Four friends devote string of Sundays to Beethoven sonatas

March 11, 1995|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Sun Music Critic

It's usually not a violinist, but a strong -- and strong-minded -- pianist who is responsible for the three-concert cycles of the 10 great works customarily, if incorrectly, called Beethoven's Violin Sonatas.

"I haven't accepted any solo engagements for the last three months in order to do this," says pianist Amy Lin, who has organized a cycle of the sonatas that begins tomorrow. The young Californian, generally regarded as one of the finest pianists to graduate from Peabody Conservatory in more than a decade, has always wanted a chance to perform these works. Lin, a faculty member of Peabody's preparatory department, is contributing her services -- as are three violinists -- to benefit the Prep's Scholarship Fund.

"I just couldn't resist the opportunity to learn and perform them," Lin says of the 10 sonatas, which will be performed in three free concerts at Peabody's Leakin Hall. "They're not played frequently enough -- and almost never as a cycle."

The cycle of Bach's six partitas and sonatas for solo violin -- the other great body of violin music by a composer -- are programmed more frequently than the Beethoven sonatas. The reason is simply that only a single musician is required.

But as Beethoven himself insisted in his manuscripts, the 10 sonatas are actually "for Piano and Violin." The two instruments are equally important -- with the pianist sometimes a more-than-equal partner -- and the piano parts are as difficult as any of the composer's solo works, including the "Waldstein" and "Appassionata" sonatas.

A Beethoven violin-and-piano cycle requires a serious and thoughtful virtuoso pianist, not one who makes his living by discreetly accompanying temperamental divas and showboating fiddlers in display pieces. Such pianists are hard to find; finding one willing to make time to learn and rehearse all 10 sonatas is harder still.

In addition to hours spent rehearsing with violinist Lei Hou, with whom Lin will perform the Sonata No. 7 tomorrow, Lin needed more than 20 hours just to learn the piece.

Moreover, the three violinists involved in the cycle live in different cities: Lei Hou, who plays in Washington's National Symphony, lives in Vienna, Va.; Qian Zhou, who took first prize in Paris' prestigious Thibaud Competition a few years back, lives in New York; and Je Youn Park, who is still a Peabody student, lives here. Fortunately, the four musicians are longtime friends who have played together for years for their own pleasure.

"The four of us have been trained for solo careers," Lin says. "So it's a real pleasure to make music together in public."

Almost all virtuoso violinists, however, are accustomed to playing with accompanists who keep the piano lid discreetly shut. Such will not be the case in these concerts.

"People have a misconception that these are violin works," Lin says. "But in all 10 of the sonatas the parts are of equal importance. In fact, that's true of all real sonatas, whether by Mozart and Beethoven or by Bartok and Shostakovich. I will, of course, be playing with the lid up."

But don't violinists -- even if they happen to be personal friends of the pianist -- sometimes behave like the divas of the instrumental world?

Lin laughs, then diplomatically adds: "I think all four of us are very happy to be doing this."

BEETHOVEN SONATAS

What: Amy Lin performs Beethoven's 10 sonatas for piano and violin, with violinists Lei Hou at 6 p.m. tomorrow; Qian Zhou at 4 p.m. March 19; and Je Youn Park at 5 p.m. March 26

Where: Leakin Hall in Peabody Conservatory.

Cost: Concerts are free; donations to the Peabody Preparatory Scholarship Fund are encouraged; $25 for reception March 26

Call: 659-8125

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