The plane landed at Fort Lauderdale at a quar­ter to eight, and on the drive to Boca Raton I was play­ing the con­certo on my lap un­til I de­cided I had bet­ter use my time putting on makeup in­stead, be­cause at that point I would have to go di­rectly to the con­cert hall. I ar­rived at the con­cert hall just be­fore in­ter­mis­sion, talked briefly to the con­duc­tor — James Judd, who I had never worked with — warmed up for five min­utes … and it went great. I was in­cred­i­bly calm. It taught me a big les­son about the power of brain over fin­gers.

I have played the Third quite a lot over the years. I haven’t played the Fourth in a long time, but I will be play­ing it with the Char­lottes­ville Sym­phony in Vir­ginia the week­end be­fore I go to Santa Fe. At this point, though, they are all feel­ing great.

Pasa: Th­ese three works cover a goodly span of Beethoven — from No. 2, com­posed over quite a few years in the 1790s, to No. 3 in 1800, and No. 4 in 1805-1806. Do you ap­proach th­ese three con­cer­tos as pieces that evolve out of each other, or is it more that they each stand as sep­a­rate mon­u­ments?

McDer­mott: Much more as sep­a­rate mon­u­ments. Work­ing on th­ese three all at the same time, ev­ery day, helps me de­fine the unique­ness of each. And play­ing them back-to-back in con­cert in­vites un­der­lin­ing the dif­fer­ent ap­proach to each one.

Pasa: Have you al­ways felt at home in Beethoven, or is he a com­poser you have grown into through the years?

McDer­mott: I re­mem­ber vividly, when I was a teenager, hear­ing my sis­ter’s violin teacher make a com­ment in pass­ing that you need to be older to re­ally play Brahms. That made an ef­fect on me, and I feel the same way about Beethoven. When I was younger, Beethoven was al­ways a chal­lenge, and it was be­cause I did not un­der­stand two things. First, there is the weight­i­ness of sound. You can’t play Beethoven like Mozart. It de­mands more weight from the arm and shoul­der, which pro­vides a darker sound. Now, in the Fourth Con­certo that is less an is­sue. But on the

whole it was not un­til I was in my early thir­ties that I reached a new un­der­stand­ing of Beethoven. Then, se­cond, the subito dy­nam­ics are crazy chal­leng­ing — that you flip in a mil­lisec­ond from forte to pi­ano, that’s not a nat­u­ral re­ac­tion you have as a mu­si­cian. The more I’ve em­braced the subito dy­nam­ics, the more log­i­cal his writ­ing be­comes. He uses a tremen­dous va­ri­ety of tim­bre and dy­nam­ics, and you come to un­der­stand that ev­ery forte is not cre­ated alike, that he uses de­grees of forte, se­ries of sforzando mark­ings that in­di­cate growth or a crescendo. When you em­brace it, it makes sense. You don’t have a choice. Rests are also very im­por­tant in Beethoven. If you don’t give his rests their full due, it re­ally up­sets the struc­ture.

Some­thing else I felt like I dis­cov­ered in my thir­ties was how he writes dif­fer­ently when things are more ver­ti­cal or more hor­i­zon­tal. When I think of the open­ing of Con­certo No. 3, that’s very ver­ti­cal — a melody go­ing up and down in a stark, pil­lar-like way. No. 4 is more hor­i­zon­tal — a long line that ben­e­fits from hav­ing a more nat­u­ral flow to it. In No. 3, the first theme ben­e­fits from not al­low­ing an even flow, but rather keep­ing the brakes on rhyth­mi­cally; but then its se­cond theme is more hor­i­zon­tal, a longer, more flow­ing kind of phrase. That way of ap­proach­ing Beethoven has ram­i­fi­ca­tions for how you in­ter­pret phras­ing and rhyth­mic el­e­ments in his pieces. I have never wor­shipped Beethoven more than I do now. I am just now learn­ing his fi­nal pi­ano sonata, Op. 111, which I’m go­ing to per­form for the first time this sum­mer. That’s some­thing to keep you awake at night!

Pasa: Are there things in the pi­ano writ­ing of th­ese con­cer­tos that sug­gest what kind of pi­anist Beethoven was?

McDer­mott: Yes. At first, Beethoven seems not very pi­anis­tic, not nat­u­ral in the hands; but over time it be­comes nat­u­ral. As you ab­sorb the lan­guage more, it grows more com­fort­able. Beethoven is never truly com­fort­able to play, at least for me, es­pe­cially in some of the left-hand pas­sage­work he writes. But I feel that those pas­sages must have been more com­fort­able for him. I feel as if he must have had chunky hands, which has to do with the weight­i­ness we were talk­ing about. And look at the ca­den­zas. All three of the first-move­ment ca­den­zas in th­ese con­cer­tos are epic, like their own piece of mu­sic within an­other piece, and they are filled with big, weighty arpeg­gios. Beethoven must have been great with arpeg­gios, whereas I’ve al­ways had to work hard at them. It’s just how my hands are built. And then in the Fourth Con­certo, and at the end of the Se­cond Con­certo, are the dou­ble-third trills — I don’t think there’s a pi­anist on the planet who has dis­cov­ered a re­ally good fin­ger­ing for Beethoven’s dou­ble-third trills.

Pasa: Are there some things in Beethoven’s mu­sic you wish you could ask him about?

McDer­mott: Ab­so­lutely. That’s one of the things I find ad­dic­tive about mu­sic of liv­ing com­posers — that they are there and you can ask them. The open­ing of Op. 111 — left hand in oc­taves, leap­ing across wide in­ter­vals, for­tis­simo. Was Beethoven aware of just how hard that was? Would he have ad­vo­cated for hav­ing it sound as if the pi­anist was strug­gling, like she was wrestling the mu­sic? Or did he have the sound in his head with­out think­ing about how play­ing that in­ter­val at that vol­ume with the left hand was go­ing to en­tail strug­gle. I like to be­lieve he in­tended the strug­gle to be heard — that he knew how hard it was and that it adds to the in­ten­sity of his mu­sic. I wish I could ask him about it.

All three of the first-move­ment ca­den­zas in th­ese con­cer­tos are epic, like their own piece of mu­sic within an­other piece, and they are filled with big, weighty arpeg­gios.

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