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Sunday, September 24, 2023


Beethoven’s style revealed

Houston Symphony Music Director Hans Graf gave a behind-the-scenes look at both the artist and the art of composition as the Houston Symphony presented The Beethoven Experience on Saturday at Jones Hall.

The daylong event – including activities for children, a slew of performances and a film screening -†gave patrons the opportunity to get to know the mastermind and understand the evolution and mechanics of his style.

In the laid-back setting of Inside the Fifth, Graf conducted the symphony while giving the audience a feel for how the symphony works, allowing them to truly appreciate Ludwig van Beethoven’s most famous composition, "Symphony No. 5."

In the span of an hour, the symphony performed "No. 5" numerous times as Graf led the rehearsal-like session, delving into the reasoning and genius behind the layers of sound. From the tradition-defying trumpet to the horizon-setting string work and omnipresent cohesion of the base structure, Graf broke the piece into individual bars and solos.

It was an invaluable chance for music enthusiasts to take a crash course from the unbelievably passionate conductor on the awe-inspiring piece of work.

Beethoven’s Triumph Over Deafness illustrated the effects Beethoven’s tragic condition had on his ability to create music. Graf, along with guest speaker Dr. Richard Stasney, gave an account of how Beethoven’s music evolved as his condition worsened.

The four compositions showed the gradual transition from the intricate and voracious "Violin Sonata No. 5" and "Violin Sonata No. 9" to the more detached sounds of "Quartet for Strings No. 15."

Despite the fact his deafness became more apparent through the course of his compositions, Beethoven’s hearing loss never hindered his ability to produce highly imaginative works.

Violinist Kiju Joh and pianist Scott Holshouser performed an elegantly brisk "Sonata No. 5" while Holshouser and violinist Assia Dulgerska revealed the more vigorous and dynamically diverse "Sonata No. 9."

"Sonata No. 9" showed off Dulgerska’s intense violin part while Holshouser brought to life each aspect of the piece from the powerful solos to all of the internal workings of the demanding piano role. The piece also marked Beethoven’s transition from a style that revealed the more elegant sounds of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart with only traces of Beethoven to one in which he came into his own. The music became more physically and emotionally powerful, encapsulating a wider range of octaves.

"Violin Sonata No. 10" revealed soft, warm notes and the lack of brashness apparent in earlier works. The piece, painted with gentle, mellow tones, mirrored Beethoven’s emotional setback.

"No. 15," marked Beethoven’s final style as the quartet captured fragmented notes, which fell into place for the spiritually themed work.

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