Andras Schiff and Franz Schubert Shine in Revolutionary Concert
If there were ever a time to reconceptualize the way things have typically been done, through humor and through insights, that time would be now. As the world and its nations move forward, individual patriots of those nations must arise like lions to leadership, to defend the universal principles that determine whether or not Mankind will thrive and prosper, or perish.
Andras Schiff, renowned pianist and pedagogue, introduced his new idea of a classical music concert to an enraptured audience at Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor, Michigan on Friday, Oct 7. This concert marked the return of Mr. Schiff to the United States after a three-year absence due to the coronavirus, with all the anxiety about a live concert that this hiatus entailed. He began the evening with Bach’s “Aria” from the Goldberg Variations, which Schiff ironically announced as his encore, and then, uncharacteristically for a classical concert, began a discussion with the audience–before proceeding with his program of Haydn’s Sonata No. 32 in G minor, followed by Mozart’s Sonata No. 17 in B-flat Major, K. 570, and Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 17 in D minor, Opus 31, No. 2 (“The Tempest”). After an intermission, he began his intended encore, Mozart’s Rondo in A minor, K. 511, followed by Schubert’s extraordinary and rarely-performed Piano Sonata in A Major, D. 959.
The program for this concert had not been pre-announced–except that it would feature compositions by Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert. Instead, the program was announced live from the stage, having only been decided that morning, after Mr. Schiff could tailor his program to Hill Auditorium’s unique resonant qualities. This created what he described as a delightful element of surprise for the audience. He then interspersed discussion from the stage between the pieces, including jokes about how musicians are really not aliens, history from the period of the compositions, and his accounts of what was happening in the composer’s life at that time.
This meant, as Mr. Schiff indicated, a commitment to engage the audience in a new way, to challenge the old way of doing things, and to engage a new audience in the post-lockdown world. One of his most amusing points concerned the ubiquitous Steinway & Sons pianos, and how they are so “even from top to bottom” compared with pianos from earlier periods–which masterfully challenged anyone cognizant of the state of the modern world to reflect on our own “cookie-cutter” society, and our habitual desire towards stale equilibrium. It is well-known that Mr. Schiff prefers the unique registral characteristics of the Bosendorfer, reflecting a desire to demonstrate, through his playing, how life should be powerful, ever-changing, and distinct! He mentioned that there were over 100 piano makers in Vienna at the turn of the 19th century, each distinct, and described the current generation of pianos, with a touch of irony, as in need of more diversity.
This approach to live concerts by Mr. Schiff, is similar to the approach to Classical art generally inspired and taught by the late Lyndon LaRouche. To engage with the audience, to provoke the imagination to place itself in living history, and to participate in the sense of human immortality with laughter and creativity. In essence, to bring ideas alive! Not to regurgitate notes (in the case of music) or words (in the case of classical drama or politics), but to recreate the idea, as if for the first time. And especially true and important for music, to sing!
A highlight of Mr. Schiff’s return to the classical stage in the United States was his discussion of Schubert’s penultimate sonata. The second movement of that sonata, the Andantino, was intimately autobiographical for Schubert, who died at the excruciatingly premature age of 31, after suffering years of intense illness. This movement especially, within the sonata as a whole, captures Schubert’s bold confrontation with death, and according to Mr. Schiff, his friendship with death, or resolution. The movement begins with a desolate simplicity that is achingly beautiful, which leads into a recitative-like passage and a series of increasingly intense chromatic and arpeggiated motifs, scales and octaves that rise and descend into immediate sforzandos, punctuated by trills and double trills–eventually to return to a variation of the opening idea.
Anyone who has experienced this A major Sonata performed live (in the hands of a loving and competent performer such as Schiff), has walked shoulder-to-shoulder with the immortal Franz Schubert, reliving his personal, courageous confrontation with the test of death. What is inevitable is that each of us will one day die. Therefore, how will we spend our talent? Will we cultivate and nourish that God-given creative talent and use it to move Mankind forward?
For, to nurture one’s mind and soul through classical art, poetry, drama and music, is to breathe life into and increase the potential of human society to act effectively upon its future.