SYDNEY MORNING HERALD SEPTEMBER 11 2017 – 12:12PM
Selby & Friends, Basically Beethoven #4 at the National Gallery of Australia
- Janet Wilson
Basically Beethoven #4. Selby & Friends. National Gallery of Australia. Monday, September 18, 7.30pm. Tickets: $46-$63. selbyandfriends.com.au or 1300 511 099.
For pianist Kathryn Selby, artistic director of Selby & Friends, the fascination and challenge of interpreting and performing the works of Beethoven is never-ending. She and her guests, violinist Daniel Dodds and cellist Timo-Veikko Valve, will present the fourth of the ensemble’s Basically Beethoven series at the Fairfax Theatre, NGA Canberra on Monday, September 18.
Although Selby cannot commit to saying that she regards Beethoven as the ultimate composer, “he comes pretty close. It’s just that it’s extremely satisfying to play his music; not only to play it – the amount of time that we spend with a piece is inordinate. It’s different every time. Every single performer brings something different to it … and everyone loves playing him and exploring his music.”
For Selby the piano trio is a brilliant genre that presents challenges to every composer.
“Some composers have nailed it and others have still struggled with the idea, but even so all the music is incredibly challenging and very fine,” she says.
This program features three early Beethoven works: his first and his third piano trios and Piano Trio in D major, Op. 36, the composer’s transcription of his Symphony No.2.
“I think that Beethoven was an extremely complicated man and even from his youth the complexity of his personality and character shine through,” Selby says. He was a musician, she believes, who always wanted to show off his prowess at the keyboard and to push the boundaries of composition and to this end he sought out proficient and talented instrumentalists to try to learn from them. He also studied briefly with Haydn, the composer of many piano trios.
“Beethoven wasn’t above realising that he didn’t know everything and he really wanted to find out how one did such and such on the violin or the cello or the double bass or the clarinet.”
Selby thinks that we gravitate towards Beethoven because he was a human being who studied the human condition. “He enjoyed it and lamented it and suffered it and it wasn’t just his genius but also his flaws that come through in his music. That is why he really touches people so personally.”
The Opus 1 set of three piano trios were not Beethoven’s first compositions but he regarded them as good enough to be published as an introduction to his style of writing. They were dedicated to Prince Lichnowsky and were first performed at the prince’s residence in Vienna in 1795. With a bit of canny recycling Beethoven later arranged the third trio as String Quintet in C minor, Op.104, adding an additional viola to the standard group of string quartet instruments. The first piano trio in B-flat major was originally scored for clarinet, cello and piano before the more conventional piano/violin/cello format was used.
Selby says she always chooses her companion artists very carefully and programs works that will suit them.
“I discuss the program with them because the most important thing for me is that they are happy and comfortable with the people they’re working with.”
She and Valve played the Beethoven “triple” concerto in C major together earlier this year, “and that was amazing and I’m really looking forward to playing with him again and, of course, with Daniel.
“Obviously I’m thrilled with all the artists who have agreed to come back to play with me next year,” Selby says, commenting on the newly-released 2018 season.
“I always want to really give a go to some up and coming young artists,” she says
“Grace Clifford will be coming back and working with Clancy Newman again. And Lloyd Van’t Hoff is a brilliant young clarinettist who’s making a big name for himself.
“A lot of guest artists really wanted to do the Messiaen Quartet for the End of Time so I chose the people who asked me first: Natalie Chee and Julian Smiles. Then there are Andrew Haveron and Umberto Clerici from the Sydney Symphony. What consummate professionals they are. And concert-master of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, Vesa Matti-Leppanen – he’s the other Finn who I love working with – will be back. And at the end of the year we’ll have the brilliant Canadian/Spanish violinist Alexandre Da Costa Graveline.”
It will be hard to count the 2018 highlights. “It’s a long time since I’ve done Piazzolla,” Selby says, “or the two Schumann works. There’s a lot of repertoire that I haven’t done before which for me is really exciting. Magically the whole program always works and I just can’t wait to get started even though it’s barely halfway through 2017.”