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Pacific Symphony's Cafe Ludwig Returns to Serve Up 2017-18 Season's First Delicious Helping of Chamber Music with "Beethoven & Schubert"

Orange County, Calif. — September 07, 2017

Timothy Landauer

Café Ludwig, Pacific Symphony’s perennially popular chamber music series, launches its 2017-18 season by asking the question: was Schubert Beethoven’s biggest fan? The incomparable pianist and host Orli Shaham—whose playing the London Guardian has called “perfection”—enters her 10th season of performing and curating the series with a tantalizing program that explores the relationship between the two musical giants, Ludwig van Beethoven and Franz Schubert. Shaham’s intriguing programming always includes a thematic thread that connects the individual pieces. For this concert, the audience discovers that Schubert indeed became a passionate devotee of the older composer’s music. In fact, on his deathbed Schubert asked to be buried in a grave alongside Beethoven.

In addition to Shaham, the program spotlights the talent of two exceptional Symphony musicians: violinist Paul Manaster and cellist Timothy Landauer. Audience members sip coffee or tea and sample sweet treats in a coffeehouse-style setting, while enjoying the aural beauty of Schubert’s Arpeggione Sonata and Piano Trio No. 1 in B-flat Major, D. 898; plus, Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 30 in E Major, Op. 109. The matinee performance of “Beethoven & Schubert” takes place Sunday, Oct. 8, at 3 p.m., in the Samueli Theater at Segerstrom Center for the Arts. Season ticket packages are $189-$240. Single tickets are $70 and $89. For more information or to purchase tickets, call (714) 755-5799 or visit www.PacificSymphony.org.

“The three masterpieces on this Café Ludwig program were all composed in the 1820s in Vienna,” points out Shaham. “With this program, we get a slice of the musical discourse from nearly 200 years ago!”

It is not news that the music from that single city during that era has maintained its prominence, but it is intriguing to look at some specific works in order to understand the depth of art that existed then. More specifically, it is interesting to see the two greatest masters of the era in their approaches to these intimate genres. Schubert was about 27 years younger than Beethoven, and Beethoven’s long shadow loomed large for him his entire life. As a young student, Schubert played in the violin section of the great Beethoven symphonies with his school orchestra and no doubt heard multiple premieres and early performances of Beethoven’s music. He always aspired to be a great composer himself, but clearly he was always aware of how his music related to Beethoven’s. 

Shaham notes: “The evidence of their meeting is unreliable, so we do not know for sure whether they interacted directly, but as they were both prominent members of a small musical community, they must have encountered each other repeatedly.”

Schubert, for his part, admired Beethoven’s music enormously, and it is no accident that his greatest successes during his lifetime came in Lieder (songs), a genre that Beethoven all but dropped after Schubert came on the scene. Perhaps that says something of Beethoven’s admiration for his younger colleague as well.

“You can hear especially in the B-flat Piano Trio that Schubert was composing in the same musical language as Beethoven,” says Shaham. “In many ways, this trio follows the forms and rhetoric set up by Beethoven’s trios, though Schubert’s ability to compose rich melodies suffuses the whole. Nevertheless, even within this common language, their utterances were entirely personal. I hope that hearing the two works on the first half before this trio will help us all attune our ears to the influences of both composers in the Trio.”

Schubert’s Arpeggione Sonata, written for a friend who had become a virtuoso on the recently invented and soon-to-be-forgotten arpeggione (a bowed six-string instrument), is a work of great lyricism, buoyancy and Viennese charm. This sonata has become a mainstay of the cello repertoire. While it is highly virtuosic and devilishly difficult at times, it is a work that feels simple and natural to the ear. Schubert’s great ease with creating beautiful singing melodies is evident throughout, as is his sense of the dramatic and storytelling aspects of music. 

“Having developed such a deep musical collaboration with the great Tim Landauer over these past 10 seasons,” says Shaham, “I’m particularly looking forward to exploring with him this work of perfection.”

Shaham confesses that Beethoven’s Piano Sonata, Op. 109, one of the final three of his 32, is one that has always spoken to her. “Unlike the Arpeggione, it is not built on tunes but more on intervals, relationships between pitches and motivic ideas,” she says. “As is typical of Beethoven, the long arc of the work and the sense of drama throughout serve to tie the piece into a perfect whole.”

The first two movements, one in E major, the other in E minor, seem to be relating all the emotions of humanity, from hesitant discovery to elation to desperation. The theme of the last movement, which provides the first calm, centered focal point for the listener, has always seemed to Shaham to be a perfect song distilled to its barest essence: “The Sonata is in an unusual form, pushing the boundaries (as a composer might later in life) of what the genre can hold. Its three movements are heavily weighted to the last, which is a set of variations on this rather slow, singing, apparently simple theme.”

The variations take the audience through a history of the work itself, seeming to contain all of life’s joys and woes. They culminate in spectacular ringing of the piano as it reaches for the heavens, and then drop the listener finally back in the original simple song, changed forever by the experience.

“I hope that this program allows us all to feel more deeply what the world of Vienna of the 1820s would have felt like, and to relish the unbroken connection of our shared humanity,” concludes Shaham.