Beethoven celebrated in marathon sonata sessions
It was a Beethoven season for Adam Golka. Last month, the pianist appeared in Walnut Creek to join the California Symphony under musical director Donato Cabrera in two thrilling performances of the composer’s “Emperor” concerto. This weekend, he returns to the Bay Area to perform Beethoven sonatas at a special event celebrating the iconic composer.
“A Portrait of Beethoven: 32 Piano Sonatas” features more than a dozen performers playing the composer’s 32 piano sonatas in four concerts over two days. With two events on Saturday and two on Sunday, the series will present the sonatas in chronological order, showcasing Beethoven’s brilliance while illuminating the development and refinement of his composition technique.
Led by pianist Mari Kodama and conductor Kent Nagano, the Musical Days Productions event will take place October 9-10 at the Miner Auditorium at the SF JAZZ Center.
Golka, joining pianists such as Kodama, Daniel Hsu, Momo Kodama, Stephen Kovacevich, Stephen Prutsman and others, will perform on Saturday afternoon to play two Beethoven sonatas: Opus 2, No.3 in C major and op. 10, No. 3 in D major. He will return for the concert on Saturday evening to perform Op. 26 in A flat major, “Marche funèbre”.
Beethoven is a benchmark for Golka, a Polish-American artist who grew up in Houston and is now based in New York City. On a recent phone call, he spoke of his devotion to the composer’s music.
“Beethoven really explored the gulf between the emotional and the rational sides of humanity,” he said. “Some other composers do it too. But Beethoven always puts the conflict in the foreground. You can feel him trying to make peace with these two sides. There is so much control and freedom in what he asks us to play.
In concert, the sonatas are often recall elements. In “A Portrait of Beethoven”, they are the main event. For audiences, the chance to hear Beethoven’s 32 sonatas in sequence is rare – and instructive, offering a glimpse into the composer’s artistic journey.
Golka, who began studying Beethoven’s piano sonatas as a teenager, said he had always been drawn to the brilliance of the composer’s piano music.
But over the past year and a half – a time when live performances were severely curtailed by the global pandemic – Beethoven began to play “a central role in my life and my studies,” he said. After having studied the composer’s sonatas in depth, he now considers them essential.
“Before COVID, I made a commitment to play the 32 sonatas,” he explained. “Working on them gave me inspiration and hope. “
In the past year he has performed the entire 11 hour cycle of Beethoven Sonatas five times, with performances in Florida, Houston and New York.
He also made a film – or 32 short films – capturing his interpretations of each Beethoven sonata. Entitled “32 @ 32”, the series features lively conversations with some of Golka’s favorite artists and thinkers – including two of his mentors, pianists Alfred Brendel and Leon Fleisher, two major influences on Golka’s musical life – as well as a NASA astrophysicist, a pair of German folk dancers and a magician. “32 @ 32” can be viewed on YouTube.
Golka’s recent appearance with the California Symphony clearly demonstrated his affinity for Beethoven’s music. His interpretation of the “Emperor” Concerto was both flexible and urgent.
Today, he says performance is essential to his life and work – so much so that he continued to perform throughout the pandemic year. “It was a lifeline for me,” he said. “I was able to focus on a positive struggle during what has been such a tough struggle for so many people. I thank Mr Ludwig for that.
What he didn’t get last year was the chance to hear others play Beethoven’s music. This is another reason why he was thrilled to be invited to join this weekend’s “Portrait of Beethoven”.
“I haven’t heard from another pianist for a year and a half,” he said. “So I’m really looking forward to hearing the other performances. “
IF YOU ARE GOING TO
A portrait of Beethoven: 32 piano sonatas
Or: Miner Auditorium, SF JAZZ Center, 201 Franklin St., SF
When: 1 p.m. and 7 p.m., 9 Oct. 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. 10 Oct.
Tickets: $ 50 per concert
Contact: (866) 920-5299, sfjazz.org