King of the keys


POSTED: Friday, March 27, 2009

Think “;Irish pianists,”; and little comes to mind except Johnny Fingers, who's still playing in his pajamas. On the other hand, there's John O'Conor, Dublin-born, who necessarily traveled as a wee lad to Vienna to make his mark, largely with the thundering sweetness of Beethoven compositions. O'Conor is still musically involved with his native Eire—he's director of the Royal Irish Academy of Music, after all—but once you've become a leading interpreter of Beethoven, you belong to the world.





        On stage: 8 p.m. Saturday

Place: Blaisdell Concert Hall


Tickets: $20 to $82


Call: 792-2000 or visit www.honolulusymphony.com




And Hawaii has O'Conor for a couple of the upcoming Honolulu Symphony Orchestra “;Beethoven Festival”; concerts. On Saturday, O'Conor will essay the Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, while the orchestra rumbles through “;Leonore”; Overture No. 3 and Symphony No. 3 in E flat, known generally as the “;Eroica.”;

O'Conor is back again on April 5 to play the Fifth Piano Concerto—known as “;Emperor”;—whilst the orchestra plays Symphony No. 6 in F, which also has a nickname, the “;Pastorale.”;

“;No composer personifies the glory of symphonic music more than Ludwig van Beethoven,”; states Andreas Delfs, the orchestra's principal conductor, who began planning a Beethoven blow-out immediately upon taking up the local baton. “;Nothing will energize you more than our substantial Hawaii Beethoven Festival!”;

Beethoven, symphony managers hope, will also appeal to tourists, a market that is little tapped in classical performance.

Dubbed the “;Poet of Piano,”; O'Conor has a well-earned reputation in classic and early Romantic piano repertoires, the era in which Beethoven made his mark. He has performed in Europe, North America, Asia, Africa, Australia and New Zealand, which leaves only South America unexposed to his talent. His recordings on Telarc are considered must-haves among Beethoven completists.

O'Conor has in his quiver both “;formidable technique”; and “;eloquent phrasing and mastery of keyboard color,”; according to various releases, and that sounds about right.

In other words, he's not a piano-pounder, and Beethoven, despite the drama, is all about soul and melody.