BEETHOVEN CONCERT 17 OF 40: On the virtuosity of Michael with a candid note about audience and cost

Piano student Corwin Newall was the blogger on hand for Michael’s first Dunedin Beethoven reCYCLE concert. Despite some audible distractions in the audience and a few thoughts on the future of chamber music in Dunedin he came away impressed…

Dunedin pianist, Corwin Newall.

Dunedin pianist, Corwin Newall.

Absolutely fantastic. I’d have most certainly taken my hat off to Michael Houstoun this evening, if anyone my age wore hats anymore.

One of Beethoven’s shortest sonatas opened the late afternoon’s entertainment at Dunedin’s Glenroy Auditorium. It gave us all time to settle in, Michael included—using the softer, lighter music of Sonata in G, Op. 49, No. 2, he worked out the sensitivities of touch particular to the venue’s Steinway.

With our ears now attuned to the sweet sound of piano music, we progressed to more demanding music. Beethoven’s Sonata No. 3 in C was very impressive: I particularly enjoyed the Allegro assai fourth movement. I heard Michael’s crisp and precise octave scales, but I almost didn’t believe them.

It was even more pianistic brilliance with Sonata in F sharp, Op. 78—a new Beethoven sonata for me. The high note passages simply sparkled, though I was distracted at times by members of the audience, one of whom was eating!

After the break, I was shown how to actually play Sonata in G, Op.31 No.1. I performed it several years ago for my Grade 8 piano exam, albeit at a much more meandering pace, and far less accurately! Normal reviewers would go on about how amazing Michael’s performance was—and it definitely was amazing, with dazzling runs and intelligent, often humorous, interpretation. What you never read about, however, and what stuck with me, was that three people managed to loudly drop objects onto the floor in a single minute. Also, someone coughed during the most dramatic silence of the concert!

At this point I found myself thinking, How does this man keep two days’ worth of Beethoven in his head?

Then, suddenly, the monument was upon us: The Appassionata. Skilfully, Michael had augmented the drama of this Sonata (in a flat, minor key) by preceding it with more than an hour’s worth of sharp, major tonality. The fundamental change of temperament was gut-wrenching. I was swept away with the emotions of it all, staring, transfixed. The work twisted and turned, shocked us, surprised us; it even audibly woke someone up who’d fallen asleep (how?!?). The combination of virtuosity and maturity displayed in this sonata surpassed any I have ever seen, in real life or online. I loved it.

But, alas, then the concert was over. We gladly did the whole ‘clap until your hands are sore’ thing. I left the auditorium with the distinct feeling that, in the time since he last ran the Beethovenian marathon, Michael may have lost some of his hair, but he has lost none of his flair.

I noticed I was one of only a handful of audience members under 30 in attendance. I shudder to think how this situation will worsen in years to come: since its refurbishment, the cost of hiring the Glenroy Auditorium for concerts has now increased dramatically. It has risen from an arm and a leg, so to speak, to all the limbs of at least three people. I fear Chamber Music New Zealand will have to raise ticket prices—and poor students like myself can barely afford tickets as they are. I’d certainly have had to think twice, if writing this didn’t get me a complimentary ticket! I hope the venue’s management bigwigs realise that it’s not the miserable weather getting them wet, they just have their heads in the clouds. If CMNZ reduce the number of concerts in Dunedin (God forbid) they can be sure to hear from me!!

– Corwin, 18.08.2013

At CMNZ we encourage open discussion and feedback on our concerts and we really value Corwin’s candid comments on the audience experience and cost. We’re eager to continue encouraging more young people along to our events to ensure the future of chamber music is strong. To help do this we do offer $15 tertiary ticket rates and even more heavily reduced rates for primary and secondary schoolers.

We also forwarded Corwin’s post on to Dunedin Venues for their response, and here is what they said…

Firstly we would like to say how pleased we are to hear that your correspondent enjoyed the chamber concert in the Glenroy Auditorium. We have endeavoured to make this space as welcoming as possible and have had some fantastic comments about the refurbishments and in particular the wonderful acoustics that have been so carefully preserved.

As to Corwin’s comments around the cost to rent the Glenroy. The rental agreement we have with chamber music is commercially sensitive but I can say that because they are a frequent user of the space and a “friend” of the Dunedin Centre that they are offered a particularly good deal to use this space and that this is not significantly more than in previous years. What they decide to charge for tickets is up to them and the venue does not dictate this in anyway. As to the comment about the “youthfulness” or otherwise of the attendees, I would like to think that Chamber music offers something for everyone no matter their age and that encouraging his friends and fellow music lovers would be a good way to ensure everyone can enjoy this opportunity.

Thank you for the chance to respond,
Ruth- Dunedin Venues.”

Our blog is all about open communication and the wider chamber music sector, so if you’ve got anything you’d like to add, or wish to write your own guest blog post about any aspect of live chamber music then leave a comment or email us at


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