The St Mary’s Perivale Beethoven Piano Sonata Festival takes place on Saturday and Sunday October 3rd and 4th. 32 pianists will play all the sonatas in opus number, from Op 2 no 1 to Op 111, in about 14 hours, and their performances will be LIVE streamed from an empty church. We are proud of this festival, being one of the few major Beethoven events still taking place in the 250th anniversary year despite the pandemic. It should be a wonderful treat for all pianophiles. This article explains the background to this special event.
The formula of a complete sonata cycle over a weekend is ‘tried and trusted’ because it is the fourth such festival I have organized in Ealing – the others were held at St Barnabas Church in 2009, 2012 and 2014. We are very fortunate in being able to hold it despite the lack of an audience, because of the superb video and streaming facilities at St Mary’s Perivale. The format of 32 pianists, each playing a sonata, is more interesting and enjoyable than hearing any single pianist play the whole cycle. We have a formidable team of superb musicians, of varying age from 20 to 70, and from different pianistic backgrounds. Their biogs are on our website. Less than half (14) were born in the UK, and the remainder come from Russia (5), the Ukraine (3), Israel (2), and from the USA, Romania, Italy, China, Jordan, South Africa, Hungary and Kazakhstan. It is endlessly fascinating to hear the different styles and sonorities produced by so many first-rate pianists on the same instrument, and the standard of performance will be uniformly high throughout the cycle. Assembling the team of 32 pianists has been remarkably easy. I have a database of about 160 pianists who have requested a solo recital, and could easily compile another team of pianists to play a parallel cycle. No doubt there will be a last-minute scramble if/when a pianist becomes ill shortly before the current festival, but on previous occasions we have always found a replacement.
One of the joys of the festival will be to re-hear many of the early and middle-period sonatas which are rarely played in recitals. Pianists seem to feel that they should offer the late sonatas to show their musicianship and perhaps their ‘gravitas’ rather than play some of the wonderful early works. In an old analysis of Perivale performances from 2004 to 2015, the most popular sonata was Op 101 (6 performances) followed by 109, 111 and 27 no 2 (‘Moonlight’)(5 performances each), and 10 no 3, 13 (Pathetique), 53 (Waldstein) and 57 (Appassionata) (4 performances). The most difficult slots to fill in previous cycles have been Op 2 no 2, 10 no 1, 14 no 1, 22 and 31 no 1, so I am hoping the relevant pianists stay fit and well in early October ! Our website also includes some masterly programme notes on each sonata by Julian Jacobson, who has played the entire cycle many times, sometimes on a single day. These are thoroughly recommended to all.
It may seem slightly strange broadcasting the entire cycle from an empty church, with no applause, but in practice this works surprisingly well. To fit into the time-frame of about 14 hours music (2-6 pm and 7-10 pm on both days) I have asked pianists to omit exposition repeats in sonata-form movements, but to use their discretion and musical common-sense with other repeats. We will disinfect the keys between each performance, and allow each pianist a 5 minute warm-up, so the broadcasts will be rather like watching Wimbledon, including the knock-up sessions between matches ! We will utilize our sophisticated video system which comprises 7 high-definition cameras, giving a fascinating range of views of each pianist during their performance. The livestreams will be posted on Vimeo, Youtube and Facebook, and will remain available for at least 3 weeks after the festival.
We always pay our musicians, on this occasion £100 per sonata, which is good value for some of the shorter ones, but less so for Op 106 ! This will be an expensive weekend, with £3200 in musician fees, as well as regular piano tuning etc, and we are hoping that we can attract a sizeable virtual audience, and that at least some will donate generously via our website. In contrast to other venues in Central London, we are an organization run entirely by volunteers with no sponsorship from outside sources, so all the funds go directly to support our musicians and our building, rather than supporting other funding streams. So please make a note in your diary of our big festival – October 3rd and 4th from 2pm to 10 pm – and come with us on a wonderful journey from early to middle to late Beethoven, over a glorious weekend of superb piano playing. And if you are able to make a donation during the festival, that would be even better !