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Beethoven fest ends on note of brilliance


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POSTED: Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The Beethoven Festival, a unique new event in Honolulu, came to its conclusion with a standing ovation on Sunday. The musicians and conductor Andreas Delfs put a lot of hours and energy into this singular series of four concerts, which included symphonies, concertos and overtures by the German composer. And so did the soloists, who in some cases performed almost nonstop.

The seats in the concert hall were nearly full for each event. Many spectators attended the whole series, taking full advantage of the concerts' diverse program. Enthusiasm was the shared feeling these evenings, and I am sure the result pleased everyone who contributed to make this demanding task a success.

For a few hours, each audience was immersed in the world of Romantic music, the desire for emotional and aesthetic contentment fulfilled, with the worries of the day temporarily vanished. People need good music and good musicians to survive difficult times such as we face today. It has always been that way.

In this series, Irish pianist John O'Conor and maestro Delfs emerged as most brilliant musicians. Delfs, who has a strong understanding of Beethoven's music, conducted all the concerts; and, to the audience's delight, O'Conor played in three of them. They worked together to make the series a true success.

O'Conor has a fluidity on the piano almost comparable to Rachmaninoff. His ability to concentrate a high level of technique, fluid phrasing and keyboard colors is certainly the ideal quality to play Beethoven. His technical smoothness and intelligent phrasing struck me, especially in Concerto No. 5, performed Sunday.

Not meant to be a vehicle for technical display, this concerto requires musical intelligence more than athletic virtuosity. It is the last of Beethoven's concerti and the composer was probably departing from an old genre that no longer suited him. But the role of the pianist is crucial, especially in the long cadenza of the first movement, in which he almost summarizes the material of the whole movement.

The second movement provides the soloist with a chance for expressiveness. It is in the slow movements, in fact, that the artist's level of musicianship reveals itself. Here, Beethoven treated the piano in an almost Chopin-like manner. O'Conor's articulate expression was remarkable. During this movement, the members of the audience held their breath and no one coughed anymore!

On Saturday, the pianist played the “;Triple”; Concerto with Honolulu Symphony first violinist Ignace Chang and cellist Yehuda Hanani. It is always great to hear Chang playing by himself. He is quite a violinist.

The three extraordinary musicians performed the concerto with verve, but unfortunately there were moments in which their sounds did not completely blend. Was it the acoustics? Not enough rehearsal time? Or is it really the music itself? But most in the audience were so happy to be part of the event that they hardly noticed.

His great rapport with the orchestra apparent, Delfs communicated his enthusiasm and inspiration. His attention to details and his complete focus made these events a great pleasure to attend. Beethoven is obviously in Delfs' blood. All members of the orchestra — and some of them played in every one of these concerts — gave their best. The woodwinds in particular demonstrated the quality of their talent and proficiency.

Next spring, the symphony will repeat the “;one-master”; formula with a Mozart Festival. After these past weekends, the audience is expecting to be treated to the best again.

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Valeria Wenderoth has a doctorate in musicology from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, where she also teaches.