Thursday, 17 February 2011

CHAN YOONG HAN on Beethoven's Violin Music / A Short Interview

Here's one concert you don't want to miss:
BEETHOVEN Violin Concerto
with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra
conducted by Lan Shui
26 February 2011, 7.30 pm
Esplanade Concert Hall
Tickets available at SISTIC

The renowned French violinist RENAUD CAPUÇON performs Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D major (Op.61) with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra and follows with three evenings of Beethoven’s ten violin sonatas (27 February – 1 March, 8 pm) with pianist Frank Braley at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory (Tickets available at SISTIC). Although Beethoven was mostly a keyboardist, what was it that distinguished his music for the violin? SSO first violinist CHAN YOONG HAN (left) muses on the great German’s legacy for the strings.

Beethoven was neither a violinist, nor is his only violin concerto the most outwardly virtuosic work in the repertoire, yet many regard it as the pinnacle of the genre. Why do you think that is so?

The truth was this: its first performance did not receive favourable reviews. It was not until years later, after a performance by Joseph Joachim, that it became popular. This was perhaps due to the fact that this concerto was the first to be regarded as a symphonic work in which the solo violin was merely a line in the overall orchestral texture. One could forget its monumental length (about 45 minutes) while sitting through a performance of it due to its sheer beauty and perfect structure. As a violinist, performing this work is likened to recreating a perfect image and voice of an angel. You are always trying very hard not to spoil it!

Beethoven’s music is known for its masculine attributes, its vitality and muscularity, yet he can also sound retiring, lyrical and sublime. The slow movement, in particular, has these qualities. What do you think he was trying to convey?

Many of us choose to associate Beethoven for his heroic and victorious music. However, one of his most important musical contributions, which gave many musicologists the reason to regard him as a Romantic composer, was his unyielding search for a reason to live through his art. I relate to Beethoven more as an introspective musician in search of universal truth, beauty, love, hope and joy, within a life that was frustrated by deafness and social awkwardness. I think this movement was a reflection of his yearning for love and contentment.

The finales of Beethoven’s concertos were invariably Rondos, or round dances, often far more light-hearted than what comes before. Was he quite a jolly personality under an austere and irascible cloak?

Absolutely! And not to forget, very often mischievous! He was also merely adhering to a style that was common practice in the Classical concerto form by using a country dance, or folk dance from an "exotic" region, to make the finale more accessible to the general audience.

Beethoven’s violin sonatas were published as “sonatas for piano with violin accompaniment”. Does this necessarily diminish the role of the violin?

If you observe the score, the sharing of thematic, accompaniment and important motivic ideas is ubiquitous between both violin and piano parts. Very often, Beethoven would even repeat a theme twice in order to allow for each instrument to play it. However, due to the nature of the keyboard instrument, the piano part contains much of the harmonic foundation which holds the key to the soul of the music.

Of the 10 sonatas, which do you feel closest to and why?

It is very hard to choose a favourite because every sonata has a unique story. The Spring (Op.24) and Kreutzer (Op.47) Sonatas used to be favourites during my teens; Kreutzer for its virtuosic "concerto" writing and Spring for its beautiful melodies. In the past decade, I started to discover the dramatic and autobiographical content of his other sonatas such as the A minor (Op. 23) and C minor (Op. 30 No.2). I feel one could learn so much about Beethoven's psyché from these sonatas. His manipulation of forms, structures and expectations was a reflection of his social and psychological existence. Having said that, the G major (Op.96, left) will always feel closest to me. Like the violin concerto, it is just so sublime and beautiful throughout.
Chan Yoong Han was interviewed by PianoManiac.

No comments: