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FLYING SOLO

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Randall Hodgkinson is excited about his all-Beethoven program coming up at Bargemusic.

"Certain composers lend themselves well to a program of just their music because it has everything performers and audiences could want - and Beethoven is definitely one of those composers," says the pianist.

Hodgkinson, who will be performing three of Beethoven’s piano sonatas at Bargemusic on Thursday and Friday, Aug. 7-8, is no stranger to the floating performance space. He’s been a guest artist there for several years, and most recently played with violinist Mark Peskanov in a program of violin sonatas by - of course - Beethoven.

In an exclusive interview with GO Brooklyn, Hodgkinson - a Cleveland native who is currently on the faculties of the New England Conservatory of Music, in Boston, and the Longy School of Music, in Cambridge - explains that his upcoming recital (his first all-Beethoven solo program at Bargemusic) originated thanks to those earlier performances.

"At the time, Mark told me that they were putting together an exploration of all 32 Beethoven sonatas by different pianists and asked me if I’d be interested in playing, and of course I said, ’Sure,’" Hodgkinson explains. "I gave him a list of three sonatas that are among my favorites to play and he accepted it."

Those three sonatas are numbers 7, 26 ("Les Adieux") and 32, each one of them from a distinct period in Beethoven’s career.

Most scholars agree that Beethoven’s works fall into three distinct periods: apprenticeship and early maturity; full maturity; and complex late works that often left early 19th-century listeners (and even some today) scratching their heads in puzzlement.

"The first one I’m playing is part of the last part of the early period, the second is from the very end of the middle period, and the last one is his very last sonata, when his music just got way out there," says Hodgkinson.

And why did he select these sonatas to play?

"They just go well together for me," he says. "Sometimes people play just the last three, which is difficult for the performer and the audience. I’m always concerned that I can communicate this music to listeners, so selecting a work from each period seems to work well."

Although Beethoven’s 32nd and last sonata is a titanic challenge for any pianist (the composer was long deaf by then), Hodgkinson feels that the music’s soul baring is its salvation.

"In a strange way, the last sonata is very intimate," he says, "so it may not be that difficult to bring to the work the personal honesty that Beethoven’s music demands - this music sort of speaks for itself."

Not so the other two sonatas, according to the pianist.

"The earlier sonatas are much different," he says. "The way they were written, they can take on any number of approaches, so you must find the one that’s right for you."

Part of that approach includes the performance space. Daniel Barenboim recently traversed Beethoven’s entire sonata catalog in seven concerts at Carnegie Hall to decidedly mixed reviews; the bigness of the hall may have contributed to such divergent opinions on his playing.

Without getting involved in any sniping, Hodgkinson merely says, "You should play where you are. Beethoven lends himself to so many different interpretations, since there’s so much substance to the conflicts within the musical structure and design. Whatever the size of the hall, the music still comes through.

"Now the physical closeness is a different issue," he says. "At the Barge, you really feel you’re playing for a bunch of friends, which basically you are! And I’ll even be talking a bit before each sonata - the barge lends itself to that, and it allows me to bring the intimacy level even closer to the audience."

For Hodgkinson, performing in New York usually means staying on the Brooklyn side of the East River, which is fine by him.

"I definitely don’t have the New York temperament; I really don’t feel I can live there. But Brooklyn, I find, has such a warm feeling to it," he says. "It’s just a really friendly atmosphere when I play on this side of the river."

 

Pianist Randall Hodgkinson will perform Beethoven’s piano sonatas on Aug. 7 and Aug. 8, at 7:30 pm, at Bargemusic, at Fulton Ferry Landing. Tickets are $35, $20 for full-time students and $25 for seniors. For more information, call (718) 624-2083 or visit www.bargemusic.org.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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