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October 16, 2011

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It's not just technique, pianists say

CLASSICAL music fans can choose between two piano recitals next Sunday.

In the afternoon, young pianist Sun Meiting takes up the challenge of playing Beethoven's piano sonatas. Sunday's recital is the first in a series of concerts by Sun to complete the 32 sonatas by Beethoven. In the evening, American pianist Murray Perahia performs some of his favorite pieces.

Sun, who has been active in the US for years, will stage his Beethoven Complete Piano Sonatas at Shanghai Oriental Art Center in eight concerts over four weeks from October 23 to November 13.

Perahia, who now lives in London, UK, will play seven of his favorite classic music pieces during his recital at Shanghai Grand Theatre on October 23.

Sun completed a Chopin concert series, playing all of the composer's piano solos in eight concerts, last year. The 30 year old is now ready to challenge himself with the music of Beethoven this year.

Beethoven's 32 piano sonatas are credited as the "New Testament" in Western music history, with Bach's "The Well-Tempered Clavier" as the "Old Testament." Many musicians regard the 32 piano sonatas, to some extent, as Beethoven's "autobiography," explaining the changes in his life and music.

"All of them together help you completely understand Beethoven," says Sun. "This is why I insist on presenting them as a complete series, rather than randomly selecting a few."

To help spectators enjoy the concerts, Sun deliberately combines sonatas of different phases of Beethoven's career within each concert so that contrasts and connections can be observed.

Some of Beethoven's work is very challenging both technically and musically, according to Sun. That's why few pianists have challenged themselves with completing them all within a short period.

Born in Shanghai, Sun started playing the piano at age 3 and went to the US to further his education in 1991. He became the youngest PhD holder in piano at The Juilliard School in New York in 2005.

Staying indoors and practicing hour after hour is not the ideal way to understand music, according to Sun. While preparing for the Beethoven concert series, Sun spent 40 days traveling around Europe, visiting cities and towns that had the footprints of the famous composer. He did likewise ahead of the Chopin series.

"Stepping on the path where Beethoven lived and played, even touching the keys that Beethoven used to play, I felt like I was traveling back in time and talking to Beethoven face to face," Sun says. "In some inspiring moments, I suddenly felt as though I understood some of his late works that I had never understood before."

Still he says it may take his entire life to truly understand all of Beethoven's music.

At the same time, the pianist is quick to note that completing all of Beethoven's piano sonatas is physically demanding. Richard Goode, whose interpretation of Beethoven is one of Sun's favorites, spent a year to complete all of Beethoven's piano sonata concerts when he was 42. This inspired Sun to try it now while he is still young.

"I may not have fully matured technically for a perfect interpretation of all the works now, but I just don't think I can physically manage to complete the task (travel and concerts) 10 years from now," Sun says.

Perahia, who is in his 60s, also attaches great importance to musicians understanding the composer and the music rather than simply imitating others' interpretation. He suggests this can be achieved by studying and analyzing the finished works and sketches of the composers.

He agrees that practicing all day will not lead to a great pianist. The American says listening and reading are more important for a classic musician.

"I started listening to music when I was 6, and I still keep listening every day in my 60s," says Perahia. "You will find each piece is different every time you listen to it, as music is not only about music, but also love, understanding and sharing."

Collecting classic music knowledge through reading is also important as it helps artists to understand the language of music better. He himself has spent much of his early years studying composition and conducting, which has helped him as a solo pianist.

"Many people appreciate and play music out of instinct," says Perahia. "Instinct is good, but you also need knowledge, which will help cultivate more great musicians."

Considering many young piano players today work toward becoming technically perfect, Perahia recommends paying more attention to the music.

"Work musically, rather than technically," says Perahia. "Do not push your fingers to play like an acrobat."

Similar to his last concert in Shanghai two years ago, Perahia has selected Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Schumann and Chopin's work for this recital. That includes Bach's French Suite No 5 in G Major, Beethoven's Sonata No 17 in E Minor, Brahm's Klavierstucke and Chopin's Prelude No 8 in F minor, Mazurka No 4 in C minor, and Scherzo No 3 in C minor.

Schumann's Kinderszenen will also be heard at the concert as it is one of Perahia's favorite pieces.

"There are not many notes in it, but every note is meaningful and helps to build the atmosphere and tell the story," says Perahia. "It is about kids' emotions, but it is not simply cute. All the emotions such as crying, happy, or very happy are taken seriously."

? Murray Perahia Piano Recital Concert

Date: October 23, 7:15pm

Venue: Shanghai Grand Theatre, 300 People's Ave

Tickets: 120-680 yuan

Tel: 962-388

? Beethoven Complete Piano Sonatas by Sun Meiting

Date: October 23, 1:30pm; October 25, 28, 30, November 2, 5, 9, 13, 7:45pm

Venue: Shanghai Oriental Art Center, 425 Dingxiang Rd, Pudong

Tickets: 30-300 yuan

Tel: 6854-1234


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