Audiences at the Pender Harbour School of Music took a journey through the life of Beethoven last weekend by listening to 10 sonatas.
They were led by two distinguished musicians, Catherine Ordronneau on piano and Kai Gleusteen on violin, both returning by special request, having wowed audiences at the Pender Harbour Chamber Music Festival two years ago.
A native of Calgary, Gleusteen has performed in Europe and served as concertmaster in Barcelona. He began his partnership with Ordronneau in 1999. Her awards from prestigious piano competitions in France launched her on her musical career.
Besides being superb technicians, the two have chemistry together. The Saturday afternoon performance opened with the Violin Sonata No.3 in E-flat Major, and while the first movement was spritely, the second movement displayed a depth of expression that seemed to come straight from the musicians' hearts. The Violin Sonata No. 6 in A Major was written the summer that Beethoven realized he was going deaf. The music captures some of the emotion that the composer must have felt at that time.
The duo's format on stage is a bit different from the usual in which a violinist hovers over a pianist. In this case, Gleusteen stands with his back to the piano and Ordronneau must watch his movement.
"But it's like any relationship," he told the audience. "You must listen."
Gleusteen was happy to provide background material to the 10 sonatas. Those who attended the Friday evening concert heard earlier work and Gleusteen urged the Saturday audience to return on Sunday for the rest of the journey. He also gave some background to his instrument: he was performing on a 1781 Guadagnini violin with a bow that had once resided with the last czar of Russia. It had been passed down in a family now living in Lebanon, until it was gifted to Gleusteen.
The last sonata on Saturday was No. 9 in A Major, commonly known as the Kreutzer Sonata. It's mood music that not only inspires musicians but sparked a novella by that name by the renowned Russian author Leo Tolstoy, about a husband intensely jealous of his wife's musical partner. During Saturday's performance, at the second movement, right on cue, the fog rolled in over Pender Harbour and the atmosphere was complete.
Organizers were delighted with the attendance during this January event, though it was not quite the sold-out house of the Pender Harbour Music Society's summer Chamber Music Festival. The 2014 festival will be on Aug. 14 to 17, and it will include the premiere of a new piano quintet.
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