BEETHOVEN CONCERT 7 of 40: Very good at the fast bits

It was a sold out concert for the first BEETHOVEN reCYCLE programme in Wellington’s Ilott Theatre and amongst the audience were 9 young kids from the Music Learning Centre. Their teacher and musician/composer Craig Utting tells us how it went…

My experience of the Chamber Music NZ concerts is that of bringing young kids to hear all the amazing music, courtesy of the incredibly generous School Subscription Pass.  Last month we brought thirteen kids along for a culture shock at the Kronos Quartet.  So what a different experience this month, for the nine kids who came along to hear Michael Houstoun play Beethoven – completely the other end of the spectrum!

Michael Houstoun meets with Criag Utting and his 9 young musicians after the Waldstein concert in Wellington.

Michael Houstoun meets with Criag Utting and his 9 young musicians after the Waldstein concert in Wellington.

My four-year-old told me that “the music makes me feel happy, and it makes me feel creepy” (evidently it also made him feel sleepy, or more likely, he’d had a rather long day!)  Other students were very impressed at how Michael played everything without music, and especially noticed that he had his eyes shut a lot of the time.  They commented that “his playing was so expressive”, and that “he was very good at the fast bits”.  Also: “at intermission there were lots of older ladies holding wine glasses – and when they saw us they said ‘My word, just look at all these little children’.  And we were taller than them!”

Personally I was impressed with the clarity of the playing, the complete control which Michael has over the music.  I really liked the comment in the programme that referred to Beethoven as “this most human of composers”.  What a luxury to be able to sit in tranquility at the end of the day, and become immersed in Beethoven’s world!  When I was young I used to fumble-read my way through the sonatas, finding out how they were put together, and rushing on to see how they arrived at the end.  I really enjoy Beethoven’s “surprises”, and how Michael brought them to life.

We enjoyed chatting with Michael afterwards.  When I first met him, he was playing in Stravinsky’s Petrushka on the National Youth Orchestra tour to Australia.  He was totally friendly to all of us, even though (of course) we all knew he was a far superior musician.  Michael is totally unpresumptious, and very generous in his modesty.  (Interestingly, the teenaged boy sitting next to me at the back of the viola section (right next to Michael) was Stephen De Pledge.)

We left the concert last night with the joyous sound of the Waldstein’s Rondo ringing in our ears, and wondering how on earth he could play it with only two hands …

Many thanks to Michael and Chamber Music NZ!


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